Category Archives: Abbey Beer

This beer is an Abbey Beer, in that it relates to an Abbey – it includes Trappiste Monasteries

#247 – Tongerlo Christmas

#247 - Tongerlo Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I have slowly been working my way through the Tongerlo collection; a fact made more noticeable by the recent re-marketing of the beers and adaptation of styles. I first tried the very average Tripel Blonde (#30) where I was able to introduce the brewing at the Abbey. I then followed up with the slightly better Dubbel Bruin (#137); and a look at the Norbertine monks. The latest offering is the Tongerlo Christmas beer, and now a closer look at the history of the Abbey.

The religious community at Tongerlo was formed in 1133 by a group of monks from the Norbertine Abbey of St Michael of Antwerp, who had been invited by the wealthy landowner Giselbert Castelre to settle on his Tongerlo estate. The monks were characterised by the Norbertine traditions which was a popular and modern movement at the time. The Abbey grew in power through the 13th Century as a papal bull placed Tongerlo at the centre of a number of parish churches in the region. Numbers soon grew on the estate and the community began to spread itself wider. The remit of the Abbey steadily became more powerful, and the buildings grew in size with the best local architects enhancing the beauty of the place.

The rise to prominence was only checked in the 16th Century when the Abbey fell under the strongly Catholic stronghold of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.Rome began to increase taxes and salaries from Tongerlo considerably, and it was only in 1629 under the Calvinist revolt that Tongerlo was spared. It was probably a case of ‘better the devil you know’ however as the Calvinists banned all Catholic worship and many monks were exiled away from their parishes. Things became even worse in 1796 when the French Revolution swept into town and the Abbey came under private ownership. It was as late as 1838 when the Belgian state came into being, that a religious community found its way back to Tongerlo. The brothers have largely remained ever since; with just a brief sojourn at the Abbey of Leffe when a huge fire swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in 1929.

The Tongerlo Christmas is not your traditional dark Christmas fayre. It pours a rusty copper colour with a small and unassuming head. The hint of vanilla on the nose wasn’t completely lost on me, although I struggled to reach the same conclusion once it hit my tastebuds. It was a fairly fruity and enjoyable beer which just lacked any unique characteristics which might have led me to recommend it any further. Essentially if Father Christmas was buying you a sack full of Christmas beers this yuletide you might be a bit disappointed with too many of these.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, Haacht

#224 – Affligem Dubbel

#224 - Affligem Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Affligem Dubbel is what I like to call a proper Abbey beer. There are some breweries which might use the name of a defunct Abbey to help sell their beers, such as the St. Feuillien range or the Floreffe (#40) beers made by Lefebvre, but then there are those breweries which work under the licence from an existing functioning Abbey. The Affligem beers are very much in the latter category, and lets face it when it comes to Abbey’s, you don’t get much more ‘proper’ than the one in Affligem.

It all started not far short of a thousand years ago, when monk Wedericus from St. Peter’s Abbey in Ghent coerced six errant knights to repent their violent lifestyles and seek a new direction in life.  St. Anno, the Archbishop of Cologne at the time provided the guidance, and Count Palatine of Lotharingia provided his land, and essentially the spirit of the Abbey of Affligem had been founded. In 1085 the new monks had adopted the teachings of St Benedict, and by the next year the first church had been consecrated. That same year the Count of Leuven offered around 200 hectares of his domain to Affligem, and the land began to grow at a remarkable rate (over 8000 hectares at its pomp). The Abbey of Affligem was easily one of the richest domains in the Low Countries.

Affligem was also one of the most influential with many monasteries being founded by the Abbey – these included Bornem (1120) and St. Andrews of Bruges (1100). It became known as the ‘Primaria Brabantiae’ which essentially regarded it as the most important in the Duchy of Brabant. The banner of Brabant was stored there during peace time, and at least five Dukes are still buried there. The power grew through the 14th and 15th Centuries following consecration as an Abbey, and then the granting of Primate in the Brabantian states. Monasteries and religious institutions all over Europe wanted a piece of Affligem.

It wasn’t always good news though. The Abbey was twice plundered during the 14th Century wars between Brabant and Flanders, and monks were often exiled for periods of time. This happened again in 1580 when followers of William of Orange looted the place, leaving it empty for up to 27 years, and then of course there was the French Revolution which took the Abbey out of play for another 76 years until it could be reformed. The Abbey has existed in more placid circumstances ever since and still contains 22 working monks to this day.

The famous Affligem beers have been brewed at the Abbey in some form since 1574, which would have included the brown Dubbel. This is a highly rated mid-strength brew which is fairly standard in appearance and aroma, but is ultimately a pleasurable beer to drink. It has a fair degree of carbonation which was something of a surprise, and leaves a particularly fruity after-effect on the tongue. The whole package is particularly professional and although the beer is not exactly a world beater there is certainly a deep satisfaction felt sitting down drinking a beer which has such a worldly history.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, de Smedt

#223 – Guldenberg

#223 - Guldenberg

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Guldenberg was the very first commercial beer brewed at De Ranke. It was so named because of the ancient Guldenberg Abbey which once stood in the town of Wevelgem, and brewed the local beer. It was in this town that Nino Bacelle, the founder of De Ranke was born.

It all started in 1994 when our man Nino started brewing under his own name. His family had been in the industry since the 1930s, and Nino himself started to tinker with recipes and homebrews from about 1981. He studied brewing (now why didn’t I get that career advice at school?) in Ghent during the mid-Eighties and continued to practice his art. Eventually in the early 90s he had begun to really perfect his passion and friends and family were urging him to launch to the public. He decided to go for it and took the less risky route of using another brewery’s equipment. This meant less initial investment, and so a relationship was formed with Deca Services in Woesten.

In that first year Nino managed to produce nine thousand litres of Guldenberg, which was received to much acclaim. Demand continued to increase and Nino began to once again survey his options. It was then in the mid-Nineties that Nino decided to join forces with a friend and fellow beer lover Guido de Vos, who was a founder member of the HOP beer tasting association, and who had also been tinkering with homebrew for much of his life. The Nino Bacelle brewery suddenly became a 50/50 venture and with that in mind they chose to rename the brewery. De Ranke was officially formed in 1996 and has rarely looked back since. They continued to brew at Deca until 2005 but I will save that story for another brew.

So what about the Guldenberg beer? Well, I would say it certainly lives up to the hype. It’s a strong crisp blonde ale weighing in at 8.5% and is particularly hoppy. This is derived from the use of high quality Hallertau hops, and of course a good measure of dry-hopping. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s in the same league as the XX Bitter (#131) on that front but it certainly matches it in overall presence, with the extra ABV perhaps giving it a leading edge. It’s a particularly delicious beer and one that essentially launched one of Belgium’s most impressive breweries.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, De Ranke

#221 – Leffe 9

#221 - Leffe 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

This was my first deviation from the standard Leffe Blonde (#41) and Leffe Brune (#25), and I was reliably informed that the Leffe 9 was the pick of the bunch. It was time to find out. I’ve tended to drift my conversations around Leffe to the politics and machinations of the rise of Interbrew, so I will take a break from that today. I’m going to concentrate on the beer, and according to the website, the Leffe 9 is a perfect Aperitif beer. It all sounded a little bit poncey and thus I deemed it worth the briefest of investigations.

Aperitif is a French term for a starter drink which opens the formalities of a meal. Not only is it a starter but it also serves as the welcome to your guests and is designed to stimulate the appetite. It is usually alcoholic in nature, and comes served with some kind of nibbles. The general suggestion is that the Leffe 9 has ‘spicy, bitter and fruity aromas with a slightly smoky aftertaste’. This would therefore be ‘delightful with charcuterie, cheese or tapas’. I didn’t find this particularly helpful due to tapas normally constituting

a) anything approaching its sell by date which is traditionally given to customers to accompany their drinks (in Spain), or

b) anything approaching its sell by date which is routinely served up in the smallest of portions and charged at excruciatingly exorbitant prices to customers who think that sharing a few meatballs is truly liberating (in the UK).

Why not try making a ‘brioche waffle with fried foie gras and raspberry and spice sauce’ – apparently the power and smoothness of the Leffe 9 will marry well with the baked fois in the apples causing a ‘feast for the senses’. Alternatively why not try ‘mini-sandwiches of smoked trout, Ardennes ham and fromage frais with black pepper’ or ‘mini-skewers of red pepper preserves, chorizo and small sweet potatoes’. I’m trying to take the nonsense out of beer drinking and then Leffe start writing rubbish like this. Whilst there is nothing wrong with admitting that Belgian beer is somewhat more classier than your average lager, any man that cracks open a Leffe 9 and then pops on a pinny to immediately rustle up some vol-au-vents is probably missing the point.

The Leffe 9 is so named because it is 9%. It isn’t therefore a beer to be trifled with. Apparently it is not correct etiquette to lubricate guests beyond the point of not being able to sit up straight or to spend each course staggering to the lavatory so I wonder whether this is the ideal aperitif beer; although again it is common practice to usually only just serve the one. I began to consider the above in terms of my hosting etiquette and realised perhaps that I still had some way to go. One beer just never seems to be enough, and although I very much enjoy a good Belgian beer with good food, the thought of entertaining my friends with a food pairing exhibition fills me with abject horror. I did therefore drink the Leffe 9 alone, and did deem it to be fairly decent but it was far from perfect. It started very strongly with plenty of bite but lost much of its oomph in the middle, thus I promised myself next time I would try it with a terrine of caramelised pheasant offal.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, InBev (Belgium)

#217 – Grimbergen Tripel

#217 - Grimbergen Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Only beer #217 and it was with some relief that I reached the end of the Grimbergen range with the Tripel. I’m not saying that these beers are awful in anyway, but if ever there was an example of mass marketed mediocrity then this is it. This is an accusation often levelled at Leffe, but to be fair I’d take the Leffe Blonde (#41) over any of the Grimbergen beers any day.

It was only a few beers ago when I went exploring the Grimbergen website to search for the Goud/Doree (#212) and it was there that I found something most peculiar. Everything was in order on the Belgian version of the website, but somehow I had also managed to end up on a slightly different version of the website which presented me with what could only amount to a parallel universe. Where I was previously perusing through the Grimbergen Blonde (#8), and Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), I suddenly found myself at the end of a long dusty wardrobe staring out at an alien wintry landscape – there in full Grimbergen regalia stood a Grimbergen Blanche, and a Grimbergen Rouge. I rubbed the centre of my eyes to dramatic effect and looked again only for a Grimbergen Ambree to bounce into view. I really had entered some awful version of Beer Narnia.

With the horrific realisation that I might have to try more Grimbergen beers, I panicked and stumbled back through the wardrobe grasping at the fur lined coats and gasping for breath. As I sat in a puddle on the floor I tried to make sense of what I had just seen. I tried the website again. Nothing. I searched for Grimbergen. Nothing. I even checked with the O’Mighty one at ratebeer. Still confused. I looked back through the wardrobe and there was nothing but a sturdy oak panel. Christ, what did they put in that Val-Dieu Tripel (#216)?

Once my mind was straight(er) I was able to eventually find my way back to the reality which all stems from the history of takeovers which have punctuated the existence of the Brasserie Union; from its days as Alken-Maes, to the takeover by Carlsberg, and now where it sits under the watchful sentry of Kronenbourg. The latter of course are a monolithic beer producer in France, and all the apparitional beers which clouded my judgment do exist but more notably for the French market. There is even a Grimbergen La Reserve which I’m still working out whether I need to consider adding to my Odyssey. For now though I’m drinking the Grimbergen Tripel with the view that this will be my last for quite some time.

In fairness this may not have been that bad a beer. Although the pour was particularly flat with little sign of any lasting head, and that there was a certain flatness to the carbonation – the taste was quintessentially Tripel. There was some medium spicing and a good level of alcohol which you would expect from a beer of 9% ABV. I would go as far as saying this was the pick of the range that is marketed in Belgium – and I will leave it there for now. I have grudgingly accepted that that there is no quelling that damned Phoenix.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#216 – Val-Dieu Triple

#216 - Val-Dieu Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Brasserie de L’Abbaye du Val-Dieu is in actual fact the only non-Trappist brewing Abbey in Belgium. I won’t go into the history of the Abbey as I covered that when christening the Val-Dieu Biere de Noel (#127) but that opening gambit is certainly an interesting enough nugget of factoid to whet my appetite for the Val-Dieu Triple.

The whole rules and regulations thing which governs becoming ordained as a Trappist brewery has been covered before (#7) although I will need to refresh slightly to explain how the Abbey at Val-Dieu was left high and dry. Firstly in 1997 the brewery at the Abbey ceased to function as a fully operational monastery – there were simply not enough monks remaining. Today at the brewery all the main duties are carried out by laymen, and it looks likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future, despite the fact the Abbey remains a fully functioning religious institution.

The other issue, which is much more complicated is that which relates to the subtle differences between Trappists and Cistercians. For a starter explanation have a read of the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) but essentially the Cistercians were a splinter group from the Benedictines, and the Trappists were a splinter group from the Cistercians. It’s very loose, but essentially the Trappists are actually known as ‘Cistercians of the Strict Observance’, and they focus far more attention on being contemplative. This aside – the bottom line is that the Abbey at Val-Dieu is Cistercian and always has been.If this religious pendancy wasn’t quite so rigid we would see far more designated breweries across the world than the Magnificent Seven we have in Belgium (and the Netherlands). In particular in Germany there are many non-Trappist monasteries producing beer just like the one at Val-Dieu. Its just they aren’t Trappist.

Anyway, the beers in question that are produced at Aubel are based upon an original recipe from the Val-Dieu monks, and they bear the hallmark which designates them as Authentic Belgian Abbey Beer. The Val-Dieu Triple regardless of its designation was a particularly decent beer – as standard a tripel as I could describe in terms of looks, aroma and taste. It was sweet, strong and quite dry on tasting but it didn’t jump out in any way from its competitors. In many ways, just as all the above will confirm, it really is the nearly-man of Belgian beer.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Val Dieu

#212 – Grimbergen Goud / Doree

#212 - Grimbergen Goud (Doree)

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Yep. Who would believe it? Another bloody Grimbergen. This time it’s the turn of the Grimbergen Goud or Doree, depending on your linguistic preference. If you still need a translation then you can call it the Grimbergen Gold.

I have previously spent a fair amount of time writing about the Grimbergen Abbey (#8), and the new world following the take over by AB/InBev (#9), but I hadn’t really concentrated on the Grimbergen brand. I may as well have a look at that as it’s something that the marketeers in the new world are taking very seriously. Anybody who disbelieves me is free to click on to their website – http://www.grimbergenbier.be/, where a quite beautiful animation tells us the legendary story of the Grimbergen phoenix on the label.

You will recall that the Abbey at Grimbergen has had a tumultuous history, being razed to the ground on numerous occasions, but each time it rebuilt itself and rose again to greatness. The phoenix was the perfect symbol to identify with this history, and in 1629 was chosen as the emblem of the Abbey. The mythical bird has been revered throughout history for its infinite ability to regenerate itself from the ashes – from the Persians, through the Greeks, to the Romans. Even in modern day England, the football team Aldershot Town have the symbol of the phoenix on its club badge since it too has faced a massive period of rebirth following financial meltdown.

The motto of the Grimbergen brand sums up the history perfectly – Ardet Nec Consumitur – Burned but never destroyed. It accompanies the phoenix on the Abbeys coat of arms and can be seen etched magnificently into the buildings stained glass windows – another image which iconically finds itself on the beer label. It was almost with a renewed sense of sympathy and reverence that I unpopped the golden cap to the Grimbergen Goud/Doree.

The beer poured a somewhat flat earthy blonde with a particularly disappointing head that had faded before I’d even brought the beer to my lips. There was little carbonation or aroma to speak of and I was typically disappointed with the taste which certainly didn’t go anywhere further than the Blonde (#8) had. The beer is given a third fermentation in the bottle, and is enriched with aromatic hops but I couldn’t tell the difference. This was just another tame beer which is superfluous to a very tame range, and once I had finished with the bottle I stuck this at the very bottom of the recycling in the hope that finally the phoenix might give up its struggle.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix