Category Archives: Abbey Dubbel

#244 – Dulle Griet

#244 - Dulle Griet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

I first came across the Dulle Griet when drinking the Kastaar (#96), a review retelling the story of the Biervliet festivities which have regularly culminated in acts of mass kleptomania. One of the items once purloined was the 12 ton cannon named the Dulle Griet. This medieval supergun sits in Ghent (no doubt now superglued to the pavement) and was built in the early part of the 15th Century. It was then fully utilised on behalf of the City of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, which didn’t completely end happily as the retreating fighters were overrun and the gun taken. It was only finally returned to its true home in 1578, and tourists regularly come across it on their way through the Friday market square in the old town.

The gun was one of a number of 15th Century superguns which were used in battles of the age, and all were cutely personalised in a similar style. (Faule Mette, Faule Grete, Grose Bochse). While the examples in parentheses were titled for either their cumbersome nature (Lazy Mette, Lazy Grete), or their sheer size (Big Gun), the Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) paid its homage to the female figure of Flemish folklore who was famously the subject of a 1562 painting by our old friend Peter Brueghel the Elder (#175). The painting which can be viewed in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp depicts the peasant woman Meg leading an army of women to plunder and pillage Hell.

Brueghel’s paintings are often uncomfortable on the eye when you start to pore over the detail, but equally the vivid nature of the detail is engrossing once you give it your attention. The female protagonist is caught in a moment in time as she sprints across a desolate landscape; armour covering her modest dress with her weapon drawn in one hand and all her worldly possessions in the other. All around her the world is in turmoil, as her reality drifts into a perverse freakshow of fire and brimstone, which leaks from the scarlet sky above. Hell and Earth are uncomfortably uniting before us and you wonder just what future Brueghel thought Europe faced at this time. Little could he have known that 450 years later the land painted on his canvas would be an idyllic paradise of fine beer and gourmet cuisine?

The Dulle Griet which found itself into my glass this evening was a 7% dark beer which didn’t quite match the drama of the previous incumbents of the title. She poured a chestnut hue with an off-white head which quickly receded to nothing. The nose was alluring, and was matched by a spicy malt flavour which was definitely enjoyable. There was no standout moment for me though, and while I enjoyed the beer I couldn’t see myself going out my way to either overly recommend it or buy any more. Longer in the memory though will remain the painting.

Dulle Griet, by Peter Brueghel the Elder

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#236 – Witkap Pater Dubbel

#236 - Witkap Pater Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It’s difficult to drink beer in Belgium and not be touched by the hand of God somewhere along the way. I have lost track over the past couple of hundred brews how many times I have come across abbeys, monks and monasteries. The beer from the Witkap range which I previously tried was the Tripel (#94) which led me to investigate the Cistercian monk from the label. I have already met Benedictines, Carmelites (#229), and Trappists and so I thought I’d use the Witkap Pater Dubbel to try and make some sense of some of these monastic classifications.

There are essentially two main categories of order; Contemplative, and Non-Contemplative. I will deal with the former first, which contain the bulk of the orders you will come across while drinking Belgian beers ie the Trappists, Carmelites, Carthusians and Cistercians. Contemplative orders are those who have given their lives to God but with minimal interaction with the outside world. Although they seek not to talk to the world, by praying they hope to save those very souls they shy away from. There are three main types who can all be traced back to their founders – the Benedictines from St Benedict (525), the Carmelites who formed at Mount Carmel (circa 14th Century), and the Carthusians from St Bruno (11th Century).

Benedictine orders typically reside in communities but have limited interaction, although they do interact with each other. This in contrast to the austere Carthusians whose monks isolate themselves even from their fellow brothers. Carmelites tend to be somewhere in the middle, although of course it is impossible to simplify these orders too much. To confuse matters even more it is worth pointing out that in fact the Cistercians formed as a splinter group from the Benedictines and that the Trappists have over time diverged from the Cistercians. Both groups sought a more literal interpretation of the Benedictine doctrine and both choose their vocation with subtle differences. Trappists tend to make a living from the production of goods for the public and have thrived whereas the insulated lives of the Benedictines and Cistercians haven’t.

The other Order, those Non-Contemplatives, are also known as Active Orders. These are the communities of monks who tend to have more direct interaction with the outside world. They are less bound by the walls of the monastery and rather than being self-supportive often tend to live off the charity of others. The two main types are the Franciscans, formed by St Francis (13th Century), and the Dominicans, hailing from St Dominic (also 13th Century). The former live a simple life with the main aim of giving aid to the poor through prayer and good works, whereas the latter have taken a more educational stance towards engaging and training society to look after itself.

It would be insulting to those involved to suggest it is in anyway as simplistic as this. Each monastic community across Belgium and the world will act and live to its own particular custom, but it does give the beer drinker a perspective on the colourful background which accompanies each brew. In the case of the Witkap Pater Dubbel, the history is probably a little more interesting than the actual beer, which was a standard malty double, with a fair level of carbonation and a sharp spicy finish. Fairly enjoyable but hardly worth writing about – unless of course you try to disseminate thousands of years of monastic life into a few paragraphs!

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#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

#184 – ‘T Smisje Dubbel

#184 - 'T Smisje Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

I continued my adventure in the Rake with another beer from ‘T Smisje. The Tripel (#183) had been so good that I opted for the darker double, and am therefore quickly able to continue the story of Johan Brandt following his move of premises to Mater in Oudenaarde.

Between 1995 and 2008 as De Regenboog, the brewery was famous for an extensive range of experimental beers in the traditional style, pulling on interesting and distinctive ingredients, fruits, herbs and spices. Brandt had tried beers made with mustard seeds (Wostyntje), valerian root and lemon balm (BBBourgondier), honey and raisins (Guido), and sloes (Sleedornbier). Brandt had also worked his magic on maturing an ale for six months in Calvados barrels (Calva Reserva), very much in the style of similar beers from de Struise, Alvinne and de Dolle breweries.

In 2010 however it was with regret that I heard that Brandt had decided to take a break from the wide range of beers, and to concentrate his efforts on one or two house beers. Only a new blond hoppy ale called Smiske survives, with a seasonal variant at Christmas to be produced. He hasn’t closed the door entirely though, and has given beer lovers the chance to still get their hands on one historic recipe per year if ten thousand people on Facebook will sign a petition for it. This has recently worked for the Duvel Tripel Hop, although I would hope in keeping with his fine traditions, Brandt doesn’t rip off his customers at 15 Euros a pop, as Moortgat did.

So it is with regret that this ‘T Smisje Dubbel was possibly the last one I would ever taste. In true Brandt fashion, this was no ordinary dubbel, having been made since 1997 with fresh dates and honey. At 9% strength it is also clearly no run of the mill double, abounding with plenty of guts and a sweetness that simply blows you away. I still probably reckon this is about the best beer I have ever had the pleasure of trying in a bar. My only regret was that I had taken the only one left in the overstocked refrigerators of The Rake. I will continue to look for it on my journeys into Belgium in the older and more eclectic beer stores, or else I may just have to hope a petition of like-minded souls can coerce Mr Brandt to somehow recreate this masterpiece.

 

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Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#182 – St. Bernardus Prior

#182 - St. Bernardus Prior

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

I’m running out of superlatives and stories for the St. Bernardus beers – this is the fourth of my Odyssey, after the Abt (#46), Wit (#100), and Tripel (#106). I have talked a lot about the history of St. Bernardus, but not a great deal about the recent stuff.

It was 1992 when the brewery split asunder from St. Sixtus (#46) and was politely asked to drop the Trappist nomenclature. This transition had been managed by Guy and Bernadette Claus, the son-in-law and daughter of Evarist Deconinck. Both had both been in place for over thirty years since 1962, when Guy took over the brewing from Deconinck. It was only in 2003 that he retired as brewmaster at St. Bernardus, but both he and Bernadette continued to stay on and run the St. Bernardus guesthouse.

The ‘T Brouwershuis bed and breakfast has long been something of an institution in Belgium, and is often listed among the top places to stay in the country. It currently comprises twelve immaculate rooms which are set fairly uniquely within the grounds of the St. Bernardus brewery grounds. Bernadette was actually born in this rambling property, and for those that are lucky enough to stay here, it really does feel like a home away from home. The attraction for beer lovers is to spend time chatting with the family, in the midst of a famous brewery, and of course not to forget the cabinet stocked full of a wide range of St. Bernardus beers. The beauty also is that even non beer geeks will get something out of a visit here. The breakfast is apparently sumptuous, guests have a free run of the house, complete with full library and solarium, and the welcome from the owners is second to none.

Reading about the guesthouse has done enough to convince me. I have resolved to head over in the spring with Mrs Beershrimper for a couple of days pampering ourselves on fine beer and conversation, in front of the roaring fire. I will be more than happy to accept a St. Bernardus Prior on my arrival. This beer like all the others from the range is made with water that has been pumped from as deep as 150 metres underground. Scientists even claim that the water from the St. Bernardus well originated as rainfall from the time of Joan of Arc which has seeped through hundreds of years and layers of Watou rock from the St. Omer region of France. It gives you a warm glow reading things like this as you look deep into your beer. The beer as usual with St. Bernardus looked the part, thick and velvety, and it was a similar experience on the tastebuds, with plenty of malt and fruit.

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#177 – St. Paul Double

#177 - St. Paul Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.9 %

The range of beers named St. Paul are currently brewed at the Scheldebrouwerij, however it hasn’t always been that way. As noted on the St. Paul Speciale (#143) these were once part of the Sterkens family of beers. To all intents and purposes they still are really, since Sterkens just use the brewing facilities at Schelde to produce the beers. Sterkens still market and export the beers as if they brewed them, and a visit to their website gives little away of this secret.

The move away from brewing their own beers has been a gradual one for Stan Sterkens, the fourteenth generation of brewmeister since the family began brewing way back in 1651. He has been very successful in setting up brewpubs for interested parties. They provide the money, and he puts in the equipment and expertise. One such enterprise was with his daughter Leen Sterkens in Spring Hill, USA. Others have been set up in places as far afield as Taiwan and Japan.

The whole idea of going foreign has worked very well in fact, where the export market has proved exceptionally lucrative for the Sterkens clan. Until 1990 the brewery mainly distributed to over five hundred restaurants and pubs in Belgium. Now however, up to 95% of production is sold abroad. You are far more likely to see a bottle of St. Paul in a US bar or beershop than you would in Belgium. It was for this reason that when I saw a selection of the colourful odd shaped bottles in a Belgian beer shop at Christmas last year I snapped them up.

The St. Paul Speciale was hardly a classic, and to be honest I didn’t really get much joy from the St. Paul Double either. To be fair the beers may have been rebrewed, and it looked like I may have an older selection of the range, but I would expect more from a beer firm who are seemingly pleasing the US market. The craft beer scene in the US is probably second only to Belgium in the world, and as you would expect with the Americans it probably won’t be long before they are knocking the spots even off the Belgians. This beer was thin, bland and boring. I still await my epiphany.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Dubbel, Schelde

#160 – La Trappe Dubbel

#160 - La Trappe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It has been mentioned before very early into the Odyssey that there are only seven Trappist breweries in the whole of the world (#7). Six of these are in Belgium, and the other one is in the Netherlands. I was too busy lamenting the strength of Quadrupels on the previous outing with La Trappe (#154), so it’s fortunate I can now spend some time on the Abbey at Koningshoeven. I won’t get time to finish the story, but can at least make a decent start.

It all goes back to the French monks from the Trappist monastery Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in Northern France. You may remember these from drinking the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). In 1880 many of the inhabiting monks had begun to fear the repercussions of the anti-church legislation, and so a few went on scouting missions to find safer ground. One of the monks, a certain Sebastianus Wyart, went over to the Netherlands which had a fairly liberal attitude to religion. There, near the town of Tilburg, he found fields awash with heather, surrounded by small farms and a sheeps cage. This village of Berkel-Enschot called these farms the ‘Koningshoeven’ (the Royal Farms), as they were once owned by King Willem II. Soon, Sebastianus had enticed a number of the community to this peaceful paradise.

Within just a year, the sheep cage was renovated into the first trappings of a monastery, with the first service being held on the 5 March 1881. It wasn’t all good news however; the soil and land they had chosen was far too arid, and with the numbers increasing at the monastery a solution was needed. This came in 1884 when the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart decided beer was the answer, and thus under the supervision of Friar Romaldus, the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven began its first foray as a brewery. It soon became the main source of income for the monastery, and still is to this day.

I don’t have any particular problem classing the La Trappe beers within my Belgian classification. If anyone chooses to argue with me, I will just continue on past 1000. The La Trappe Dubbel is a typical trappist Dubbel – strong, dark, extremely malty and full of spicy Christmas spirit. It wasn’t the best beer I would ever drink, in that it lost its legs a little in the final third, but was a great accompaniment to the football I was watching on the TV.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#137 – Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

#137 - Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

This is the second dabbling I have had with the beers of Tongerlo, my first stop being the Tongerlo Tripel Blonde (#30) which gave me a chance to introduce the Abbey which so elegantly adorns the beers labels. The abbey is famous for its Norbertine traditions, but just what sets aside a Norbertine from say a Cistercian, or a Trappist?

It all stems funnily enough from St. Norbert, who was a migrant preacher that founded the religious community of Premontre in France in 1121. The influential teachings here spread like wildfire, and the Norbertines or Premonstratensians were soon involved in the beginnings of Tongerlo Abbey in 1133. You may also recall he was the founder of Grimbergen Abbey (#8).

The main difference in the Norbertines of the Premonstratensian order was that they weren’t exactly monks, they were canons regular. It’s a subtle difference, one in which I am trying manfully to get my head round – especially as the orders and expectations manifest themselves so differently through time. Essentially the Norbertines originally based their traditions on the Cistercian (#94), and Augustinian ways, in that they were seeking a more austere way of being, but fundamentally they acted as canons regular, and therefore did not lead the true monastic contemplative life. They had far more responsibility in looking to minister to those outside the abbeys, and were if you like, the link between the inner sanctum of the monks, and the wider secular clergy. A subtle difference but one which saved the canon regulars from the long choral duties, and systemic moral reproofs which characterised the monks lives.

At the end of the day though, they were bonded by the brewing of the beer, and I say amen to that. The Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin itself was a safe brown. Thinner and fizzier than I expected, but with the subtle maltiness that you expect from a decent brown beer. At 6% it didn’t have the kick of some darker Belgians but is one I wouldn’t have a problem drinking again.

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#133 – Vicaris Generaal

#133 - Vicaris Generaal

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.8 %

The beers of the ‘vicar’ brand have been lovingly created and commissioned by Vincent Dilewyns since 1999 although de Proef have been brewing them on their behalf since then. So popular though have these beers become that by the end of the year, the Dilewyns family will have taken over the brewing themselves in a converted facility in Dendermonde.

Beer runs through the veins of this family, but that’s probably another story. What is intriguing me though is what inspired Mr Dilewyns to pursue a range of ecclesiastically titled beverages?

Vicaris Generaal, actually translates into ‘vicar general’, and refers to the deputy of a bishop. The vicar general wields the baton on all administrative duties in his diocese, and holds considerable executive power. He is appointed by the bishop himself, and should the bishop die or vacate his role, the vicar general is then immediately terminated. The next incumbent bishop is then expected to appoint his own vicar general. The only real stipulations on a candidate is that they must have a minimum of thirty years knowledge of, or a degree in, theology or canon law. Nothing to do with beer as far as I can see.

Forgetting the religious connotations for a moment, I am beginning to notice that if a beer is made at de Proef, it is normally of a high standard. I get the impression they don’t just brew any old rubbish. The Vicaris Generaal certainly is no exception. Settling back on the sofa with a black and white movie, this was a decent accompaniment. It was dark, mysterious and very strong, with definite licorice and malt that seeped deep into your bones. It remained fairly bitter till the end, and at one stage I faintly hoped that it might sweeten but it never really did. Certainly a well-made brew and full of character but perhaps just a bit too stoutish for me to command my more generous grading.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Proef, Horse

#121 – La Binchoise Brune

#121 - La Binchoise Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.2 %

The most striking thing about the standard beers from La Binchoise is the funny looking gentlemen on the labels. Yes, the ones that look like they have just finished a medieval game of water polo. There surely can’t be any better place to start.

These strange clown-like characters are called Gilles, and are the most definitive image of the festivities that take place at the annual Carnival of Binche. The town where the La Binchoise brewery is based is not a big place at all, yet this festival is famous throughout the world – so much so that recently it was proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Quite a mouthful to live up to!

The festivities can often last up to seven weeks, but the main focus of the carnival takes place during the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday leading up to Ash Wednesday. Sundays are generally marching and dancing, with Mondays often descending into a late night pub crawl. The real colour and fun though begins on Shrove Tuesday. While we in the UK blandly knock up a few pancakes after a long day at work, the Gilles of Binche are up at the crack of dawn slipping into their vibrant costumes, wax masks and clogs. They then wait for the legendary tambourine men to come and fetch them and lead them down to the main square for the real fun and games. Plenty more dancing and marching usually happens in the morning, to ward off the evil spirits of course, then in the afternoon the Gilles find their large decorative ostrich feather hats and proceed throughout the town pelting locals and revellers alike with oranges. You couldn’t script it if you tried. The pelting of fruit is a largely popular part of the fun, although in recent years the high spirits have been somewhat frowned upon with increased reports of damage to property and injuries to bystanders.

Either way, I have heard enough to make me check my calendar for the next one – I have always been game for a bit of a food fight. I’m not sure I would make the trek over for the beer alone though. It didn’t start well with me on my hands and knees once again scrubbing beer out of the lounge rug due to my inability to prepare for a gusher. Once I was back on the sofa, the head had dissipated and I had quite lost the moment. She was a thin beer, and seemed a little weak for the stated ABV. There are plenty better browns than this although it is unlikely to offend anybody, unless of course half of it ends up on your best rug.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Dubbel, La Binchoise

#119 – St. Feuillien Brune

#118 - St. Feuillien Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I was having a rough day and I needed to get out of the office. I don’t tend to take lunchbreaks that often but if I ever do, then it has to be somewhere special. That place is more often than not the Dovetail. I have already told the story of St. Feuillien (#29), and there are plenty more varieties from this brewery sitting waiting, so please permit me the chance to talk about the Dovetail – almost certainly the best Belgian beer bar in central London.

It’s a hard place to find, wedged into a small alley hidden away in atmospheric Clerkenwell. There are many good pubs around here, including the Gunmakers and the Crown, but none of these come close to offering the breadth of choice that the Dovetail can. The website claims to offer over a hundred different Belgian beers, although experience tells me that what they offer, they don’t always have in stock. Even so, any bar outside Belgium where you can sit and be waited on and choose your beer from a menu is a treasure for me. The food is pretty good also!

Timeout magazine labelled the Dovetail in 2007 as ‘The kind of place everyone wishes they had as their local’, which in a sense it is to me. I have been popping in here on and off for the last eight years; and in terms of appearance the place has barely changed. The décor is a mix between an Abbey refectory and beer museum, with the walls adorned with the kitsch tin beer plates which never cease to fascinate me. If you can wedge yourself in early, whether it’s a lunch-time or an evening, you can normally escape the feeling of the growing crowds and get carried away with the feeling you might just be outside of the UK.

As I sat and drank my St. Feuillien Brune though, the conversation soon revolved around to the place, and perhaps it isn’t just me nowadays that thinks the place is losing some of its charm. While it hasn’t sold itself out completely like the Lowlander in Covent Garden, the overall feel-good factor has certainly dissipated. I may have been spoilt in Belgium, but I do still expect the right glass, believe I have the right to be served with a smile, and not to have to pay a deposit for my glass on a Friday night. There also was a time when the bar staff were knowledgeable about the beers on offer but I guess those days have long gone with the preference for cheap labour. Nostalgia though just isn’t what it once was, and I should be grateful for what I have on my doorstep – which is still excellent beer.

The St. Feuillien Brune was no exception to this. It poured a majestic muddy chocolate colour, lighter than most brown beers, but finished with an exceptionally creamy fluffy head. If I hadn’t known where I was, I might have just assumed I had been brought a glass of cocoa. There was something somewhat comforting in the taste, hints of chocolate and malt, but as you finished her off she tended to lose her way a little. That said a very pleasant beer to spend on your lunch break, and as per usual I was dribbling and nodding off at my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

(Post-Script) – For a bit of family history from St. Feuillien see the review on the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (#123).

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#111 – Maredsous 8

#111 - Maredsous 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

A fair way back on my Odyssey I got to try the Maredsous Tripel 10 (#44), and touched a little upon the history of the wonderful Abbey hidden away in the Namur countryside. I was able to pay a visit while wandering around Belgium looking for more beers for the cellar, so I thought I might as well bring the history bang up to date, as I failed to mention before that the Abbey at Maredsous has more to its history than just religion, beer and cheese!

In 1903 the St. Joseph School of Applied Arts and Crafts was officially opened. It seemed originally intent on serving as a repository for poor local children to hone their skills in a number of vocational trades, such as carpentry, cobbling or plumbing, but it ended up being purely a centre for fine arts and crafts. High quality works were produced and displayed here at first, leading on to the commissioning of pieces of art for paying customers. Although the 1914-1918 war had a profound effect on the business it did continue on, though changing its focus more to the training of artists rather than skilled craftsmen. The international reputation started to flourish and eventually the eclectic school merged to form the IATA (Technical Institute of Arts and Crafts).

This daily activity still lives on now in the buildings of the Abbey, and anybody passing by is well advised to pop into the St. Joseph visitors centre and have a quick nose around. It certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but at least it’s a welcome diversion from the oh-so-expensive gift sets of Maredsous on sale in the predictably tacky beer shop. I would recommend the cheese though – but that’s probably another story I will save for the final Maredsous beer.

This little Saturday evening tipple was a very pleasant surprise for me after my original disappointment with the Maredsous Tripel. She was rich and dark and full of good old fashioned spicy twang. I would go as far as calling it delicious. It was strong in all the right places and stuck there right to the end. I thought that with the hangover I had today that I would be making a mistake drinking this, but if ever a beer qualified as ‘hair of the dog’ this one certainly was going for first prize.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Duvel Moortgat

#108 – Het Kapittel Dubbel

#108 - Het Kapittel Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I started to outline the Het Kapittel beers right at the beginning of this journey when I tried the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). That seems like an age ago now, but I would like to revisit the history of the Van Eecke brewery.

Although the Van Eecke family only started to brew in Watou from 1862, the actual premises date back as far as 1629 where the small farm brewery sat adjacent to a local castle owned by the Earls of Watou. This flourished in the local community until the French Revolution, when of course the buildings were first plundered, looted and then burnt to the ground. The Earls of Watou escaped by fleeing to England, and thus it was left to a local farmer to revive not the castle, but the brewery. The motto at the time in the village was “Revolt all you want, but we still need beer here!” – wise words indeed.

The brewery became the ‘Gouden Leeuw’ (the Golden Lion), and despite the proximity of Watou to the French border, the locals were very keen to keep the Flemish name. In France, as in England, the Golden Lion was a very popular inn name, translating as ‘Au Lion d’Or’, which is pronounced exactly the same as ‘au lit on dort’ –which means ‘in the bed one sleeps’. This would have been a much more apt title if they had kept the French translation as the local farmer turned the brewery into a proper inn with rooms for travellers. The inn stayed true to the village motto and continued to quench the thirst of its locals until 1862 when the Van Eecke family took over the brewing and began to push the boundaries on improving the stock of top fermenting ales. The range of beers, especially the Het Kapittel beers remain amongst Belgium’s finest.

The Het Kapittel Dubbel however was about the seventh beer of the evening and therefore I couldn’t tell you in great detail exactly what made this beer so nice. It was about 4am, and we were on somthing like our fifth game of Scrabble, which was naturally held up while we talked utter rubbish and fawned over this beer. I recall it was dark, delicious and definitely one I would try again sober – definitely much better than the Pater.

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#107 – Trappistes Rochefort 6

#107 - Trappistes Rochefort 6

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Sadly the Trappistes Rochefort with the red cap is the last of the famous triumvirate to pass my eager lips. Just over a hundred beers in and I need to conclude my notes on this fantastic Trappist brewery. To be honest there isn’t a lot else to say that I haven’t already covered in reviewing the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13) and Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), apart from the fact that interestingly these range of beers have only recently acquired labels. Previously images were screened directly onto the bottle and thus if you find one of these on your travels then hang on to it, or pass it my way!

What first started to baffle me though was why the Trappistes Rochefort beers are called 6, 8 and 10. Clearly this is not to do with their ABV as the Trappistes Rochefort 6 weighs in at 7.5% however it is to do with the overall gravity of the beer. The difference is that various scales have been used over time to measure essentially the same thing. Original gravity in a nutshell is a reading which is an estimate of the amount of sugar which will be turned into ethanol by the yeast, and is usually calculated using a table of figures. The reading will express the sugar content in units of grams of sugar per 100 grams of wort, and it is usually expressed as “degrees Plato” (abbreviated °P). As mentioned, different scales have been used in various places, and Rochefort in the good old days measured the gravity of their beers through the obsolete Belgian scale.

In this instance the 10 corresponds to 1.100 (25 °P), the 8 corresponds to 1.080 (20 °P) and the 6 corresponds to 1.060 (15 °P). This is the ‘original gravity’ (OG) as it is a prediction of the potential alcohol once the yeast has worked its magic on the sugar. Specific Gravity (SG) is a term often used, and is slightly simpler in that it corresponds to the relative density of a liquid, relative to that of water at a certain temperature. This is the gravity measured with a hydrometer. Brewers are able to compare the OG and the SG to monitor the progression of the fermentation. Essentially once the SG stops declining the fermentation has been completed. Happy Days !

The Trappistes Rochefort 6 essentially started off as the Pater beer (#2) for the monks, but it’s far better and stronger than a typical table beer. At 7.5% it lacks the killer strength of its older brothers but it is still a fine beer. It’s the hardest of the three to pick up but well worth it if you fancy a few without a headache the next morning. Its cleaner and thinner than the others, but the famous datey taste still permeates every mouthful and it remains just that bit more subtle. It’s readily available in the villages near Rochefort, although there is no brewery tap – it’s the only Trappist brewery without one. The Relais de St. Remy about 2km out of town is your best place to find it.

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#92 – Abbaye de Malonne Brune

#92 - Abbaye de Malonne Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3 %

There isn’t much more to be said about the Abbaye de Malonne which I feel I amply covered when introducing the blonde (#14). There is going to come a time when I run out of things to talk about a beer that is as indistinguished as this, but rather than rush off it would be worth taking some time to look at the range of brown beers, and in particular those from Belgium.

It would be easy to look down any supermarket aisle these days and see brown ales as the minority; beer made for the discerning gentlemen only, however historically beer has almost always been brown. This was until the 20th Century when technology started to improve. In fact in Belgium in the 1930s, 80% of beer was brown. I would hazard a guess that these days the variety of brown beer in Belgium would be as low as 25%.

Belgium was world famous for its early brown beers, with varieties such as oak aged browns from Oudenaarde, and Trappist dubbels (#16). As we have already seen in other tales though, the rise of blonde beers and lagers began as these were cheap and simple to make, and the brown beer began to fall in popularity. In fact, one might even argue that was it not commonplace these days for breweries to make a range of beers to satisfy all their customers then there may have been even less around. The quality though of course can be up for question in many of these, where brewers have found simple ways to turn blonde beers to brown with the simple switch of a button.

The above issue does illustrate a pertinent point however; that of brown beers being generally made from similar ingredients. Darker forms of malt, or a higher concentration of caramelised sugars can turn any beer brown, and these are often used as a replacement for hops to attain the preferred degree of bitterness. I have always been a massive fan of the Belgian brown ale, although have been quickly learning on my Odyssey that just because it is brown it does not guarantee quality. I would advocate that the Abbaye de Malonne Brune is a decent example of this.

It was a particularly dark beer, almost stout-like in appearance, although my final impression was that of prune juice. It was silky and soft on the palate, but the flavour never really got going and was particularly limited. Compare this to something like the complexity of a St. Bernardus Abt (#46), and you can understand where this beer sits in the pantheon of brown beers in Belgium – inherently pleasant but distinctly average – although better than the blonde of course.

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#70 – Adelardus Trudoabdijbier Bruin

#70 - Adelardus Trudoadbdijbier Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

The Adelardus Trudoabdijbier Bruin is a bit of a mouthful, and is yet another example of a beer linked to an abbey – this time the remainder of what is left of the Abbey of St. Trudo in Sint-Truiden, in the quiet province of Limburg. There isn’t much left of the old buildings thanks to the pillaging that accompanied the French Revolution, but what does remain is fairly clearly evidenced on the label of the beer – the famous tower – and there is of course as ever a story behind it.

The Abbey itself was founded way back in the 7th Century by a Frankish nobleman by the name of St. Trudo, on the farmland of his wealthy parents. It never really became a major player in the monastic history of Belgium until the middle of the 9th Century when it was taken over by the Bishop of Metz and placed under Benedictine stewardship. The place soon became a popular place of pilgrimage and it made the town rich.

St. Trudo was one of Belgium’s more modest examples of a grand abbey until a certain Adelardus rode into town in the 11th Century. During his tenancy as Abbot of St. Trudo between 1055 and 1082, he oversaw the rebuilding of an extension of the main church, and a number of other ecclesiastical buildings in the town. The church was enormous – measuring 100 x 27 metres, with the famous Romanesque tower pictured on the label, looming high above the town. Adelardus has become famous for this achievement, and it is testimony to him that this beer was made, and indeed his architectural skills that the thing is still standing after all these years. In fact little evidence remains of the magnificence of the church, although if you visit the Abbey there is a bronze replica to feast your eyes upon, and remember what might have been if it hadn’t been for the Revolution.

The beer was actually fairly pleasant, with a thin sepia head on a dark brown fizzy lake of flavour. The flavour was spicy and ardent thanks to a local mixture of herbs called ‘sweet gale’, with the dark fruits and brown sugar that offset well the slight weirdness of the gale. It worked well but did fade somewhat, and ended just a little bit too thin. This beer is good but will never tower above other browns.

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#63 – La Gauloise Brune

La Gauloise Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.1 %

My second beer in the Purnode campsite was another local brew from just across the way – La Gauloise Brune. This is a beer that celebrates the many Gallo-Roman sites in the locality, and which when first brewed back in 1858 by Du Bocq, attempted to recreate how those residents of ancient Gaul would have brewed beer. The strapline of the beer echoes this – ‘La biere de nos ancetres’. These ancestors funnily enough were known as Gauls.

Gaul is the historic name used by the Roman Empire to refer to the region of Western Europe that was what is now largely France and Belgium. In fact, Julius Caesar went as far as to break Gaul down further into three distinct ethnic groups – The Aquitani in the south west, the Celts in the middle, and the Belgae in the north between the Rhine and the Seine.

Gaul was eventually conquered by the Romans during the Gallic wars, where at least a million people died, and a further million were enslaved (totalling almost a half of the entire Gallic population). three hundred tribes were subjugated, and eight hundred cities destroyed. The tribes never really had a chance to be fair, as more often than not they were fighting amongst themselves, even when Julius Caesar became the common enemy. Their principal religion tended to be animism, in which animals were worshipped, and they tended to follow the political inclinations of the Druids, who had particularly strong beliefs in not recording the Celtic wisdom and literature into writing. It is often said that this is the reason the language of the Celts has virtually disappeared without trace except for parts of Brittany. For anybody seeking further information on the Gauls I would suggest reading Asterix. From what I have read on Gaul so far, it remains remarkably coherent in its portrayal of life at this time.

I was served the beer in a cracking little tankard with the newer logo on it, and after pouring I held it up to the light, to see a chestnut brown infused with ruby red. It looked the business, especially with its sepia head remaining pert on top. The aroma was intensely malty, and the taste was smooth and strong, echoing even more maltiness. It was a pleasant drink right to the end, but just didn’t go far enough to earn a better rating. Anyway, it has inspired me to go back and read Asterix, which of course I will do once I finish Tintin.

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#55 – Saint-Monon Brune

#55 - Saint-Monon Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Our travels took us further today, deep into the heart of rural Germany. I still had a car full of Belgian beers so I was happy, although the only worry I had was keeping them cool. I reverted to buying bags of peas in the supermarket to wrap around those selected but it really was only a temporary measure, and of course I ended up leaving a Hansel and Gretel style trail of peas around the European hinterlands. It had been another long day on the road, and after throwing our tent up and knocking up some dinner I settled down with a Saint-Monon Brune.

St. Monon, believe it or not, was Scottish. Like us, he found himself travelling across Europe albeit it was probably a little more taxing in the 7th Century – I found it hard enough finding the campsite with my sat-nav! He had been visited by an angel (allegedly of course) and instructed to find the village of Nassogne so that he could evangelise the pagans living there. In true tradition of a Saint, he came, he saw and he evangelised, although not without a little help from one of the pigs of the flock he adopted. The pig dug up an old Roman bell called a tintinnabulum, which St. Monon used to call the people to prayer. Over time our Scottish monk worked hard to recruit locals and to destroy the pagan idols, although not without upsetting those less willing to submit to the saintly ways. In 636 St.Monon was ambushed in his oratory by unrepentant sinners who murdered him with a wooden spear. I am beginning to learn that it’s not all rosy being a Saint. They always seem to get offed in the most alarming of ways (#18, #29). Of course he wasn’t a Saint up until this point, but the people of the local area who so appreciated the work he did with the animals made him the Patron Saint of Livestock, of which he still remains to this day.

The beer probably was a bit warm still as the peas had defrosted, but then browns tend to prefer the warmer climate. It was a particularly muddy pour, with a real milk chocolate colour to it – almost to the point of looking quite unappetising. The experience on the tongue was quite spicy, and almost certainly coriander, thus quite unique to date. I wouldn’t say I would go buy it again in a hurry but it was worth the taste, even if it didn’t have the legs to be a stayer – a bit like poor St. Monon.

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#50 – Super des Fagnes Brune

#50 - Super des Fagnes Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I have reached a milestone. Just like the first beer (#1) when I started this pilgrimage, there is no great celebration to commemorate my 50th Belgian beer. Lets face it, Super des Fagnes Brune is not the Real Madrid of the Belgian beer world. The fact I am in rural Belgium and picking up local regional beers is more than enough for me.

Tash and I had stopped in a local campsite in the Namur countryside, and what spare gaps we had left in the car had been filled up with a bottle stop at a wonderful beer warehouse in Couvin. If we had had the time we would have called in to the Brasserie des Fagnes, but we didn’t. So much later, on a warm balmy evening we settled down, cooked an amazingly fragrant Ardennaise sausage dish on our Skottel brai and cracked open a few local Belgians – one of which just happened to be from Fagnes.

The brewery, opened in 1998, is actually named for its geographical location. The Hautes-Fagnes is a highland situated in both Belgium and Germany, between the famous Ardennes and Eifel highlands, of which the highest point is Signal de Botrange near Eupen. It is a fairly wet area, and thus often very swampy and several rivers begin here – notably the Vesdre, Ambleve and Rur. The Hautes-Fagnes translates into English as the ‘High Fens’, and is probably well represented on the label – and to be honest, that’s about as exciting as it gets. The evening was perfect and the beer wasn’t at all bad but I would remember the evening more for the location and the cuisine, and of course the celebration of the half century.

The Super des Fagne Brune looked great as it bubbled away after the initial pour, with a deep burgundy appearance with hints of russet and orange when held up to the light. It smelt great, and was surprisingly malty and treacly on first taste, and as it continued there were some great aftertastes – particularly of liquorice. A good holiday feeling from a less than famous brewery.

(Post-Script) – Less impressive however is the Super des Fagnes Blonde (#56). One to Avoid.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, Deer, Duck, Fagnes

#40 – Floreffe Double

#40 - Floreffe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Floreffe is a reasonably sized town in Namur, which is renowned probably only for its monastery, and then its range of colourful beers, now brewed by Lefebvre. As with most Abbey beers, these were once brewed on the premises, but of course the ravages of history took care of that.

Our old friend Norbert of Xanten (#8), the founder of the Premonstratensian order of monks was responsible for the founding of the Abbey – the second such one after Grimbergen. The Abbey was named Flos Mariae – The Flower of Mary, and soon became known for the legend of the altar stone. The Abbey chronicles reveal that while celebrating mass, St Norbert saw a drop of blood issuing from the sacred host (bread) onto the paten (offering plate). This sight was confirmed also by the deacon, and further miracles were said to have happened in 1204 and 1254 on the occasion of the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, where blood leaked from the remnant of the True Cross kept at the Abbey. This has since been relocated but remains within the rich history of Floreffe.

Following the French Revolution, the Abbots were expelled and although they did eventually return, they were never able to muster the numbers to continue the order,  and so the Bishop of Namur turned the buildings into a seminary in the early 1800’s. It is still a training school for priests to this day and I ended up here in the summer driving through the town. It’s a fairly attractive place to wander around, and there is a bar that sells the Floreffe range of beers. The tourist shop sells them but stupidly you can’t buy a pack with all the different beers and the price was ridiculous anyhow.

The beer was drunk after its best before date, but that doesn’t normally affect good Belgians that have been stored well. The beer really looked the part throughout the whole experience – dark and rich with a solid creamy head that barely flinched as I quaffed it. The aroma promised profound flavours but it really never delivered even from the off. Maybe there were some darker flavours somewhere in there but like the beginning of the second half of the England game I was watching I soon began to lose interest.

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