Category Archives: Abt/Quadrupel

#230 – Het Kapittel Tripel Abt

#230 - Het Kapittel Tripel Abt

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 10 %

It would be extremely rude to spend a night in the Kulminator bar and not pay more than just fleeting attention to this most impressive of booze joints. As fate would have it I’ve dabbled with a couple of others in the Het Kapittel portfolio, notably the Pater (#2), and the Dubbel (#108) so there would be a good place to brush up on the beers and the brewery.

The Kulminator is close to the city centre but far out enough to be off the tourist trail. For those curious it’s on Vleminckveld – although it’s easy to miss so look for the number 32. Hours can vary but most evenings you will find it open until the owners Dirk and Leen decide they’ve had enough for the night. This is a beer bar which is very much open on the terms of the proprietors which in essence defines the character of the place. I’ve been in enough beer bars now to appreciate a deviation from the norm and this is certainly no exception.

It was a cold wet night in question, and it easily took me two or three minutes to demist the glasses and come to terms with the stuffy layout. It took that long to find a dog-eared beer menu, and appropriate a seat at the bar, which was just enough time for Leen to accept our first order (#228). The beer was delicious, the music was stately and the atmosphere was eerie. Dirk was sat in a dusty corner surrounded by antiquities nursing a goblet of something fancy while completing his accounts. He barely raised an eye at our arrival, although I very much got the feeling that the days takings were peripheral to the real reason for being open.

The story of Dirk and Leen is an interesting one and dates back to 1974 when the couple opened a wine bar named Bodega in the Kiel district of Antwerp. The locals seemed though to prefer the grain to the grape, and so the focus of the bar was diverted towards beer; and not just local beer. Although all the Belgian classics were found there, you could also get your hands on Danish porters and reknowned German lagers and Bocks. One beer in particular, the EKU 28 was particularly popular and a favourite of Dirk. You might have heard of it by its other name – the Kulminator 28.

The Bodega bar eventually could no longer serve the increasing clientele which Dirk and Leen were garnering through their beer selection. Although the cellar could hold around a thousand cases of aging beer easily enough, the bar could only accommodate about thirty people, and so in 1979 they moved to their current location. The name was changed but the concept remained, and by 2005 they eventually managed to move all their old beer across. Some would say the Kulminator is more a museum than a bar, and it is hard to disagree. The place is littered with breweriana, but not only can you choose a beer, you get to select your vintage. Our second order of the night was a particularly expensive Chimay Blue (#45) that sent Leen into the bowels of the Kulminator. She returned a fair time later with a dust-laden vintage beautifully presented in a wicker basket. Needless to say it was well worth the investment.

By the time we had shared the Het Kapittel Abt the owners were getting restless, and we had had plenty enough beer, breaking open a Tripel Karmeliet (#229) and a La Montagnarde prior (#167). It isn’t therefore with much confidence that I bring you the thoughts on the beer, but from what I recall it was a thick meaty amberish brown which was full of flavour. Like most beers they tend to taste better from the bigger bottles where the yeast has more room to develop, and this was no different. By the time we had polished off the remains and put the world to rights, Dirk had kicked us unceremoniously out the door in his trademark no-nonsense fashion and of course having crossed the line of common sense some time ago we went in search of more beer. I’m not sure who was most upset – us the next day with the chronic hangover, or the landlady of our digs who had to let us in at some unearthly hour of the morning. Well and truly Kulminated I’m afraid.

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Filed under 8, Abt/Quadrupel, Van Eecke

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix

#154 – La Trappe Quadrupel

#154 - La Trappe Quadrupel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

It was a fleeting visit to Bruges this weekend, and the drive back on the Sunday afternoon was made particularly difficult due to the debilitating hangover which surfaced as I did. As I grimacingly pulled the duvet back over my head I tried to recount our steps from last night. Everything was on track from the Staminee de Garre (#153), whereupon we found a small regional restaurant with a poor beer selection. It was only polite to polish off a few carafes of red wine, and we were then heading for a decent bar to finish off the nights proceedings. I vaguely recall a couple of St. Bernardus 12’s crossing my lips, but the final nail in the coffin came from the deadly La Trappe Quadrupel.

I started to try and sum the amount of ABV I had drunk the previous night, and there was a common thread emerging – every beer was over 10%. The Quadrupel that I finished with was almost symbolic of a night of super-strength Belgian beer. The term Quadrupel isn’t a definitive one, but follows in the footsteps of our introductions to the Dubbel (#16), and the Tripel (#149), in that it is conversely related to the strength of the beer. It is itself a much rarer proposition, and the Beer Advocate website only lists about 90 individual examples, including the Westvleteren 12 (#66), and the St. Bernardus Abt (#46). I must admit, I try not to get too caught up in the whole beer definition thing, but it does make life a little easier sometimes when talking beer. As may be apparent by now, I am not a big fan of recreating the beer sampling websites on here.

Many definitions of a Quadrupel, historically have centred on the link to Trappist style, or Abt (Abbot) style beers. This was kind of fine until the strict designations were made as to what could or couldn’t be officially called a Trappist beer (#7). The Quadrupel terminology now exists really to fit in nicely with the innate desire to pigeon hole beers into categories. Beer Advocate and Ratebeer will have their views, but for me a Quadrupel is simply over 10%, full bodied and of the darker variety. What else do you need to know?

My only recollection of this particular Quadrupel was that it was a deep reddy brown colour, very strong and as I recall particularly delicious. Well, apparently that’s what I kept saying. It turns out I may also have had more than one! I was led home before I could go clubbing (something I normally despise), stopping at random strategic intersections to release the pressure on my saturated bladder. I apologise to the people of Bruges now, and hope I can make it up to you on my next visit.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#101 – Urthel Samaranth

#101 - Urthel Samaranth

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.5 %

Two very special people are behind the range of Urthel beers – Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden. Hildegard is the brewmaster and Bas manages the affairs and illustrates the beers, including the impressive website. Proving that even I can be a sexist male at times, I was surprised to find that Hildegard was the lady of the house.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Hildegard actually began studying industrial engineering in Leuven, specialising in all things ‘brewery’. After about four years teaching young engineers and leading them around various breweries, she let her entrepreneurial nature lead her to create a range of high quality Flemish beers with her partner Bas. Since the spring of 2000 the Urthel beers have been going strong, surprising people with their quality, and introducing the world to a myriad of strange stories and characters. These are predominantly the domain of artist, illustrator and storyteller Bas, who still romanticizes over a world of miniature gnomes.

The Urthel beers were originally brewed for Hildegard and Bas by the Van Steenberge brewery, however they have since moved these north of the border into the Netherlands at the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven, where our intrepid couple both worked and met. The spiritual home of the beers though is in Ruiselede in Belgium under the company name de Leyerth. Certainly by the time I had started my adventure these beers were brewed in Belgium, and if anyone cares to argue I will just drink extra at the end!

Hildegard and Bas, though based in Ruiselede, can often be found showcasing their beers in North America where the Urthel range is extremely popular. There are also plenty more Urthel beers to come and thus I will eventually get round to detailing the adventures of the Erthels from the Valley of the Ley, behind the mountains of Rooverth.

As for the Urthel Samaranth, this was actually a beer created and brewed specifically to celebrate the wedding of Hildegard and Bas in September 2002, and is because of its strength known as a Quadrium in the folklore of the Erthels. Whatever possesses anyone to drink beer this strong at a wedding certainly defies belief as my tasting will testify one quiet night indoors, miles away from the land of the Erthels.

Samaranth clearly is an Erthel with a reputation; an elder, just like the mate of your dad who can stand at the bar and drink eight pints in the last two hours like its water. He is most definitely somebody to look up to. I had already supped the St. Bernardus Wit (#100), and uncapped the Samaranth as I reclined on the sofa, eyes fixated on a Frank Capra movie. It was to be a critical error of judgment as twenty minutes later I was still on my hands and knees scrubbing Vanish into the sofa and carpet. This truly was a badboy!

Once I finally got down to drinking it, I can honestly say it blew me away. In no word of an exaggeration for every mouthful (or should I say sipful) a plume of fumes would emanate from my nose. I am not a big fan of brandy which this reminded me of, and while tasting a little medicinal and lacking the finer qualities of say the St. Bernardus Abt (#46), it certainly outshone the similar strength Bush Ambree (#3). I would definitely get this again, as any beer that has the temerity to bully me in my own house is something to be treasured.

(Post-Script) – the fumes that emanated from my nose was an interesting was of semi-interest, as I later discovered that the character Samaranth was a dragon in a fantasy novel by James A Owen.

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Filed under 8, Abt/Quadrupel, Brewers, de Koningshoeven

#66 – Westvleteren 12

#66 - Westvleteren 12

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.2 %

My last beer in Belgium on this trip was always going to be a bit special. In 2005 there was something of a media frenzy whipped up when the Westvleteren 12 was again voted the best beer in the world. It seemed preposterous to the journalists of the world that a beer made by monks in a tiny monastery in the middle of nowhere could lay claim to this, and they decided to investigate. The inevitable happened and the eyes of the world turned to the Trappist Abbey of St Sixtus (#46). Suddenly, and rather uncomfortably for both the monks of Westvleteren, and indeed the local population, hoards of beer lovers and profiteers alike from all over the world descended on the quaint country lanes north of Poperinge. For anyone who has driven up to the Abbey, they will testify that this must have been pure carnage. It is hard enough finding the place, let alone considering 3km queues of angry punters not being able to get anywhere near the Abbey doors.

The monks remained unrepentant and refused to up the sales of the beer. In true Trappist tradition (#7) they remained vigilant in only producing enough beer to provide for themselves and the community. On the opening of the new brewery premises, the head abbot stated “We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.” – a wonderful sentiment, but not one to appease the outside world who misread this statement as an indication of the beers becoming even rarer, and thus the queues grew and the media frenzy intensified further.

The monks have been true to their word, and even now only brew 4750 hectolitres per annum. To put this into perspective Chimay probably turn over 135,000 hectolitres per annum, which is almost thirty times the amount of beer! They are able to manage this by advertising sales by appointment only from the website, and by restricting public sales to a very limited amount on visiting. In fact I was only able to buy six Westvleteren Blondes (#90) to take away at the ‘In de Vrede’ café/brewery tap, and as many as I wanted of any of their three beers as long as I was on the premises. Time was short and I had a car to drive, so Tash and I shared what is still, according to the ‘Rate Beer’ website, the best beer in the world.

It was over four Euros which is fairly excessive but probably not really when you consider the location and how I paid nearly double that for a bottle of Westvleteren 8 in the UK (I wont tell you where in case I get anyone into trouble). It was elegantly poured and served at our cafeteria style table, and looked superb glistening under the lights. It was dark, but just enough light was able to radiate through. The overriding aroma was of liquorice and christmas pudding, followed by fruit and malt and many many more winter treats. On the palate it was solid, thick and venomous, as if the best mince pies had been liquidised with good beer. In a way it was more like dessert than a beer, and therefore I still vouch that the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) is a tidier beer for its subtlety and style. The Westy was trying just that bit too hard, although I think maybe this might have tasted better had I the opportunity to savour my own by the fireside on a winters evening, as opposed to sharing a quick sip in a heaving tourist-ridden cafeteria in the middle of the day. We will meet again I am sure.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#46 – St. Bernardus Abt 12

#46 - St. Bernardus Abt

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

St. Bernardus has a slightly different history to many others of the Trappist/Abbey ilk. For all intents and purposes you may pick up a bottle and consider this a Trappist beer, and if you open it and taste it you wouldn’t be far wrong – because it used to be.

The Refuge Notre-Dame de St. Bernard was established in Watou in the early 1900’s when the Catsberg Abbey Community from France fled anti-clerical policy into Belgium. They largely funded their existence through the production and sale of cheese. In 1934 they felt safer to move back across the border, and so sold the land and buildings to a gentleman named Everist Deconinck who expanded on, and improved the cheese making facilities.

Meanwhile, not far down the road, there sat the Trappist Monastery of St. Sixtus which shortly after World War II decided to stop the commericalisation of their beer and brew only for the monks. The head Abbot asked Mr Deconinck if he would continue to brew their Trappist beer,and Evarist was only too delighted, and thus until 1992 the St. Bernard facilities brewed and commercialised the St. Sixtus Trappist Ales under contract. Once this contract expired, the monks at St. Sixtus decided to end the relationship in order to preserve the true nature of the Trappist brand under the new definitions (#7).

The beers that had been made from the St. Sixtus yeast and recipes proved to be extremely popular, and the St. Bernard community did not want to give this up, and so changed their name, removed the Trappist identity and continued on under the name St. Bernardus. As far as we know though, it is still the same recipe, and of course the range of beers has increased beyond the usual capacity of a typical Trappist brewery. Meanwhile, St. Sixtus still brew their official Trappist beer, and you may know them better as the world-beating Westvleteren ales; ther Westvleteren 12 (#66) being often regarded as the best beer in the world !

So you can see how this beer has been confused over the years. I dare anyone to try it and say it doesn’t taste like one. It is immense. Dark and stoutlike in appearance with a frothy yeasty head typical of Trappist beers of this strength.  The aroma was possibly a little understated in comparison to the Trappistes Rochefort beers (#13, #31) yet the first taste equates to some of its more illustrious compatriots. Rolling the beer over the back of the throat evokes a multitude of spices; cloves, cinnamon and barbecue, and right to the end the flavour stays and when you finally put her down you feel like you have just been hit by a juggernaut. It’s not Trappist but who gives a shit. This was the perfect start to three weeks off work !

(Post-Script) – The St. Bernardus Tripel (#106) is also a stunner! Look out for the bright green bottle.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, St. Bernardus

#13 – Trappistes Rochefort 10

#13 - Trappistes Rochefort 10

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.3 %

The story of the Trappistes Rochefort Beers starts on very much the same vein as that of the Grimbergen beers (#8, #9). Abbey makes beer – Abbey gets destroyed by plunderers – Abbey reforms several times – Abbey begins to make beer again. All this over a period of 400 years.

The Abbey in question is that of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Remy, near the town of Rochefort, and has been indulging in the making of beer since about 1595. This is the second of the six Belgian Trappist breweries we have come across, and of course follows all the traditions – probably even more strictly than any of the others. The brewery is not open to the public *, and the recipes which are extremely well respected by all connoisseurs are very much shrouded in mystery. The Cistercian Monks of Strict Observance lead an austere lifestyle, and are firm adherents of their motto ‘Curvato Resurgo’ – ‘Curved,  I straighten up’.

It is thought that about 15 monks still live within the walls of the Abbey, and since 1952 have invested heavily in equipment and facilities to produce a set of three quality beers, although they still remarkably draw their water from a well within the monastery walls.

The strongest is the Trappistes Rochefort 10 – the one with the blue cap – which weighs in at a hefty 11.3 ABV. Definitely one to sup on a cold winters night and pull the blanket up with. It is thick, rich and full of bite. Easily the best beer I have tried as yet on my own strict observance, although it would later be surpassed by its younger brother, the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31).

* (Post-Script) – although much later in my journey I did manage to sneak into the grounds and take a peek while construction work was being carried out

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Rochefort, Trappist Beer