Category Archives: Belgian Ale

#249 – Les Brasseurs Ambree

#249 - Les Brasseurs Ambree

Size: cask

ABV: 6 %

Most stag weekends these days tend to head to hedonistic Eastern European cities, where the beers are cheap, the police turn a blind eye and if you want to look at ladies or worse, then you don’t have to look too far. Imagine the glares on my friend’s faces when news spread we were heading to Belgium for my weekend of debauchery. A country famed for its expensive beers, heavy handed police and distinct lack of vice; not to mention the tapestries, chocolate and lace.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m the wrong side of thirty, and that my obsession with Belgian Beer was quickly becoming obsessive. Brussels would be the perfect destination for twelve good and proper gentlemen to educate themselves in the art of drinking beer – its just most of them didn’t know it yet. I left the Best Man to sort out the travel and the digs, while I pored over a succession of esteemed beer joints to continue on my Odyssey in style.

Eurostar took eleven of us into the city centre by early afternoon on the Friday, and while we waited for the final team-member to arrive from the Middle East we began to fill our boots in the hotel reception. The sensible ones started on the easy drinking Maes, while in true Beer Shrimper fashion I went for the high ABV Trappists early doors. I’d managed a few of these by the time all parties were present and we headed into town. I’d managed to convince everyone to trust me on the first round of drinks and manfully got the Best Man to rustle up twelve Tripel Karmeliets (#229). While the quality of the beer was never in question there were a few discerning remarks from the real ale drinkers about drinking from floral goblets, and questioning the sexuality* of those who might choose to. If I was to continue educating my group in the finer aspects of Belgian beer then I would need a different approach.

I’d planned the visit to Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place a little later in the night, but now seemed a good a time as any. A real microbrewery, with real mens glasses right in the middle of the famous town square. I could tick off a few more beers that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else, and my chums could choose from a varied selection of home-made beers or any other lagery drivel they wanted. The more sensible in the group went off and took the opportunity to grab some strategic food to help soak up the alcohol while I stood strong in advocating that any kind of eating was most definitely cheating. It would inevitably be a truly regrettable stance.

The first selection from this tiny little brewpub was the Les Brasseurs Ambree. Contrary to public opinion of which I am now more recently acquainted I found this to be a pretty enjoyable little beer. A deep copper coloured beverage with a spicy little accent on the nose, or at least that’s what I seem to recall. I remember thinking this was going to be the first of many decent beers in this joint but it was largely the pick of what turned out to be a fairly sorry bunch.

*Anybody who has enjoyed the film In Bruges may remember a similar scene.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Brasseurs de la Grand Place

#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

#242 – St Idesbald Blond

#242 - St Idesbald Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

One of the highlights of drinking a thousand Belgian beers is the opportunity to tell a good story. I’ve already come across a number of Saints on my venerable journey thus far and I’m expecting plenty more to come. This time it’s the turn of St Idesbald to distract us from our guzzling, although to be fair during his actual lifetime there wasn’t a great deal to set the pulse racing.

The chief protagonist of the tale was born in approximately 1090 in West Flanders. He was of good solid stock, belonging to the noble family of van der Gracht who were lords of Moorsel. He continued to ingratiate himself with the more esteemed end of the community as a courtier and page to the Count of Flanders and followed a life of piety as a Cistercian monk. He became a canon priest in the beautiful town of Veurne in 1135, and by 1150 shortly after being widowed he joined the Abbey of our Lady of the Dunes (ten Duinen). He would eventually serve as Abbot until his death in 1167, where he was buried in a lead coffin shrine within the Abbey.

The Abbey was an important pillar of the society, and as the beer label will attest, in 1138 it was taken by the Order of Citeaux as an adopted daughter of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux. The St Idesbald beers in many ways celebrate this milestone as much as they do the man – who for centuries lay dormant in his final resting place. It was only in 1577 that things started to hot up a little, when the Gueuzen (essentially the Flemish uprising) plundered the Abbey and razed it to the ground. St Idesbald had been a key figure in the history of the Abbey and the locals were keen to ensure his remains were left untarnished and so transported his shrine to a farmhouse in Bogaerde. It remained here until 1623 where a macabre local survey was carried out which involved opening up the coffin. Amazingly the body of St Idesbald was found to be fully intact and uncorrupted.

The relics of St Idesbald were to become extremely important to the local populace and while the Abbey no longer existed, the farm in Bogaerde housed the coffin. He remained here until the French Revolutionary troops plundered the area whence his holy remains were whisked off to the relative safety of Bruges, eventually ending up in the hospital chapel at the Abbey of our Lady of the Potteries. Amazingly St Idesbald was not venerated as a Saint until 1894, and you can still visit his untarnished remains at the chapel in Bruges to this day, although unlike in 1623 you cannot actually view his lifeless body any longer.

You can though have a beer to celebrate his life, although the St Idesbald Blond is also hardly a brew to get your pulse racing. It is a typical standard Belgian blonde beer which pours a pale gold with a quite ferocious head. The nose is nothing to write home about and the flavour offers little distinguishable above a light fruity twang. This would be a pleasant enough summer barbecue beer for friends who perhaps don’t quite have the urge to explore anything too interesting on the tongue but want something a little stronger than supermarket lager.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Huyghe

#233 – Malheur 6

#233 - Malheur 6

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

The de Landtsheer brewery is yet another family business that has transcended the ages of Belgian history. The current President, Manu de Landtsheer is the latest in a long line of ancestors who have brought highly regarded beers to the market.

The founding father of the Malheur beers was Balthazar de Landtsheer, an exotically named gentleman who was born in 1773 in the hamlet of Bassrode. He set up a small rustic brewery on his farmstead which he named ‘De Halve Maan’. His son Eduard was born in 1808 and aside from eventually taking over the reins at the brewery, he also became the mayor of Bassrode. The nature of his involvement in politics meant that progress in brewing was slow, and it wasn’t until his son Emmanuel took over in the mid 1800s that the business began to muster strength.

Emmanuel decided to transfer the business from Bassrode to Buggenhout more as a means of getting in with the daughter of another local brewer who, to be fair he eventually married. Together they bought a small farm brewery named ‘it Meuleke’ and renamed it the Brouwerij de Zon (Sun Brewery). The business boomed and the company became so successful that they traded off the farm and concentrated solely on the beer. Emmanuel eventually passed away in 1879 leaving the business to his son Charles, who would in due course leave it to his own son; also named Emmanuel. The handover however was untimely as World War I arrived and brewing would have to cease. As was common at this desperate time, the family looked for alternative incomes and the brewery became in the end a depot for Pilsener Urquell, Westmalle, and the now defunct brewery Lamot.

The brewery would continue to remain inactive until 1997. Emmanuel and his son Adolf had by this time set up a successful hop farm on the premises but Adolf true to family tradition became the mayor of Buggenhout which would always distract him from his dream of once again brewing beer like his forefathers. He was mayor for a total of 33 years and he passed away in 1991. It was at this point that his son Manu felt the calling to vicariously achieve his father’s dream by reigniting the beer production on their farm. It’s fair to say they haven’t looked back since.

The Malheur 6 is a mid-strength copper coloured pale ale, which for me was distinctly average. There is much clamour around the globe now when the name Malheur is mentioned, but I would imagine it’s more for the dalliances into champagne style beers such as the Dark Brut, or the Cuvee Royale, than it is for the runty little Malheur 6. It poured an insipid looking amber colour with minimal head, and there was sadly very little of note from either the nose or the palate to recommend, which just like its name is fairly unfortunate.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, de Landtsheer

#232 – Hougaerdse Das

#232 - Hougaerdse Das

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.1 %

I would imagine there aren’t many beer fans out there who haven’t at least once tasted the beer Hoegaarden (#81). As previously explained this beer hails from the small Belgian village of the same name. Since the brewing operations of the beer have moved back to the locality there are now two brewing establishments in the vicinity, however it is astonishing to think that in 1750 this tiny place once had 35 breweries operating at one time. With a population of around two thousand people that works out at about one brewery for every 57 people!

A number of reasons have accounted for this massive decline; notably two World wars, and the mass commercialisation of craft beers by bigger companies (of which the beer Hoegaarden has perhaps suffered more than any). A few famous old names have fallen by the wayside including the Brasserie Louis Tomsin, where Pierre Celis once worked when he was a boy, and de Grote Brouwerijen van Hoegaarden, or as it was more commonly known – Brasserie Loriers, for the name of the street on which it once proudly sat.

It was the Brasserie Loriers that launched a beer in 1931 called Hougaerdse Das. The brewmaster was Marcel Thomas who had been travelling to various breweries in England and had tried a small beer which he fell in love with. It became a very popular beer in the locality for the next thirty years until in 1960 the brewery at Loriers went the same way as so many others – bought out by Artois (a forerunner of the foodchain that is Interbrew-InBev-AB/InBev etc). It was only a couple of years and the brewery was shut for ever. Hougaerdse Das became a lost beer, although InBev continued to use the Das yeast to create their Vieuxtemps beer.

If we go back to the story of Hoegaarden (#81) we follow that Pierre Celis set up his de Kluis brewery in the village as a result of watching all his favourite breweries get closed down. In fact, Marcel Thomas helped Pierre to set up his own brewery. Following the terrible fire in 1985 Celis was forced to take alms from Interbrew, and of course the same fate befell him in 1987 when he was bought out. As a result of this unlikely partnership however, Hougaerdse Das was unexpectedly revived in 1996. Perhaps it wasn’t to be too unexpected though, as Celis had used the Das yeast for his own beers also in the early years.

I’m almost certain that in the early days this Speciale Das Ale was probably quite a beer, but it certainly isn’t anymore. It is an unfiltered light amber barley beer, which according to the official website is ‘easily drinkable, full of character and appealing to beer aficionados who like to experiment’. The recipe contains coriander and orange peel in addition to the usual water, barley, malt and hops, although the flavours were largely anonymous. Just like the original Hoegaarden beer changed under new stewardship, so probably has the Hougaerdse Das, given its local reputation of yore. I almost feel like euthanasia might be the best thing for this beer.

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Hoegaarden (InBev), Lion

#222 – Slaapmutske Bruin

#222 - Slaapmutske Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

When I started this Odyssey I wasn’t entirely sure what it would bring. To be honest I wasn’t sure that writing about beer was really that interesting but I had fallen in love with the beer. I’m not turned on by beer rating websites – they don’t do it for me. I started to plot my journey on ratebeer but I soon got fed up of that. I’m not sure the swigging and swilling, and the sniffing and swishing were what I wanted to be a part of. What I have found though is that I really love the stories that every beer seems to be screaming to tell. I’d almost go as far as to say that in some cases the stories are just as good as that first taste of a new beer, and the Slaapmutske Bruin is the perfectest example.

The protagonists of this wonderful tale are Dany de Smet, the one-time brewmaster at Huyghe, and Marleen Vercaigne, his partner and beer lover extraordinaire. They shared a passion, and that passion led them to creating their own homebrews with the dream of one day setting up their own brewery. This unadulterated passion would eventually lead to marriage, and inevitably a baby boy called Jonas was born to both in 1999. As is surprisingly common amongst brewers, the happy couple celebrated the birth by making a new batch of homebrew which they christened Jonasbier. As a new dad I can testify to the fact that newborn babies have a natural tendency to cry just as you are trying to sleep off the sneaky few Tripels you had left in the cellar, and Jonas was no exception. In fact it got so bad during one particular night that Dany and Marleen decided as a last resort to try dipping his pacifier in the latest incarnation of their Jonasbier.

It’s certainly not in the baby raising textbooks, but the result was that Jonas immediately stopped fussing and almost slept for the whole night, which allowed Dany and Marleen to return to the sitting room to continue working out a name for this latest brew. Marleen had commented that “This beer is a real Slaapmutske”, which in East Flanders literally means ‘sleeping hat’, or what we in the UK might call ‘a cheeky little nightcap’. Suddenly the beer had a name, and as it was the middle of winter, this latest incarnation of the Jonasbier became the Slaapmutske Winterbier (later to be also known as the Slaapmutske Bruin). So impressive was this latest batch, that later the following the year the beer was released to the Belgian market. The couple were now living their dream.

It’s no surprise that the Slaapmutske Bruin was the catalyst for their mainstream movement into brewing. For a 6% beer it is remarkably tasty, mainly due to the blending of colour malts, aromatic hops and coriander. It is sweet, rich and spicy, yet velvety smooth on the tongue. Rarely have I been so impressed with a beer of this strength. I have often recommended friends and colleagues to pick some of these beers up in Belgium, and rarely has anyone been disappointed. I only wish this particular nightcap was just that little bit stronger.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Proef

#220 – Kossaat

#220 - Kossaat

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

The Kossaat beer is brewed by the unremarkable Lefebvre, but on behalf of the Brouwerij Vercauteren. There is a genealogical link for the name of this beer which takes us way back through history. It will explain the rustic looking gentleman on the label of the beer.

The Vercauteren story starts in the late 18th Century with Cornelius Cuyckens who was a farmer and occasional brewer by trade. He tended a small plot of land on the edge of the village at Malderen, and when he died he left behind seven children. It was one of his sons Peter who would take over the reins of this small-holding, and when he too eventually died, again the reins were passed on. Eventually after a couple more generations one of the granddaughters of Peter married an Alfons Vercauteren who took up the challenge and inspired the eventual modernisation of their practices. The journey continued through son Maurice and then grandson Andre before the brewing finally stopped with the latest in this long line – another Alfons Vercauteren.

The gentleman celebrated on the label of the Kossaat beer is the original farmer and brewer of this long chain – Cornelius. A Kossaat is/was a term largely used in Prussia during the 18th Century for a farmer who lived on the edge of the community and who largely eked out a living from their small plot of land. This was often impossible, and so they might have worked extra manual work for the richer farmers and landholders. Neither though were the Kossaaten the poorest around – at least they had some land, and the odd bit of livestock. The etymology of Kossaat derives from the Kotta, which was the Germanic name for the small cottages in which they would live. The term Kossaat literally means ‘those who sit in the cottages’.

It is likely that the Kossaten were of Slavic origin, and that this spread through to Prussia and into this Western corner of Europe. Cornelius Cuyckens certainly lived this simple lifestyle, as did his ancestors, and he was the one who essentially kickstarted the Brouwerij Vercauteren all those years ago. The beer, as you would expect from Lefebvre was distinctly average with very little to get excited about. It was a standard pleasant blonde with a light fruity flavour that was laced with some faintly impressive hopping. The history of the Kossaat may be semi interesting but the beer certainly isn’t.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Lefebvre