Category Archives: Belgian Strong Ale

#248 – Achel Blond 8

#248 - Achel Blond 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It wasn’t that long ago that I had first tried the Achel Bruin (#200), and up next was the highly rated Blond. The previous tale I spun was around the history of the brewery, but one shouldn’t leave these beers without a good look at the Abbey itself.

The real origins of the Achelse Kluis began way back in the mid 17th Century, out in the isolated countryside of Achel, which was then a small Princedom belonging to Liege. Here was built a small chapel which served the community as a worshipping place for the Catholic people of the nearby Protestant Netherlands who were not allowed to worship there under the current regime. The roots of the Abbey itself stem from Petrus van Eynatten heading here fromEindhoven in 1686 and setting up a priory of hermits which soon began to lead a life of prayer and contemplation. This quiet remote area would have drifted on and on but for the French Revolution in 1789 which tore the heart and soul out of the place.

The priory was then sold into the private hands of Jan Diederik van Tuyll van Serooskerken, but monastic life would eventually return thanks to the Trappist monks from the Abbey of Westmalle who founded the Abbey of St. Benedict in 1846. They put all their energies into ramping up the agricultural infrastructure; largely by developing livestock farming and by replacing wasteland with arable soil. Achel was granted Abbey status in 1871 and from here on really began to prosper, and sister projects would eventually spring up at Echt, Diepenveen, Rochefort (#31) and even at Kasanza in Congo.

Life would remain pretty unchanged at Achel until 1917 when the invading Germans dismantled the brewery for copper – 750kg of the stuff. The monks left, and a new Abbey was eventually built between 1946 and 1952, although in 1989, just after brewing had recommenced on the premises, most of the land attached was sold to the Dutch National Forest Administration and the Flemish Government. What remains at the Abbey now is the final Trappist brewery, and a number of tertiary services which also include a small shop selling various paraphernalia, and a guesthouse.

Achel is often the most overlooked of the Trappist breweries, and I have to admit I haven’t been completely convinced up to now as to what all the fuss is about. I sat down to drink the Achel Blond the night before my stag weekend expecting something a little more grand. It was an enjoyably strong tripel which had a clean and crisp flavour but it certainly lacked any of the fire that you associate with the monastic brewers of Belgium. I began to wonder what this might have tasted like prior to World War I and ended up drifting off to sleep on the sofa.

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Filed under 7, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#243 – Den Drupneuze

#243 - Den Drupneuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Den Drupneuze beer is the first offering on my journey from the brewery Tseut. It is their Christmas brew and the label festively depicts the friendly pig who typically adorns each of their beers. The oinker in this case is the one wearing a seasonal hat and scarf and who is clearly suffering as a result of the wintry weather – a nice drop of blue snot falling from his snuffly snout. Den Drupneuze of course means runny nose in local dialect.

Beer and alcohol has often been cited as the perfect cure for a cold, and as winter sets in all around us I thought I would put this theory to the test. While the younger of us might head straight for the Lemsip or Night Nurse, ask anyone old enough and they will tell you that a warm cup of booze will cure your ills. It is more likely if you get ill at your Grandmothers house that you will end up with a brandy or a glass of hot toddy (whiskey, hot water and lemon juice) than a nice strong Belgian beer however this viewpoint is so universal there has to be some truth in it. Surely.

The hypothesis here is that alcohol can kill a cold, through the fact that it produces an environment where a virus is unable to survive. Essentially if you were able to get enough alcohol in your blood supply you could in fact create a hostile enough environment to decimate the virus completely. The one downside however is that the levels of alcohol required to support this would also completely kill off your liver. Back to the drawing board. So the next hypothesis asks the question whether regular consumption of alcohol can make the average drinker less susceptible to colds and flu?

There have been a number of studies conducted around this suggestion and one in particular in the USA looked at almost 400 adults and noted that resistance to colds did in fact increase in moderate drinkers, although interestingly not those who smoked. A study in Spain also suggested that a certain amount of units of alcohol per week did indeed correlate with an increased resistance to colds, although they couldn’t prove this in terms of spirits or beer; only red wine, which supports the theories that it is the anti-oxidants present which keep the virals at bay. Now the last thing I want is to shift anyone onto drinking wine so what about a final suggestion – will alcohol and beer in particular help to mediate the side-effects of a cold?

The answer is almost certainly a resounding yes, but it comes with a few caveats. In fact a number of studies have suggested that a good strong beer can temporarily alleviate painful symptoms such as a sore throat or nasal congestion. I’m sure I am not the only one who would prefer a couple of Westmalle Tripels (#149) to taking an ibuprofen or paracetamol? The benefits of drinking beer over pills is self-evident but needs to be balanced against the pain of the evil hangover and of course the fact that drinking alcohol will dehydrate your body – which in actual fact will scientifically prolong the effects of your virus. The moral of the story is drink, drink, and drink, but if you specifically want to help yourself cure a cold, then a little of what you fancy is perfect but any more than one or two is probably only going to make matters worse in the long run.

The Den Drupneuze itself is a rare amber festive beer, a choice based on the brewers natural preference. It is brewed from November to March and the current beer at 8.5% is a more watered down version of the original much stronger brew. I am a big fan of strong amber beers but this one didn’t quite reach my growing expectations. It certainly looked the part but the taste never really went anywhere past a faint malty and fruity bitterness. For the extra ABV this was in the end a very average beer, and certainly not the sort of ale I would entrust in getting me through a severe bout of manflu.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Pig, Tseut

#241 – Zatte Bie

#241 - Zatte Bie

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Another offering from the de Bie brewery. I hadn’t had the greatest of experiences up to now from this small brewery (notably #112, #113, and #156) but I had heard good things about the Zatte Bie, and I’m aware the brewery had not always had the most consistent beers from their early offerings.

The name of the beer literally translates as Drunk Bee, and at 9% ABV a few of these wouldn’t take long to instil violence in the common man if you believed everything you read (#240). Almost every beer blog or review you will ever read will concentrate on the sensory experiences associated with tasting the beer, but we almost forget that when you drink beers properly (as opposed to tasting) it doesn’t take too many of them of this strength to wipe you out. Seeing as it’s a fairly topical subject I thought I would take a foray into what might typically happen to my body today as I get Zatted.

Generally the first few beers probably will slip by without too much noticeable activity but then things will start to happen. Alcohol increases bloodflow to the skin which will make the drinker begin to feel warm and look flushed. The Central nervous system will at this point also begin to experience some interference, firstly with picking up sensory information from key organs, and then being able to effectively respond to it. This causes those typical symptoms such as slurring, uneven balance and a dulling of pain. The frontal cortex of the brain will also start to be effected by the alcohol now, and will be the main reason for a lack of inhibition for many. You might also notice for the first few beers that you didn’t need to urinate but all of a sudden the seal has been broken. This will be the combination of alcohol being a diuretic and your kidneys starting to direct fluids straight to the bladder; a direct cause of the dehydration which will follow later in the hangover stage.

The liver starts to work its magic now also; generally responsible for metabolising the alcohol from the body, although it can only do this at about one or two units per hour; probably much slower than you can drink. If it’s Belgian beers that are on the menu then its likely there will be much more glucose entering the bloodstream. The body resists this surge of sweetness by producing more insulin; and it will struggle to know when to stop. In the latter stages of a good beer session that typical shakiness of the limbs and dizziness is caused by the now depleted glucose levels. This will make even the hardened beer drinker tired and the body will begin to crave a carbohydrate boost – a biological explanation for the Munchies.

It’s likely that sleep will be the next thing on the agenda although this will be badly affected as well by the Zatte Bie. Alcohol has a negative effect on sleeping rhythms and the dehydration caused by drinking prevents the quality rest needed to fully recharge batteries. At this stage also the pharyngeal muscles in the throat will have completely relaxed and therefore there will be an increased chance of snoring; culminating in an increased chanced of being poked and nudged all night by disaffected partners. Your body will now be preparing itself nicely for the hangover but I think that can wait for another day as I need to finish by lauding this tidy little stout. This seemed to be a newer batch from the brewery and was very well made. It looked wonderful in the glass with its regal ochre head proudly waiting to be broken. The taste was sweet and malty, with some spice and subtle bitterness underneath. This isn’t the most polished beer in the world but certainly is the pick of the brewery and is probably worth punishing your body with.

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Filed under 7, Bee, Belgian Strong Ale, De Bie

#237 – du Boucanier Christmas

#237 - du Boucanier Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5%

When you drink 9.5% beers it tends to have an effect on your mental faculties. Of course the range of dysfunction will tend to depend on the number of 9.5% beers consumed however it certainly takes less of these to get to that happy maladjusted state. Once I had got around to polishing off the Biere du Boucanier Christmas I was keen to ask the question – so how do pirates celebrate Christmas?

It’s not something I’m sure many people have ever thought about and once I was sober again I realised it was a stupid question. I have to admit to searching on Google in the extremely optimistic hope that somebody had published a university paper on the subject. Aside from finding a plethora of Christmas carols which had been butchered to fit a jaunty nautical theme or a number of children’s storybooks I found very little. What was I hoping for? A Christmas tree plundered from an island and tied to the mast? Boozed up buccaneers passed out around the wireless waiting for the Kings speech?

I am surprised though that the marketeers haven’t yet cashed in on the festive piratical theme when it comes to the du Boucanier range of beers – they seem to have covered everything else. The beers are brewed by Van Steenberge but marketed and distributed by a company called Icobes. The portfolio of beers consists of the Blonde Ale, a Red Ale (#27), a Dark Ale (#174), and this Christmas Ale. There is also a Buccaneer Old Reserve beer which seems to use the same theme but is actually the same beer as the Bornem Tripel. This is also the same brewery which makes the much tastier Piraat 9 (#15), and Piraat 10.5. Clearly somebody at Van Steenberge likes pirates, and Icobes certainly feel there is a market given the merchandise available.

The beers, in particular the flagship (excuse the pun) Blonde Ale are sold in anything from 33cl bottles, six pack gift boxes and 750ml bottles, to Magnums, Jeroboams and the mighty Salmanazar. These are largely for one-off brews such as the Grand Reserve 3rd Millenium, and the Grand Reserve Prestige du Brasseur, although I have never seen any of these and given the dated nature of the company website can only assume the novelty of the du Boucanier beers has waned in recent years. If anyone wants to put this to the test the following can be ordered for Christmas presents:- T shirts, baseball caps, posters, mirrors, enamelled pins, picture frames, bandannas and shawls, as well as the regular beer mats, gift sets and beer glasses. You can also buy the boot shaped 0.5l glass which was discovered in the du Boucanier Dark Ale (#174). I rarely see these beers anymore although still cling to the hope of trying the popular Blonde Ale some day.

The Christmas beer itself though was really quite disappointing. While the Red and the Dark Ales hadn’t exactly been seminal brews they did at least have some redeeming features, whereas this high strength amber could and should have delivered so much more. It’s a style of beer that I am particularly fond of, but there was very little flavour to the beer, aside from a pineapple tinge and the extra strength offered no increase in character in any way. It will get you pissed though which is at least something when you have had enough of the relatives on Christmas day.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Van Steenberge

#231 – Authentique Blonde de Noel

#231 - Authentique Blonde de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Part of the fun of trying at least a thousand different beers is that it forces you to deviate from the popular and the mainstream. Sometimes you really wonder why you bother but then every now and then you get a nice surprise. The Brasserie Authentique is one such example.

This very small brewery in Blaton, deep in the Hainaut countryside was started by Frederick Baert back in 2004. The first few years began with just a once weekly brew which allowed him to experiment with the beers and get the business running. As with any small entrepreneurial brewing operation the kit starts to build slowly, and in the first few years Frederick was using brew kettles which were once used in the dairy for milk. He wouldn’t be the first and certainly won’t be the last. As the years have progressed, so has the output, and by 2007 Authentique were knocking out 60 hectolitres per year which virtually doubled in 2008, when a whole new set of fermentation tanks were installed.

Frederick takes the artisanal role very seriously – his brews are completely unpasteurised and bottle conditioned, and he uses different yeasts for the bottle conditioning than he does for the initial fermentation. The whole process takes about eight weeks from brewing to the final product being ready for the local shops and pubs. The first two weeks are typically spent in the warm conditioning room, followed by a couple of weeks settling themselves. A fortnight is usually then spent beginning the fermentation process, before the final two weeks is spent cold-conditioning the beers.

Authentique produce a variety of beers, including a blonde, tripel and brune (labelled as 621), however I first got my hands on the Blonde de Noel Christmas offering, which was my first beer back from the energetic weekend spent in Antwerp. I needed something strong and spicy to get me back in the saddle, and this proved to be the perfect antidote. The Blonde de Noel is brewed with star anise and juniper which certainly added a lively kick to proceedings. It poured quickly and powerfully and I was unable to get the whole beer in the glass to begin with. After a little patience I was finally able to fully decant and ended up particularly impressed with the beer in my still trembling hands. It was strong, fruity and had plenty of depth; which no doubt the spices provided. I’m glad I have a few more of the Authentique range in my beer shed to cure my future excesses.

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Filed under 8, Authentique, Belgian Strong Ale

#227 – Kerst Pater Special

#227 - Kerst Pater Special

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Christmas beers largely exist for a number of perfectly good reasons, which if you want to revisit please feel free to check out the Bush de Noel (#83) – the first Christmas beer of my journey. For me, the best reason to have a Christmas beer is to snugly sink into the traditions of yuletide, and a strong, dark, rich and wholesomely fruity beer is simply perfect on a cold winters night.

The idea of these kind of drinks is nothing new, especially in the UK, where mulled wine is a particular favourite at Christmas. I began to look back historically at the types of drinks served at this time of year and one of the earliest forms of Christmas beer turned out to be a drink known as Lambswool, which seems to have been fairly common as far back as the late 15th Century. The brew consists of spiced ale (or in later years cider) and baked apples. There are various explanations for the name; although the most likely is that the light colour and frothy appearance on the surface looks remarkably like the sheared wool of a lamb.

The odd looking drink was traditionally associated with the act of ‘wassailing’ – which basically amounts to a procession of merry persons (usually inebriated on lambswool) who wander their locality toasting either a) their neighbours or b) the environment. The first custom of ‘house visiting’ usually requires the females to dress up in bows and ribbons and offer their bowls of lambswool to owners. The second custom is slightly more bizarre, in that usually the males wander fields and orchards ladling their lambswool over crops and trees, and singing ancient rhymes. The idea in Pagan times was that this would guarantee the crop for the following year. It is largely now just a fading tradition of folklore which tends to occur in country villages around Somerset and Gloucester on Twelfth Night (January 5th) or thereabouts.

I normally make some kind of mulled wine over Christmas, however as we approach this festive break I am going to break from tradition and supplement my Belgian beers with some lambswool. Essentially a good half a gallon of real ale, combined with some apples, nutmeg, ginger and brown sugar should suffice. I will be the new boy in the street so will decline the dressing up as a morris dancer part though. Anyway, enough of this frivolity – what about the Kerst Pater Special? This is a much better beer than the other Pater Lieven brews (#18, #73) that I had tried thus far. It was punchy on the nose, and continued to work on my tastebuds. It had all the attributes you associate with a good Christmas beer – rustic fruit, spice, cloves, and cinnamon. This beer doesn’t get a lot of press but is certainly too good to waste pouring over your neighbours perennials.

 

Thanks to Bernt Rostad for the photograph

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Van den Bossche

#225 – Santa Bee

#225 - Santa Bee

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Kris Boelens family run brewery from Belsele essentially started brewing in 1993 at a time when the mini revival of Belgian beer was in full swing. Towns and villages were tired of standing by and watching the conglomerates like Heineken and InBev pick off their historic family run businesses. The Boelens story though wasn’t a particularly new one – Kris Boelens can trace his brewing family tree right back to his great grandfather!

The Boelens brewery actually began its life in Lokeren in the 19th Century, a dozen miles away from the town of Belsele, where the family opened another brewery called De Meester. The owner would eventually pass away leaving his wife with a business she was ill-equipped to run. As she was also the sister of the brewer of the Boelens brewery she sought help from the family. It would be Henri Boelens, (her nephew, and Kris Boelens grandfather) who had trained as a brewer who joined his aunt in Belsele to take the business venture on. Henri eventually decided to rename the Belsele brewery Boelens; and it was in this very building that the current Boelens brewery is still based.

At that time the brewery was providing for seventeen pubs and inns in the town, which considering it only had a population of just under two thousand was pretty impressive, however fortune was to turn sour for the family run business in the shape of the German invasion during World War I. The systematic removal of all copper from Belgian breweries meant that the Boelens family had to choose another means of survival. They gained agreement from the German army to change the nature of their business into the distribution of existing beer, and thus brewing stopped, and wouldn’t start again until 1993 where we begun our little tale.

The Santa Bee, or the Kerstbier as it is more often known is unsurprisingly the Boelens Christmas offering. It is a dark tasty brew, very much in the typical Christmas beer genre. It poured a heavy chocolate brown with a thick rich head and reminded me somewhat of the Sainte-Monon Brune (#55). I’m definitely growing to like this little brewery who have yet to disappoint me on my journey.  There’s also plenty more in the cellar to come.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Boelens

#223 – Guldenberg

#223 - Guldenberg

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

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

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

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

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

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

#221 – Leffe 9

#221 - Leffe 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#218 – La Prime de la Fin d’Annee

#218 - La Prime de la Fin d'Annee

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

This was my first beer from the St. Helene brewery. Interestingly I had driven through the town of Virton on a recent jaunt to Luxembourg and the location of this brewery had randomly popped up on the Sat Nav (Not strictly true as I had painstakingly entered all the locations of the breweries into it before I left – what else would a true beer professional do?). I was surprised to find a small suburban semi-detached house in a quiet residential road. I peered in the front door and called out a few times but nobody heard me. I got back in the car and we drove onwards – the shortest brewery tour ever, and one of the most unremarkable.

It turns out that the current location in Virton was actually something of an upgrade from the previous location. Eddy Pourtois started the ball rolling in 1993 following a succession of experimental home brews which friends and family had loved and encouraged him to continue. By 1995 the first amber beer was produced and the St Helene brewery was kind of officially formed. It took its name from the then home address of 21 Rue St. Helene, Orsinfaing. Despite the 2003 move to Virton, the brewery has kept the same name, and until only recently, virtually the same range of beers.

Eddy Pourtois slowly began to take himself seriously and was making more and more beers. He took courses in biology and chemistry and by 1998 had officially accepted his position as a reputable local brewer. The marketing began in earnest in 1999 and despite the modest facilities he managed to knock out three hectoliters of beer by the end of the year. A further sixty followed in 2000. Eddy Pourtois had found himself and began the search to find larger premises to continue his adventure which would eventually lead him to Virton – where we had almost met.

I’d managed to pick up a 750ml bottle of the La Prime de la Fin d’Annee at the Bruges Beer Festival later in the year based solely on the nostalgia of my little detour. It was an apt name for a beer that is essentially brewed for festivals at the end of the year, and is only produced from October with September reserves. The title of the beer is a reference to a term used in France to denote the end of year reward in businesses. Often a 13th month salary is paid to workers as a bonus for their hard work over the year. This beer is the St Helene bonus to its punters. I was only happy to oblige.

I decided to share the bottle with my sister who isn’t one to shy away from a decent beer and we were both suitably impressed. It poured a muddy milky chocolate in both colour and texture and sported a most mysterious nose. The taste was ruggedly unique and rustic, with the subtlest sweetness of chocolate throughout. This was backed up by the bottle which confirmed it was brewed with colour, caramel and chocolate malts. My only regret was that I had shared my annual beery bonus.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, St Helene

#215 – Satan Red

#215 - Satan Red

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The de Block brewery in Peizegem is probably most noted for its two Satan beers. Certainly the bulk of the marketing around the brewery centres around the little red devil on the label, although it isn’t always positive as the below will attest.

Belgian beers sell very well across the world, and probably none more so than in the United States of America. The most logical place would be the Eastern and Western seaboards where craft breweries are growing in number every week. Distributors may though wish to exercise a little more caution in the Deep South following the extreme reactions from the local population which followed the launch of Satan beers there in 2008. The people of the Deep South tend to have something of a reputation for being somewhat ‘god-fearing’ and puritanical. I don’t particularly have an opinion on the matter but I certainly found the associated stories amusing and worth sharing on here. *

It all started with a distributor who unimaginatively called themselves Cask Distributers. They picked up on the lifting of the high-gravity beer ban in Charleston by adding a number of Belgian beers to their range. One of the companies main outlets was the chain of Piggly Wiggly stores until customer complaints saw the store manager ban the beer. Bill Trull, the General Manager commented “We’re in the Deep South. We have to be careful of what we put in front of families”. The shop also no longer stocks the ‘Best Damn Chili ever’ or Fat Bastard, Old Fart and Bitch wines. Another store in the area was making remarkable sales on Satan and a beer called Arrogant Bastard, but again following complaints these were hidden in the back of the shop and then made available on ‘special order’ only.

It isn’t just a localised issue though. In Houston, a church group staged a sit-down protest at a local grocery store and refused to leave until Satan was removed from the store. Further trouble flared when an underage and undercover person was sent by the state’s alcohol authority to purchase beer, and the little blighter selected Satan. An investigation followed, and the Noble Union Trading company who imported the beer was banned from Texas. They were particularly unimpressed and suggested that in the Deep South there seems to be a “Bible thumping crusader behind every tree”. The clamour of the launch of Satan caused such a stir that even the brewery de Block were forced to make a statement. They pointed out that the name emanated from the old brewing traditions of slaving over a hot fire rather than it being about any religious statement. They were also keen to point out the popularity of beers such as Duvel (#34), Lucifer (#169) and Duivels Bier (#179), and that even the Belgian national football team are called the Red Devils.

Despite the ban, sales have continued to be strong. In the case of Satan Red, this isn’t just a result of gimmicky labels – it’s a fantastic beer. It was even more satisfying as I really wasn’t expecting it, especially as the beer appeared a little thin on pouring. The aroma was keen and fruity though and the beer certainly packed a trifle-like punch. A wonderful mix of hoppiness, strong alcohol all served up with an unforgettably delicious tangy flavour. The newspaper originally covering this story had come up with a number of headlines for beer shops to accompany the beer. The one which most sums up the experience must be “It’s so good, it’ll have you speaking in forked tongues”.

* I will find out for myself next Easter as myself and a few pals are undertaking a baseball road trip from Chicago to Jacksonville.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Block

#213 – Gulden Draak Vintage

#213 - Gulden Draak Vintage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Although I had previously recounted a version of the legend of the Golden Dragon in my review of Gulden Draak (#145), there is an even more fanciful alternative in a book by Bertha Palmer Lane called ‘Tower Legends’. This anthology details the mystical dragon from Aleppo, and other similar stories related to an assortment of world belfries. It’s more a book for children, and considering children aren’t supposed to be drinking beers and almost certainly should have better things to do than read about beers, I am going to dispel all those myths right here. I did the same whistleblowing recently on the gnomes of Achouffe (#185), and nobody there has come knocking on my door yet.

Despite the fact that the people of Bruges seem to think that their Golden Dragon was stolen by the people of Ghent in actual fact this is complete baloney. It’s hardly surprising they might think this though given that Emperor Maximilian once labelled his own Brugeois people as mad (Brugse Zot #36). We can assume that without the invention of broadband at that time that maybe word of mouth and propaganda was responsible, although the myth has permeated through to the 20th Century. Not only are there still regular requests in Bruges to have the dragon returned, even the people of Norway made a request in 1918 for their claim on the prize. It was after all a Norwegian king who in the legend had first donated the mythical dragon to the Turks. Sigh.

The actual dragon that sits atop the belfry in Ghent was commissioned at the request of the people of Ghent in 1378. It was suggested the dragon would be symbolic of the power and freedom of Ghent at that time, and as dragons are supposed to never sleep, this creature would always look out across the city and protect its citizens. It has often been involved in key historical festivities, notably first in 1500 at the baptism of prince Karel, and on regular occurrences since when it would spit fire (no doubt some sly mechanical sleight of hand in case you were beginning to wonder). It has lain dormant however since 1819; no doubt when the people of Ghent began to realise it was in fact just a copper statue.

Whether you prefer the facts or to lose yourself in the legend, there is no getting away from the popularity of the copper statue and the role it plays in the identity of the city. The two beers made by Van Steenberge are equally iconic; although I haven’t myself quite worked out why as yet. The Gulden Draak Vintage was slightly better than the original beer, but to be honest it wasn’t by a great deal. The Christmas version started badly by viciously exploding on my lap (when will I learn?) and having managed to first decant it into two glasses and then scrubbed the sofa I was able to continue with what was left. I found the remains to be less artificial than the original but lacking in any real flavours which you might expect from a seasonal beer. It packed less of a punch but was slightly more rounded in flavour than the Gulden Draak. I may be in the minority on this one but I’d give both beers a wide berth – once again the truth is less interesting than the hype.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#208 – Oerbier

#208 - Oerbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Oerbier is the flagship beer of the de Dolle Brouwers, and was the first beer to be launched by the Mad Brothers. The name of the beer roughly translates as ‘primitive beer’, ‘original beer’, or ‘beer from the source’ – a title which reflects the evolutionary nature of both the beer and the brewery.

The de Dolle Brouwers story first began in 1980 following brothers Kris and Jo Herteleer’s attempts to make home brew from English supermarket kits. They were still at college at the time and making a shed load of experimental beers. Eventually they decided to enter a competition in Brussels, and they picked one of their 35 creations. Amazingly this Oerbier won, and the cash first prize was all the incentive they needed to begin their new business.

The success of the Oerbier was really down to a change of approach from the Mad Brothers. The initial efforts at brewing hadn’t really yielded anything worthwhile, so they opted to use the finest natural ingredients – spring water, fresh hops and yeast, only malt, and strictly no colouring, preservatives or filtering! This philosophy has continued to guide de Dolle Brouwers to cult success now across the world where their beers are revered. The Oerbier continues to be the flagship beer, and the small yellow man on the label continues to represent the brand. The cartoon figure is a sprouting yeast cell, who carries a mashing fork in one hand and the perfect glass of Oerbier in the other. The year Anno 1980 represents the date the brewery began, and the words Nat en Straf literally translate as ‘Wet and Strong’, which is a pretty decent analogy of the Oerbier, although it has been even stronger at times.

The real beauty of the Oerbier, which may frustrate those who seek consistency, is that each annual effort is brewed differently. I found this out later in my journey when I tried an older version at the Kulminator bar in Antwerp. When the beer was first made it used Rodenbach yeasts which left the beer at around 7%. Eventually in around 1988 once Palm had taken over Rodenbach, the de Dolle Brouwers started to evolve their own mad strains from the original yeast and the ABV rocketed. In around 2000 the beer was over 10%. Nat en Straf indeed!

The 9% version of the Oerbier I tried was simply immense. It poured a beautiful conker brown with an attractive mop of white head glistening like an oasis on the top. There was an adequate dosing of sediment which added to the experience, and the aromas were far too abundant to even begin trying to decipher. The first taste was divine, a sweet and complex meaty brew that scintillated every taste bud. Again, there were so many flavours that I couldn’t begin to tell the story. It’s not often I drool over beers, but this and the Boskeun (#82) are easily amongst my top five brews – so much so that on my last trip to Belgium I called in to the brewery to stock up on supplies and get my own flagship glass.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers

#205 – Grimbergen Cuvee de l’Ermitage

#205 - Grimbergen Cuvee de l'Ermitage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Another beer from the surprisingly extensive Grimbergen range, and following the recent review of the Optimo Bruno (#194), here follows another with a bold claim of greatness. One would fully expect that with the appellation Cuvee de l’Ermitage this would be some kind of serious brew – Cuvee de l’Ermitage translates crudely as the monks best beer from the most select vats, or something along those lines.

This claim is more likely to have been true in the past, as Alken-Maes (who took over the old Union brewery in 1978) inherited this then highly regarded beer. The original beer was a full 1% stronger in ABV weighing in at 8.5%, and was brewed largely as a Christmas beer. At one time it even bore the name Cuvee de l’Ermitage Christmas. It was largely brewed as a kind of seasonal beer using a selection of three kinds of hops and a variation of special malts. After fermentation it was left to rest for three months in carefully designed tanks which would allow the beer to develop its characteristic flavour – often referred to as bitter, and not unlike Armagnac brandy.

The term ‘Cuvee’ as it is most often used these days in relation to wine seems to apply fairly reasonably to this old beer, in that it reflects a batch of beer blended in a distinctly different way to the rest. The term Hermitage refers most generically to a place where groups of people would live in seclusion in order to devote themselves fully to religious or monastic purposes. This was almost always ascetic in nature, and some of the finest beers known to humanity have been made in this way – the Trappist way.

I never tried the original beer, so I can only comment on the latest incarnation of the recipe, but this is certainly no Cuvee, and it certainly isn’t made in a Hermitage. For me the Cuvee de l’Ermitage is just another average beer that isn’t even as good as the two staple Grimbergen beers (#8, #9) on which it is trying to clearly discern itself from. It was firstly far too thin, with a weak insipid head, which ended up resembling a faded pale amber. It didn’t smell of a great deal but had a fairly unique flavour – quite hoppy with plenty of citrus. This was once a seemingly great beer, but is now little more than a marketable addition to an extremely average range of brews. What else would you expect though from Alken-Maes?

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Alken-Maes, Belgian Strong Ale, Phoenix

#204 – Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune

#204 - Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

I had planned on taking this opportunity to explore a little about the tiny Ecaussinnes brewery from Hainaut, but while pondering the relative qualities (or lack of qualities) of the Ultra Brune, I almost dropped my best glass in horror when I spotted something undigestable to a writer, and in particular to a writer about beer. I spotted a word that I had never seen before. I can only apologise to my loyal readership for this aberration and will hereforth seek to redress this within this blog entry.

The description on the Ecaussinnes website refers to a ‘light Scotch aftertaste, a nice body coming from the 4 different kinds of malt (one pale, two caramelised and one torrefied malt).’ Torrefied? What !?

torrefy (third-person singular simple present torrefies, present participle torrefying, simple past and past participle torrefied)

  1. To subject to intense heat; to roast

Thanks to some random on-line dictionary above for the clarification. Malts of course are a key ingredient in dark beers, and there are loads of them which brewers can use to spice up their recipes. One of the ways they can add nutty flavours to beers, and to eliminate volatile ingredients is through roasting the malts at a very high temperature, which is exactly what would have been done to the Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune. The brewer would have plucked out some pale and caramelised malts, and finally added malt which had been previously subjected to extreme burnage.

The malts are usually roasted in kilns, and the level of torrefication will vary greatly dependent on the desired result of the flavour. Pale ale malts as used in the Ultra Brune will normally be roasted at relatively low temperatures (could be between 70 and 100 degrees centigrade), however some malts can be torrefied at temperatures as high as 220 degrees centigrade – examples include chocolate, coffee and crystal malts. I find the statement of the ingredients above as somewhat misleading because in actual fact most malts are exposed to some degree of torrefication, including the caramelised malts.

I can only then assume that for the Ultra Brune, the instructions said ‘burn the shit out of it’, although it seems common knowledge that if you over roast malts it will lead to spoilage. This certainly might explain my impression of the Ultra Brune, which once decanted for the ridiculous amount of meaty sediment really was rather unimpressive. For a beer that is 10% ABV I expected a much more flavoursome and wholesome experience – but all I really got was an odd beef-jerky flavour amidst a gob full of brown plankton. It settled eventually and I was able to adjudge some redeemable merit in the taste but I would certainly give this a wide berth again.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Ecaussinnes

#201 – Artevelde Grand Cru

#201 - Artevelde Grand Cru

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.3 %

Jacob van Artevelde. He was so good the brewers at Huyghe named him twice. The original Artevelde (#144) was first marketed on the 5th July 1985, and then in 1987 the brewery decided to rightly improve things and had their first stab at bottle conditioning a beer.

Jacob van Artevelde is a natural choice really as a symbol of Ghent. The 14th Century statesman was of Ghent stock, and a successful Flemish statesman. He was also known widely as the ‘Master Brewer of Ghent’ such was his love for making beer. Until very recently and the opening of the Gentse brewery, Huyghe has largely dominated the brewing scene in Ghent, and despite my spurious views on Huyghe as a quality brewery, nobody can really argue that they aren’t the master brewers themselves of Ghent.

The Artevelde beers signalled what was a massive change for the brewers at Huyghe. I’m yet to delve into the earlier history at the brewery, but at this time there was a radical renovation and reformation of its purpose and structure. Away went the dull and listless pilsener recipes for which they were known, and in came the plans to develop high fermentation beers for both the Belgian and International markets. It was a statement of intent, and despite more famously now being known for beers such as the Floris range, or the Delirium Tremens, it was the Artevelde beers which kick-started this successful move into mainstream.

Despite my misgivings of the original Artevelde, the result of the attempts to improve it was the Artevelde Grand Cru. This special vintage beer was destined to be stronger, thicker and brewed using only natural sugars. For some reason I expected a more syrupy version of the original but on the pour I was surprised to see a sepia coloured beer, with a thin meek head. The murky depths provided an oddly herbal aroma, which failed to really materialise on tasting it. There were strains of malt and chocolate somewhere within, but the flavour never really went anywhere, and although this was a reasonable first attempt at bottle conditioning, I would be lying if I said this stood the test against comparable beers.

Jacob van Artevelde was murdered by a mob of his own townspeople and is in many ways a martyr to the city of Ghent. In a kind of symbolic way I get the feeling the beers of Artevelde remain on the market more out of nostalgia for their role in revolutionising Huyghe than for any aesthetic qualities they bring – which seems fair enough.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#200 – Achel Bruin 8

#200 - Achel Bruin 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It has taken me 200 beers to finally try a beer from all seven official Trappist breweries. The final piece in this monastic jigsaw turned out to be also the smallest of the lot – the Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse.

Achel, as it is more commonly know, is a small municipality hidden away in the north east of the country in the sparsely populated province of Limburg. As the official title of the monastery suggests, the brewery is situated in the Abbey of St-Benedict. The first beer, Patersvaatje was brewed on this site as far back as 1852 when the building was a priory, although it wasn’t until 1871 that the site became an Abbey with brewing capabilities.

Life at the brewery remained virtually unaltered for years until the German invasion of World War I. As was standard practice for those Abbeys affected, the monks were evicted and the Germans dismantled the entire brewery in order to recycle over 700kg of raw copper for their eventually unfruitful war effort. Life changed dramatically after the war when the monks who returned to the Abbey were forced to find other ways to gain a subsistence. Agriculture and farming were the obvious choices but these took their toll on the more elderly monks. Eventually, with a large injection of cash, and with help from the monks at the Trappist Abbeys of Westmalle and Rochefort, work was completed on the sixth and final Trappist brewery in Belgium.

The beers were not instantly made available for distribution, and existed only at the adjoining tavern, however word of mouth soon spread on the quality of the brews at the local Auberge, and the crowds began to flock on what was a popular hiking and cycling route. The monks soon cashed in on the popularity of the beers, and their smooth path to existence has remained ever since.

The first beer I managed to get my grubby paws on was the relatively common Achel Bruin 8 which weighed in unsurprisingly at a robust 8%. It was a bubbly dark brown pour; perhaps a little thinner than some equivalent Trappist beers I had tried. On the nose it was malty, dark and full of rich Christmas promise, and on the tongue it tasted like rich pulpy fruit mixed into burnt toffee with a tartness which didn’t quite seem to fit the bill. In the end it was a pretty delicious beer to bring up a significant milestone on my Odyssey, although I couldn’t quite help feeling that this Achel was still someway behind the comparable beers of Chimay (#45), Rochefort (#31) and Westvleteren (#198).

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Filed under 8, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#198 – Westvleteren 8

#198 - Westvleteren 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is currently the final beer on my Westvleteren journey (unless I’m fortunate enough to end up with a bottle of the long retired Westvleteren 6)  and having already rambled about the phenomenon which is Westvleteren (#66), and the history of the brewery itself (#90), this gives me the opportunity to finish the story by giving a little history of the abbey.

The Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus began life in 1831, although the plot on which the Abbey was formed had been a spiritual home for hundreds of years previously, with at least three different monasteries occupying the land. Historians suggest as far back as 806 the Cella Beborna was built on this land. Records also show that between 1260 and 1355 there was a nunnery, and between 1610 and 1784 the place was occupied by a monastery. If you ever get a chance to wander around the area there really does feel an eerie sense of spiritual history.

The catalyst for the most recent incarnation was probably the hermit Jan-Baptist Victoor, who left Poperinge in 1814 to settle in the woods of St. Sixtus, where he rebelled against the rules of Emperor Joseph II and took up the monastic tradition. It was only when the prior and a few other disparate monks at the Catsberg monastery joined the hermit that the Abbey was officially formed. The monks here often went off on journeys to found other monasteries, and you may recall from the tale of Chimay White (#165), that the Abbey at Scourmont was started by the monks at St. Sixtus.

Life at the Abbey in Westvleteren though began to grow, and by 1875 the number of members totalled 52. It was still mind you a completely peaceful rural community which would have seen very few visitors. All this was to change during the first World War, when hundreds of refugees and approximately 400,000 allied soldiers lived in and around the abbey. Now it is once again a very peaceful place with only around thirty brothers, who serve the community and provide the world with some of the finest beers known to humanity.

Once of which is the Westvleteren 8, and I had been saving the blue-capped beer for a special occasion and this one happened to be a relaxing Christmas afternoon after the usual three thousand calories of roast!. The pour was everything I hoped it would be – thick and viscous with a ring of rustic head, but I wasn’t getting much in the way of the nose. The taste was very good, with a mix of chocolate, coffee and festive spice. Perhaps though it was the lack of room in my stomach, but I felt just a little let down by the beer in the end. It was still impressive but I guess I had fallen for all the hype. I was expecting some kind of oral firework show, but all I ended up with was an overwhelming desire to nap!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#197 – Ename Cuvee 974

#197 - Ename Cuvee 974

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

This is an interestingly titled beer, which actually refers to the founding date of the local borough of Ename, which has now essentially been subsumed into the bigger town of Oudenaarde.

The beer was first brewed in 2002 as a winter beer, at a time when the local town was working very hard to celebrate its rich medieval heritage. Since the 1980s there has been an ongoing project called Ename 974, jointly sponsored by the Flemish Heritage Institute and the Province of East Flanders. The aim of this work was to conduct important archaeological excavations, historical research and to promote the local municipality. The resident brewery Roman supported this work by promoting a new beer to the Ename range.

Another key driver of the Ename 974 project is the Provincial Archaeological Museum which was opened in 1998 and is located beside the St Lawrence Church. It highlights the daily life in Ename from the early Middle Ages until the present day. The Roman brewery also supports this local cause in the form of royalties paid for the sale of its beers. The logos that adorn the Ename range of beers are in reference to the ruined Abbey which is part of the archaeological presence in the town. It’s pretty much an accepted truth that a brewery who can tie their beer to an Abbey will sell more beer regardless of the quality.

There are plenty more Ename beers to be drunk and so I will save the enlightening history of the abbey until then. For now I need to wheedle my attentions away from archaeology before anyone falls asleep and onto the important matter in hand. Beer. The Ename Cuvee 974 was a promising looking brew, which poured obediently leaving a good looking average sized head atop a dark amber mass. The aroma was hoppy and herbal with a tinge of fruit, which to be honest promised more than the actual beer delivered. There was certainly a degree of exotic spice contained within but it was eminently unable to take me anywhere else. A nice beer but in the end really rather average. I guess at least though I have done my bit for the restoration of history in Ename.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Roman

#196 – Buffalo Belgian Bitter

#196 - Buffalo Belgian Bitter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Brouwerij van den Bossche is most well known for it’s range of Pater Lieven beers (#18, #73), however they have also been brewing another range called Buffalo for well over a hundred years now. As ever, there is an interesting tale behind the name.

It all started in 1907 on the town square in Sint-Lievens-Esse – the home town of the van den Bossche brewery which had started up a mere ten years earlier (#73). At this time the town square had been taken over by an American travelling circus and the entire local population were clamouring with excitement to see this exotic show. With this in mind, Arthur van den Bossche for one particular noon showing gave a pass out to all his brewery staff to attend the circus. They were still in heavy production of their beers, and so Arthur arranged for the youngest apprentice to stay behind and tend to the brewing kettles.

The luckless young man who had missed the show duly watched the kettles meticulously in their absence however had forgotten in all the excitement to regularly stir the contents. The result was that the beer had completely roasted due to the young boys’ negligence and caramelised on the bottom of the kettle. There was general dismay on Arthur’s return as the exuberant workers returned to survey the wreckage. It was only when a number of staff actually tasted the resulting beer that they decided they actually quite liked it. From that night on, this style of dark burnt beer became the staple diet of the brewery, and the recipe has remained virtually unaltered to this day. The ‘Buffalo Bill’ travelling circus though was gone the next day.

It wasn’t the famous stout I was trying tonight, but the Buffalo Belgian Bitter, a solid 8.5% amber blonde. It was a great beer to accompany a night on the cards, and much better than I had expected on first surveying the bleak label. In fact I would go as far as saying it was pretty much on a par with the XX Bitter (#131) from De Ranke. The full hoppy flavour was clear and sharp, and each mouthful was perfectly crisp on the tongue. I’d definitely recommend this beer for anyone wanting their Buffalo wings!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Van den Bossche