Category Archives: Belgian White (Witbier)

#226 – Floris Honey

#226 - Floris Honey

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3 %

I haven’t thus far had the most positive experiences with honey beers. The Barbar (#19) was remarkably average and didn’t even taste of honey, and the Le Pave de l’Ours (#117) was more akin to bears piss than anything else. Despite being a pretty naff excuse for a beer, at least the Floris Honey did actually taste of honey.

There are generally two ways in which honey can be added to a beer, and a simple comparison of the Barbar to the Floris Honey may well explain the taste phenomenon. The Barbar method, and the one which I have slightly more respect for, is to add the honey during the kettle boil. This process usually means that the honey will become part of the original gravity of the wort. As the honey tends to be a single sugar profile, then it will tend to ferment out completely and any sweetness may only remain aromatic. Brewers can attract widely varying flavours at this stage by trying different types of honey. Wildflower strains of honey tend to ensure a floral streak, whereas Buckwheat strains lead to a more roasted flavour. This likely though will be at the expense of the sweetness of the honey which is particularly true of the Barbar.

The Huyghe brewers of the Floris Honey however unashamedly add the honey post-fermentation, and so it doesn’t have the opportunity to lose its flavour and of course is added in such amounts that it will likely disguise the lack of flavour of a low strength wheat beer – a low strength wheat beer brewed with the sole intention of being butchered with flavourings. I have no idea what Silenrieux did with the Le Pave de l’Ours, but it may well have been a result of somebody leaving the door open at night!

Unlike the Le Pave de l’Ours, at least the Floris Honey is at least reasonably pleasant. I had popped into the Dovetail pub (#119) for a quick lunchtime beer, ahead of a reasonably important external meeting, and so anything too meaty could render me asleep by the first tea-break. The barmaid filled up a cloudy pale tumbler which had a wonderfully thick bubbly head. I was thirsty and it didn’t take too long to polish off half the glass. I can’t really say much more than it tasted of honey and was particularly refreshing. It wasn’t going to win any prizes but I knew what I expected when I ordered it.

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Filed under 6, Belgian White (Witbier), Huyghe

#187 – Blanche des Honnelles

#187 - Blanche des Honnelles

Size: 330ml

ABV: 6 %

Blanche des Honnelles is a uniquely flavoured beer made at the Abbaye des Rocs brewery very close to the French border. It is so named after the rivers that flow at their most powerfully through the home village of Montignies-sur-Rocs.

The surrounding municipality is also called Honnelles, with a population of around 5000 inhabitants, and is so named for the rivers which define the region – the Grande Honnelle, and the Petite Honnelle. Some historians trace the name back to the ‘huns’ who would have at one stage been prevalent in the area.

The beers at Abbaye des Rocs; a few of which I have already guzzled (#67, #155, #167), are long revered for their purity, and the link from the Blanche des Honnelles to the rivers is a pertinent one. Every beer at this village brewery is made with the water drawn from the well that permeates the rocky subsoil. There are no added sugars and absolutely no chemical additions to any of the beers. A sobering thought were it not for the strength of many of these beers!

The Blanche des Honnelles is actually predominantly a wheat beer, although the colour of the pour might suggest otherwise. This cloudy amber appearance is more likely due to the mix of oats and barley to the wheat, and most probably the lack of any chemical additives. The flavour is certainly unique and I would urge anybody to at least give this one a go. It wasn’t my cup of tea in any way, with a sharp musty tang that stayed with me after every mouthful, and I ended up not enjoying it particularly. This might have been a result of the often hit and miss nature of artisanal breweries, or more likely just not something my palate was interested in. My overriding impression though was that actually perhaps somebody had just pissed in the Honnelles before brewing.

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Filed under 4, Abbaye des Rocs, Belgian White (Witbier)

#176 – Brugs Witbier

#176 - Brugs Witbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

Brugs Witbier, or Brugs Tarwebier as it is known locally, is a cloudy unfiltered wheat beer which is based on a traditional Brabant recipe. Although now mass produced by the Brasserie Union (Alken Maes), it was once upon a time brewed exclusively in Bruges, at the now defunct Gouden Boum brewery, which you may recall also used to produce the Brugge Tripel (#104).

Although the above is all now just history, the Brugs Witbier label still interestingly adorns the logo of the Gouden Boom (Golden Tree). This is a nostalgic reference back to the Gouden Boom trophy which was awarded to knights that won medieval tournaments in the city way back in the Middle Ages. The Golden Tree has been a key symbol of Bruges since 1587 and even now is still a key part of the traditions of the City. Tourists often flock to the Pageant of the Golden Tree which is a massive carnival held in the town square which seeks to recreate the famous wedding of Charles the Bold (the Duke of Burgundy, and Count of Flanders) to Margaret of York (the sister of King Edward IV of England) which took place in 1468. The modern day festivities usually comprise well over 2000 actors, six choirs and 100 horsemen who retell the events within around ninety different scenes.

Even now wandering around Bruges, it is difficult to wander the cobbled streets and not feel yourself transported back in time. It is unlikely however that the Cities’ coaching inns and taverns would have served the Brugs Witbier to its discerning customers. In the 21st Century, the Brugs Witbier is traditionally served with a slice of lemon, and is brewed with bitter orange peel and coriander. Had any man asked for a pint of this in bygone days, then execution for treason may have been a suitable punishment. The beer is though particularly turbid, which would have been representative of beers of the Middle Ages, where particularly crude filtering techniques would have been employed.

The Brugs Witbier that I was drinking was very typical of a modern day wheat beer – it was cloudy, fairly tart and even without a slice of lemon was reminiscent of citrus. I really struggle to get excited about most Belgian wheat beers today. I don’t think any country really makes a better wheat beer than the Germans, and this was absolutely no exception.

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Filed under 6, Alken-Maes, Belgian White (Witbier)

#158 – Vedett Extra White

#158 - Vedett Extra White

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

Just one look at the Vedett website and you know exactly what you are up against. Here is a company which seemingly has recently employed a brand new marketing manager whose illustrious career history has probably been broken up by various stints in rehab from wild hallucinogenic narcotics. By the time I had worked out how to navigate the website, my eyes had begun to cross, and I was feeling somewhat disorientated. That this is the same brewery as the understated Duvel and Maredsous, I felt some serious trepidation for what might become of De Koninck since their recent arrival under the Duvel Moortgat umbrella.

I don’t intend to pull any punches on this one, in that I really didn’t think the Vedett Extra White was any good. I’ve drunk the Vedett regular blonde on various nights out in the UK prior to my Odyssey, and that is pretty average fare also. My point is that somebody smart in the company must have realised that this beer isn’t going to sell without a lot of fancy gimmickry. The fact that it is selling, I guess somewhat vindicates that decision, and maybe frees up capital to invest in better beers.

Once I had started to follow the cement mixer truck around the country on it’s Vedett tour, I went on to enter the competition to estimate the amount of miles that the cement mixer truck will travel. I wont share that with anybody at this stage as I am fairly confident that the Vedett Cement Mixer truck will be mine at the end of this, and I will be able to sell it at a novelty truck auction and thus fund my Belgian beer bar dream in the Ardennes.

It has also been a dream of mine since starting my Odyssey to commission my own beer. Why not make the 1000th beer my own creation? Vedett give you the opportunity to personalise your own case of Vedett beer at a not so unaffordable cost, which is a step in the right direction I suppose, and I decided to play ball and give my own label a go. Bearing in mind my overall view of the beer was a pungent, over-wheaty bottle of garbage, I thought we would go with this design. Let me know what you think? I wouldn’t mind betting I’ve ruined my chances with the cement mixer truck now. Oh well.

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Filed under 4, Belgian White (Witbier), Duvel Moortgat, Polar Bear

#100 – St. Bernardus Wit

#100 - St. Bernardus Wit

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

Beer experts tend to say that if you want to try a beer that tastes like Hoegaarden (#81) used to then there is no better exponent than the St. Bernardus Wit. This comes as no surprise as the beer was actually developed in co-operation with Pierre Celis, who of course was the mastermind behind the success of Hoegaarden. The main difference is that the St. Bernardus gets the traditional Belgian secondary fermentation in the bottle which just adds to the steely quality.

The term wheat beer is something of a misnomer, as these beers are not made 100% from wheat – in fact probably only about 30-40% of the mash. The rest is more likely to contain forms of pilsener malt. It is this 30-40% though which gives the wheat beers their hazy milky glow, which in turn has tended to coin the appellation ‘white beer’. Hops are generally used less frequently as they tend to impair flavour, and brewers such as Celis have traditionally been more subtle with spices such as coriander, or fruit – most commonly the peel of an orange.

It is surprising that white beers are not more common in Belgium as wheat tends to be in greater abundance than barley and is therefore cheaper to produce. Wheat beers tend though to be somewhat lower in strength than dubbels, tripels and typical Belgian ales, which may go some way to explain why these beers are more popular in Germany or the USA. Others argue that wheat tends to clog up the brewers equipment and is therefore more painful to brew due to the rigours of keeping the kit clean and free from infection.

Either way I’m not really a wheat beer man, or I wasn’t until I tried the St. Bernardus Wit. It was altogether more robust, with extra colour and fizz, and it was both crisp and sharp with a flavour that actually challenged your taste-buds. I could actually taste the hints of orange peel and coriander which is saying something. I think this is best suited to a warm summers day in Flanders, but all in all a pretty impressive way to bring up the hundredth beer!

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Filed under 8, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, St. Bernardus

#97 – Triverius

#97 - Triverius

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Believe it or not but Triverius was a beer first made in 2004 in homage to a famous man of medicine from the village of Nederbrakel. The occasion was to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth and to celebrate the impact he made on the emerging world of medicine.

Born Jeremie de Drijvere, he studied medicine at the University of Leuven where he eventually went on to become a renowned professor. He took it upon himself, somewhat like Brazilian footballers do, to assign himself a title, and was thenceforth to be known as Triverius. He was most famous for applying a scientific outlook to the study of medicine as opposed to basing it on customs, herbs and old wives tales, and continued to lead on medical practice until his premature death in 1554. He is particularly revered in the municipality of Brakel, and the de Graal brewery which is based in the area sponsored this homage to the great man. Not only does he have a beer named after him but also a complete fellowship; the logo of which can be seen adorning the label.

The beer itself is actually a double wheat beer; in that it is brewed in the style of a wheat beer, and then bottle-conditioned again to buck it up to a nice tidy premium strength. It didn’t look like a traditional white beer though, as it presented itself as a rich golden blonde, with perhaps the only clue of its wheat content being the cloudy nature of the liquid. It was beautifully refreshing as wheat beers often tend to be, but similarly it faded emphatically at the business end. Maybe a few more herbs and a little less science wouldnt have gone a miss !

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Filed under 7, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, de Graal

#81 – Hoegaarden

#81 - Hoegaarden

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.9 %

Everybody has heard of Hoegaarden – certainly since Interbrew exported it around the world. In terms of white/wheat beers there are probably none more famous. The beer gets it name from the town in which it is brewed, and although it is brewed to a traditional recipe that dates back to 1445, this actual beer has only existed since 1966.

The original wheat beer recipe was largely engineered by the monks of Hoegaarden in the middle ages, where they had access to spices such as coriander and curacao due to the Dutch trading influence. So successful was the result, that at one point there were over 30 independent small farmhouse breweries in the tiny town – although by 1957 there were none left! The rise in popularity of mass-produced lager and the asset-stripping that occurred during both world wars had taken its toll on this cottage industry.

In 1966 however, a local milkman with a fond nostalgia for the older white beers decided to reinvent the style. He set up de Kluis (the Cloister) brewery with a few close friends and the rest is history as they say. We have already met this milkman Pierre Celis (#20, #21), and doubtless we will again.

His white beer was a remarkable success over the next twenty or so years, with production growing from 350 hectolitres in 1966 to 75,000 in 1985. Sadly the Hoegaarden plant was completely destroyed by a terrible fire in this year, and Celis was forced to take extra investment from Interbrew, who inevitably were able to influence a take-over of the brewery in 1987. The amount of hectolitres produced would rise to 855,000 over the next ten years, but by then the standard of the beer had fallen sharply. The fact was that by now Hoegaarden was a worldwide commodity, and most people drinking it on a warm summers afternoon had no concept of what this beer once was. The final knife in the back came in 2005, when AB/InBev, who by now had taken over Interbrew, decided to move all production to Jupille, near Liege. Suddenly Hoegaarden was merely a brand, and the village just a memory. Such an outcry followed for the next couple of years that in 2007 brewing returned to Hoegaarden, but sadly the quality has never returned.

I had clearly tried Hoegaarden on and off over the years, but this was the first wheat beer to pass my lips on the Belgian Beer Odyssey. I had brought back a 250 ml bottle from a jaunt to Belgium, and thus was not drinking it from its traditional hexagonal glass*, however it really didn’t taste as I remembered it to be on those warm summer afternoons. Traditional Hoegaarden was famous for being unfiltered, but this was almost translucent, and much too gassy. It looked anaemic and to be fair, if there is still coriander and curacao in this, then it has long since been tastable on my palate. I am not going to bad-mouth the name, because the Hoegaarden Grand Cru is still a mighty fine beer, but this one remains a lesson to us all that we should stand up for the little men amongst the craft breweries of Belgium.

* Did you know? – that the traditional hexagonal glass was supposedly designed to be prised out of ruined drinkers hands at the end of a long night by a spanner.

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Filed under 5, Belgian White (Witbier), Hoegaarden (InBev)