Category Archives: Abbaye des Rocs

#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)

#167 – La Montagnarde

#167 - La Montagnarde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

You might expect a beer that is named after a mountaineer to be based somewhere alpine, but as we have already elicited from the Abbaye des Rocs Brune (#67), the area around the village of Montignies-sur-Rocs forms part of the High Lands National Park. It isn’t mountainous but you could argue it is a little bit hilly. It is for this reason that inhabitants of the village are called Montagnards. This beer is therefore somewhat of a tribute to the people from Montignies-sur-Rocs.

It is very much a village famous for its beer, thus the female brewer Natalie Eloir is something of a local heroine, although there have been other famous female Montagnards. One of these was the French Countess Jeanne de Belleville who laid her hat here at the end of the 19th Century – it is after all a pretty impressive and beautiful place for a Countess to settle. She lasted here until the Great War in 1914 where she did her bit as a nurse at the British military hospital of Audregnies. The nearby Battle of Mons which the allies were to lose however was to be a turning point for the Countess who had assisted getting stranded British soldiers to safety. She was subsequently arrested by the Germans in 1915 accused of “treason in time of war”.

Belleville was part of the underground network set up by Edith Cavell which worked against the Germans, and she was subsequently sentenced to death later that year. Cavell however was unfortunate enough to have been executed first, and such was the outcry from nations such as England, Spain and the USA, that the Germans agreed to commute the Countess and her compatriot’s sentences to life imprisonment. She would see out the rest of the war in the concentration camp at Sieberg until liberation came in 1918. It was Edith Cavell who would end up the martyr, but one should never forget the actions of this Montagnard.

The beer itself is an absolute delight, and almost certainly one of the best beers I have had to date. It was a delicious blend of strength, sweetness, viscosity and spice which tantalised the taste buds. It is a remarkable feat to engineer a beer that is at once sharp and bitter, and yet leaves you overwhelmingly with the addictive flavours of caramel and toffee. This was as close a beer as I had found to Boskeun (#82) which is still the pinnacle for me thus far on this journey, yet with the La Montagnarde, the Eloirs may have created a more stable and consistent contender. I get the impression the Boskeun might have an off day once in a while, but this little treat will always taste as good. A perfect tribute to a real local hero.

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Filed under 9, Abbaye des Rocs, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale

#155 – Abbaye des Rocs Speciale Noel

#155 - Abbaye des Rocs Speciale Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The last time I attacked a beer from the Brasserie des Rocs – the Brune (#67), I was bombarded with sediment. The Christmas beer from the same stable was again no exception – it was literally swimming in the stuff. To be honest I was slightly put off by it at first, but have now slowly begun to appreciate the compliment by the brewer.

The reason the brews from Brasserie des Rocs can look so unappealing is due to the fact that the brewery do not filter their beers at any stage of production. They refer to it as the “Methode Traditionelle des Annes 1900”, which is essentially how beers were commonly made in the early 1900’s. Their disclaimer is that the beer should be poured very slowly into the glass, making sure to leave about an inch in the bottle. They even suggest a strainer can be used as well (I did actually try this with the Brune, and it only made it worse).

The common question of course, is whether all this muck is good for you, and the general answer is that it certainly won’t harm you. All the sediment really is, is the remnants of the yeast, proteins and other natural ingredients which in time leave these harmless meaty chunks. Many beer drinkers, who tend to dislike the textured mouthfeel, opt to leave the gunk in the bottle, whereas others embrace the wholesome goodness by tipping the last bit onto the head and quaffing it down. Some even go so far as to eat the final bit. Either way you look at it, it is for me a great symbol of the traditionality of Belgian beer. It certainly hasn’t stopped the Brasserie des Rocs from selling their beers, which do especially well in the USA.

I had taken a couple of days off the beer since the Quadrupel induced hangover (#154), and even as I poured the dark Abbaye des Rocs Speciale Noel, I was still slightly queasy. I completely forgot to pour with care, and I was faced with a thick dark soup full of yeasty morsels. If anything was going to act as hair of the dog, then this would be it. Again I wasn’t as impressed as the general beer drinking community are with these beers. It was strong and sweet which I enjoyed, but at the same time was more fizzy, and more artificial than I would have liked. There was a lingering taste of charcoal, and I ended up a bit disappointed. Again, it may have been a day too soon for a beer like this, but I will keep the faith. There are plenty more to try from this stable.

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Filed under 6, Abbaye des Rocs, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer

#67 – Abbaye des Rocs Brune

#67 - Abbaye des Rocs Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Abbaye des Rocs Brewery has a big name these days, especially in the USA, however in reality it is just a small farm in a picturesque little village in the heart of the south Belgian countryside. The village in question is Montignies-sur-Rocs, and the name of the brewery derives from the ruins of the Abbaye des Rocs which rot only a few hundred yards away.

The beers from Montignies qualify as Abbey beers, but the current beers were never actually brewed there. In fact, the brewing at the farm only began in 1979, and the owners used the fortunate location of the old Abbey to add credence to their range. There isn’t a great deal of information available about the history of the Abbey, but almost certainly it will have involved a golden era, plenty of beer and then years of plundering. The current lack of tourist value suggests it fared badly during the French Revolution.

There is more information available however on the actual village, which dates back more than a thousand years, although the name has changed on numerous occasions since. It now forms part of the High Lands National Park, and is often known as the “Pearl of the High Lands”. This terminology stems from the plateau on which the village is built – often called Plat Caillou (flat stone), or more often ‘le Haut des Rocs’. It isn’t difficult to ascertain how the brewery got its name.

Visitors to Montignies-sur-Rocs are more than likely there specifically for the brewery although if you are passing there is a cracking little watermill, and a church with a cave. Blaugies (#65) isn’t too far either so watch out for ghosts of evil highwaymen !

I took this beer in the garden of a friend on a beautifully warm evening. It was probably not ideal for this kind of day, although I needn’t have worried too much as most of it ended up on my lap as it exploded rather selfishly as I removed the cap. Once the heavy sediment and froth had finally settled, and I was able to clean myself up and borrow a pair of trousers, I was finally able to tuck into this highly rated beer. Figs, caramel, chocolate, malt – the usual winter flavours. To be fair I think I did the beer a disservice drinking it on a warm day and the amount of sediment in the end swayed my vote somewhat, but it really didn’t stand out for me.

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Filed under 7, Abbaye des Rocs, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale