Category Archives: Alken-Maes

#217 – Grimbergen Tripel

#217 - Grimbergen Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Only beer #217 and it was with some relief that I reached the end of the Grimbergen range with the Tripel. I’m not saying that these beers are awful in anyway, but if ever there was an example of mass marketed mediocrity then this is it. This is an accusation often levelled at Leffe, but to be fair I’d take the Leffe Blonde (#41) over any of the Grimbergen beers any day.

It was only a few beers ago when I went exploring the Grimbergen website to search for the Goud/Doree (#212) and it was there that I found something most peculiar. Everything was in order on the Belgian version of the website, but somehow I had also managed to end up on a slightly different version of the website which presented me with what could only amount to a parallel universe. Where I was previously perusing through the Grimbergen Blonde (#8), and Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), I suddenly found myself at the end of a long dusty wardrobe staring out at an alien wintry landscape – there in full Grimbergen regalia stood a Grimbergen Blanche, and a Grimbergen Rouge. I rubbed the centre of my eyes to dramatic effect and looked again only for a Grimbergen Ambree to bounce into view. I really had entered some awful version of Beer Narnia.

With the horrific realisation that I might have to try more Grimbergen beers, I panicked and stumbled back through the wardrobe grasping at the fur lined coats and gasping for breath. As I sat in a puddle on the floor I tried to make sense of what I had just seen. I tried the website again. Nothing. I searched for Grimbergen. Nothing. I even checked with the O’Mighty one at ratebeer. Still confused. I looked back through the wardrobe and there was nothing but a sturdy oak panel. Christ, what did they put in that Val-Dieu Tripel (#216)?

Once my mind was straight(er) I was able to eventually find my way back to the reality which all stems from the history of takeovers which have punctuated the existence of the Brasserie Union; from its days as Alken-Maes, to the takeover by Carlsberg, and now where it sits under the watchful sentry of Kronenbourg. The latter of course are a monolithic beer producer in France, and all the apparitional beers which clouded my judgment do exist but more notably for the French market. There is even a Grimbergen La Reserve which I’m still working out whether I need to consider adding to my Odyssey. For now though I’m drinking the Grimbergen Tripel with the view that this will be my last for quite some time.

In fairness this may not have been that bad a beer. Although the pour was particularly flat with little sign of any lasting head, and that there was a certain flatness to the carbonation – the taste was quintessentially Tripel. There was some medium spicing and a good level of alcohol which you would expect from a beer of 9% ABV. I would go as far as saying this was the pick of the range that is marketed in Belgium – and I will leave it there for now. I have grudgingly accepted that that there is no quelling that damned Phoenix.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#212 – Grimbergen Goud / Doree

#212 - Grimbergen Goud (Doree)

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Yep. Who would believe it? Another bloody Grimbergen. This time it’s the turn of the Grimbergen Goud or Doree, depending on your linguistic preference. If you still need a translation then you can call it the Grimbergen Gold.

I have previously spent a fair amount of time writing about the Grimbergen Abbey (#8), and the new world following the take over by AB/InBev (#9), but I hadn’t really concentrated on the Grimbergen brand. I may as well have a look at that as it’s something that the marketeers in the new world are taking very seriously. Anybody who disbelieves me is free to click on to their website – http://www.grimbergenbier.be/, where a quite beautiful animation tells us the legendary story of the Grimbergen phoenix on the label.

You will recall that the Abbey at Grimbergen has had a tumultuous history, being razed to the ground on numerous occasions, but each time it rebuilt itself and rose again to greatness. The phoenix was the perfect symbol to identify with this history, and in 1629 was chosen as the emblem of the Abbey. The mythical bird has been revered throughout history for its infinite ability to regenerate itself from the ashes – from the Persians, through the Greeks, to the Romans. Even in modern day England, the football team Aldershot Town have the symbol of the phoenix on its club badge since it too has faced a massive period of rebirth following financial meltdown.

The motto of the Grimbergen brand sums up the history perfectly – Ardet Nec Consumitur – Burned but never destroyed. It accompanies the phoenix on the Abbeys coat of arms and can be seen etched magnificently into the buildings stained glass windows – another image which iconically finds itself on the beer label. It was almost with a renewed sense of sympathy and reverence that I unpopped the golden cap to the Grimbergen Goud/Doree.

The beer poured a somewhat flat earthy blonde with a particularly disappointing head that had faded before I’d even brought the beer to my lips. There was little carbonation or aroma to speak of and I was typically disappointed with the taste which certainly didn’t go anywhere further than the Blonde (#8) had. The beer is given a third fermentation in the bottle, and is enriched with aromatic hops but I couldn’t tell the difference. This was just another tame beer which is superfluous to a very tame range, and once I had finished with the bottle I stuck this at the very bottom of the recycling in the hope that finally the phoenix might give up its struggle.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#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

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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)

#135 – Hapkin

#135 - Hapkin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Hapkin may now be brewed by giant Alken-Maes, but it hasn’t always been this way. The Brouwerij Louwaege was formed in 1877 and lasted five generations until its premature closure in 2002. The 7500 square metre site in Kortemark, West Flanders was eventually demolished after the acquisition and it is hard now to find much information on this sad demise.

The axe truly fell across the head of another community brewery – a fairly apt analogy for a beer symbolised by the weapon of choice of a certain Lord Hapkin of Flanders. Also known as Boudewijn Hapkin/Baldwin VII – the Count of Flanders.

This terrifying figure only ruled Flanders for eight short years, but his contribution in this time was a bloody rebellion against the murderers, thieves and oppressors of the people of his land. A kind of Belgian Robin Hood, seeking a peace for his land by the most ironic means. Often this was at the expense of the nobility who wielded horrific abuses at the hands of the middle classes.

Hapkin was born in 1093, and came to power at a rather unripe 18 years old. He would eventually die on the battlefield in 1119 – legend has it through a resounding cut to the head – a fitting end for a man renowned for his bloody axeplay.

It seems a rather odd choice of hero for a beer, but there is a nice twist to the tale. During his reign over 900 years ago, Lord Hapkin commissioned a strong blond beer at the Abbey Ter Duinen Cistercienzerpaters, a beer which history dictates was the original recipe of the latest Hapkin incarnation. The beer was allegedly so good that it was known country wide, and so strong that it made even the most cowardly soldier feel invincible. It is almost taken for granted now that Lord Hapkin would have bloodily fallen in the name of his people, drunk on his own home-brew.

This is certainly a beer in the mould of its master. Strong and belligerent in appearance and thick and dangerous on the palate. It looks like a proper tripel and with the addition of a sweet back-kick you wouldn’t be disappointed if you inherited a crate of this. It did fade a little near the end, a little bit like the Champions League game I was watching at the time, but definitely a worthy contender for something to knock out your mates with.

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Filed under 8, Alken-Maes, Belgian Strong Ale

#33 – Ciney Brune

#33 - Ciney Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7 %

Ciney is a monastery from the 16th Century .. no I am joking. Believe it or not I have trawled through the history of Ciney from the beginnings of beer drinking, and there seems no mention of any monks, nuns or other religious orders, which is kind of refreshing after the consecutive Bon Secours (#28), St Feuillien (#29), Tongerlo (#30) and Trappistes Rochefort (#31). I am sure there probably was, but this town isn’t famous for it. No this town is famous for cows. There was even a war about these cows. Now that’s worth reading about .. surely.

Ciney isn’t big. In fact it only has about 15,000 inhabitants, and is rather overshadowed by Dinant and Namur as major tourist towns in the region. People might wish to come and see the beautiful church which adorns the beer’s label, and from where the beer was first drawn in the middle ages, and some do, but most people come for the cows.

Ciney has the largest cattle market in Belgium, and the second largest in Europe. If you are driving into the town from the countryside, you cant help but see cows everywhere, and beef from here is highly recommended for its quality and flavour. In fact these cows were so highly prized, that in 1272 a peasant from one village decided to steal one from another village. Not content with getting it home and eating the evidence, the naïve fellow tried to sell it on at another fair in another village, from where the previous incumbent of the cow was looking for a new cow, and caught eyes on his old one – cue the Guerre de la Vache (War of the Cow). It lasted three years, killed 15,000 people, and destroyed over 60 villages. Utter madness.

This was drunk outside on a beautiful day, and holding the glass up in the sun shone deep brown with fantastic cherry red flowing through. The aroma was quite smoky and appley, and although the taste was hard to discern it was fairly strong and treacly. A nice beer but far too small and thin to be one to hanker after again.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Alken-Maes