Category Archives: Bavik

#175 – Pilaarbijter Blond

#175 - Pilaarbijter Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

There are two Pilaarbijter beers produced by Bavik, and I was drinking the Blond today. Pilaarbijter is a word that is largely disused in modern times, but was prevalent in the 16th Century and meant ‘a hypocrite’, especially with regards to views on religion. The term literally translates into ‘pillar biter’. There is a very good reason why Bavik chose the name of this beer, but I will save that for the Pilaarbijter Bruin.

The real fun with this beer came when I discovered where the brewery got the image of the unfortunate looking gentleman biting the pillar on the label. If you study the painting of ‘Netherlandish Proverbs’ by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, you will eventually find the identical image – I say eventually, as it took me ages to pore through the detail. I won’t spoil the fun of pointing out its exact location so feel free to try and find it yourself. In fact, if you look close enough you can find over a hundred different proverbs being acted out in this crazy village scene.

The point of the painting wasn’t to catalogue as many Flemish proverbs of the time in art form, although it would have been a bloody good idea. Brueghel’s real aim was to define on canvas the pure stupidity of man. The original title of the painting was ‘The Folly of the World’, and if you look closely at the characters you can see the blank faces which Brueghel often used to represent fools in his work. Just sitting there picking out the characters got me thinking – surely there must be more proverbs which relate to my journey to drink and write about all these Belgian beers?

People mocked me when I began my Odyssey. Perhaps I was trying to hold an eel by the tail (to undertake a difficult task)? Or was I just simply yawning against the oven (to attempt more than I could manage)? It is worth bearing in mind though that once I have spilt my porridge I cannot scrape it all up again (once something is done it cannot be undone), and that the journey is not yet over until I can discern the church and steeple (do not give up until the task is fully complete). It may take many years but an odyssey is an odyssey after all. I still got plenty of empty fields to walk through yet!

Anyway in the midst of all these proverbs there’s a beer that needs my attention. The Pilaarbijter Blond was a decent one at that. There was enough body and strength to keep it interesting, and plenty of fruity citrus which blended well against a spicy backdrop. I would hazard a guess at peaches and lemons. I’m distracted. Sorry, I can’t leave without a few more brilliant 16th Century Flemish proverbs.

1. What is the good of a beautiful plate when there is nothing on it – some beers certainly look a lot better than they taste.

2. You shouldn’t cast roses before swine – yes, maybe I am wasting some of my time on drinking the unworthy!

3. Wild bears prefer each others company – I thank all the sad beer drinkers of the world for that!

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Bavik

#148 – Ezel Bruin

#148 - Ezel Bruin

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The logo of the Ezel beers is one of a donkey holding a frothy glass of beer – hardly surprising when you consider that Ezel is Flemish for donkey. Like everything though with Belgian beers there is always a story behind the name.

The nickname Ezel is one that has been given to inhabitants of the municipality of Kuurne. Situated near to the Bavik brewery, it is only a tiny place, with a population of 12,000, but it has faced much derision over the years from its neighbours. The donkey slurs started many years ago when the traders from Kuurne would arrive early in Kortrijk for the market, with assess and carts loaded up with vegetables. The inevitable hullabaloo of braying animals and the rattling across the cobbles would often wake the unfortunate residents. The common greeting was “It’s those asses from Kuurne again!”

There is another story which is part of local legend, and tells of a priest who unable to hold a funeral service on Ash Wednesday, asked the sacrister to take over. All went reasonably well until the application of the cross of ash onto the foreheads of the congregation, where the sacrister couldn’t recall the latin words which were to be proclaimed. He was later castigated by the priest with the immortal line “You were born an ass, and you will die an ass!”, which of course he mistook as the line he had forgotten for all future funerals.

The whole of the local area is now often tarnished with the Ezel taunt; not really as a taunt of stupidity but more likely a reference to the patient and dogged perseverance of the local people. The people of Kuurne have a lot to answer for! Its all very good natured though and something worthy of local pride – in fact the town even has it’s own donkey statue outside the town hall – an oversized and stylish ass named Ambroos, and the winner of the annual pro cycling race between Brussels and Kuurne receives a large fluffy Ambroos on the podium. The association continues with this rather average beer.

The Ezel Bruin had sat in my cellardrobe for well over a year and was by now covered in a mysterious thin layer of dust. The initial aroma on opening was full of promise also; the wafts of herbs and fruit piercing the stuffy evening air. It all went downhill on the tasting though. A thin, effervescent dark brown concoction which was distinctly average and by the time I was half way through, the 250ml had long since become redeemable. The words the sacrister should have remembered were ‘Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return’. I am happy to banish this one long from the memory.

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Filed under 5, Bavik, Belgian Ale, Donkey

#140 – Bavik Pony Stout

 

#140 - Bavik Pony Stout

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Bavik is a famous old Belgian brewery; and one that is proud of its traditional history. I am almost certain that the labelling of their sweet milk stout comes with a glowing testament to the role of the horse in the history of brewing beer. It might not be obvious to all of us who have grown up in the modern world, but the horse (or pony) once played two pivotal roles in ensuring the production and delivery of beer to the masses.

The first is grossly underestimated. Probably the most labour intensive part of brewing is the grinding of the malt. Even during the Middle Ages, brewers had used oxen, water or wind to supply power to turn the mill stones. Horses became the next best way of providing this service, and were harnessed to a series of spokes which radiated from the central shaft of the milling equipment. These often malnourished and ill treated animals would walk in circles all day massively increasing the efficiencies of entrepreneurial breweries. In the 18th Century, the horse wheel was also used to work pumps moving the liquor to and from the coppers. Horsepower was cheap and very effective – any decent sized brewery of the time could easily have around twenty horses in service.

Horse lovers must have breathed a sigh of relief in 1781 when James Watt patented the steam engine, however the need for the horse remained, as brewers and distributors began to rely heavily on the horse and cart for deliveries. As an example, in the late 19th Century your average brewery in London required about fifty horses for every 100,000 barrels of beer sold. In England, these tended to be dray horses, normally Shires, or Suffolk Punches. In Belgium, the most popular type tended to be the Percheron. This reliance on the horse or pony continued until the early 20th Century when the motorised transport revolution began. By the end of World War II the horse had largely been consigned to the knackers yard. In fact in thirty years between 1920 to 1950, the number of draft horses alive and working in England had astonishingly been decimated from 2,000,000, to just 2,000.

This led Winston Churchill to comment that ‘the substitution of the Internal Combustion Engine for the horse marked a very gloomy passage in the progress of mankind’. It is this sentiment that has sparked something of a nostalgic return to horse and cart delivery, but only really as a gimmick by some craft brewers. If it could happen anywhere though, then my bet would be on Belgium.

As for the beer itself, it was something of an anti-climax. It was certainly dark and sweet, but had a slightly odd flavour, ranging from the deeply herbal to what you might call synthetic. Like the pony on the label, this one was being consigned to the knackers yard. This is no thoroughbred!

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Filed under 5, Bavik, Brewers, Horse, Sweet Stout