Category Archives: Palm

#170 – Palm Speciale

#170 - Palm Speciale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.4 %

In 1984, the legendary beer guru Michael Jackson was reported as saying “If I could have a beer for breakfast, I would have a Palm.” I can only assume he was severely hungover when he said this, or maybe I am doing the brewery a disservice. One thing is certain though – there is certainly some history!

Palm, or De Hoorn as it was previously known, is so old it’s frightening. They are a Belgian institution and for that certainly deserve some respect. There is evidence that from 1597 on the site opposite the church in the town of Steenhuffel, there was a farmstead named “De Hoorn” (the Horn), which by 1686 was an inn with its own brewery and the same name. In the 1747 census of Steenhuffel there is categoric evidence of the De Hoorn brewery in direct competition with another brewery named “De Valk” (the Falcon).

In 1801 the brewery, which by now contained a malt factory, farm, brandy distillery, and inn with stables, was bought out by Jan Baptist de Mesmaecker. His great-granddaughter Henriette would eventually marry Arthur van Roy who took the production of beer at the brewery in more ways than one into the 20th Century. While the brewing world was beginning to move away from classical hop-fermented beer and choose cheaper pilsner style lagers, Van Roy stuck true to his principles. That was until World War I when the brewery was completely annihilated. Arthur van Roy now had grand ideas for a rebuild far beyond the village environs; but that’s a story for another beer I am afraid.

The Palm Speciale had been sitting in my cellar for quite some time. I had picked it up in a small rural store in Purnode for just 76 cents. It is made with a mixture of English hops, French barley and Belgian yeast – a truly cosmopolitan concoction. I wasn’t expecting great things despite the proclamations from Mr Jackson, and indeed from the website, which goes so far as to suggest that Palm Speciale is “one of the better beers of the 20th Century”, and the “Absolute number one Belgian amber beer”. I would say that for a 5.4 % ‘sensible alcohol content’ beer, that it is reasonable but some of these assertions are just ridiculous. The website also calls it ‘the sociable beer for every day, for everyone’. If you consider that the vast majority of Belgians themselves still choose to drink Jupiler above their craft beers, they may still have a point I suppose!

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Filed under 5, Belgian Ale, Horse, Palm

#104 – Brugge Tripel

#104 - Brugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.2 %

Beer two of the night, and another Palm Tripel style beer to follow straight after the Steenbrugge (#103). Andrew my trusty beer companion swore this was an absolute classic and had been long looking forward to introducing me to it, but for me it didn’t taste much different to the Steenbrugge. In that respect it was a nice solid beer, but whether I could tell them apart again – gruit or no gruit – is questionable. Maybe I should have tried them alongside each other but then that would have been far too geeky. We were drinking for pleasure after all. The packaging is similar, the name is missing a ‘steen’ and even the public seem to agree though. The Good Belgian Beer Guide rates both at an unremarkable 3/5, and if you go by the popular ‘RateBeer’ website, the Steenbrugge attracted 3.19 as a rating, as opposed to 3.16 for the Brugge Tripel. If it wasn’t for the drop in 0.3% ABV for the latter, I might be less guarded in restraining my cynicism. There is a bit of history to the beer as well though which is worth telling.

Brugge Tripel is the beer of Bruges,and allegedly the taste of a city, although it hasn’t always been this way. In 1491 Bruges was a dry city, after the Sheriff decided no citizen was allowed to buy beer in Bruges any longer. This lasted for five long years before eventually the citizens rightly rebelled. Prohibition of a kind was lifted, and Brugge Tripel was born – the people were so excited they decided to name it after their great city.

Ironically of course, Brugge Tripel is now brewed by Palm, but it wasn’t always this way – there was a time when it was brewed within the city walls of Bruges. It all began at the T’Hamerken tavern in around the 1580s, which became a de facto brewery for almost four hundred years until the financial demise in 1976, whence it became the Gouden Boom brewery (Golden Tree). From 1902 the current premises in the centre of Bruges were home to a range of local beers, including both the Brugge Tripel and Steenbrugge beers, however the rot set in once the beers were moved out to Palm, and only recently the whole brewery was completely demolished – just the large copper kettle surviving the holocaust. It is worth taking a peek at the photos on the Belgian Beer Board website.

So my final thoughts before memories of the evening become too cloudy. A nice enjoyable Tripel, although having recently enjoyed a weekend in Bruges I am not wholly sure I can totally agree with the brewers view that Brugge Tripel “truly evokes the very best of Bruges”.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Palm

#103 – Steenbrugge Tripel

#103 - Steenbrugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Having already told the story of St. Arnoldus and his waffle-stick (#26), its time to talk about another thing Steenbrugge beers are associated with – gruit, and the best way to do that is to take a little journey back in time.

Gruit, or grut as it is sometimes spelt is a medieval mixture of various herbs which were used for bittering and flavouring beer. It was clearly the precursor to hops and could include almost anything that would give flavour and conserve the life of the brew. Again, its worth reiterating that beer was often preferred to water in these days as it was a lot safer to drink! The composition of the gruit could be almost anything, but often included gale, mugwort, yarrow, heather, juniper, ginger, caraway, aniseed – you get the picture.

It was around the 15th Century that hops became the preferred agent used to make beer, and there are a number of reasons that have been cited – some of which are more likely that others.

Firstly, is the association with the Reformation in Europe. At this time the churches were monopolising the beer production, and Protestant princes in Europe saw the advent of hops as a way of cutting down the revenue of the Roman Catholic church. It has also been posited that it may have been a social measure taken by the more austere Protestants to calm down the more stimulating Catholic beers, by ensuring the sedative effects of hops. Although a touch spurious, certainly around this time the Bavarian Purity Laws were in abundance in Europe which as we know (#35) limited the brewing of beer to only key ingredients like malt or barley, water and hops.

Two much more likely reasons remain though. Firstly, there were often ‘incidents’. Accounts abound of beer being spiced with deadly nightshade or henbane. Local governments and lords needed their workers alive and while hops were suddenly in abundance this was much more satisfactory. Another much more likely reason is that hops tend to work much better and more consistently than gruit. This was evidenced in the late 19th Century when India Pale Ale was made with higher concentrations of hops to keep better on long sea journeys.

Either way certain brewers, especially those of the craft variety in Belgium and the USA, have recently experimented with re-substituting hops with gruit mixtures. Steenbrugge beers are one such example. Hops are still used but the Palm brewery has been keen to remarket these beers as containing the famous mixture. To be fair you can hardly say the effect was overly noticeable. I suspect this is a nice little marketing ploy to discern it from the beer I drunk next. It was a pleasant tasting strong tripel which went down extremely well, and it would end up being the first of six new beers I would try tonight, not to mention those home bankers I had already tried. It was to be quite a hangover !

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Palm

#26 – Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

#26 - Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The beers of Steenbrugge are steeped in a rich beer-fuelled history – 925 years to be exact! It was then in 1084 that a certain Arnold of Tiegem – the dude kissing the potato waffle on the label – founded St Peter’s Abbey in Oudenburg in West Flanders, where he wished to escape a life of fighting. It was here that St Arnoldus started to brew some serious beer, as monks tended to do at this time as it was healthier than water. History suggests however that there was a certain magic to his brews and that those that drank his beers would be healed – and he eventually become the Patron Saint of Brewers. Yes, we do indeed have St Arnold of Tiegem to thank for this gift to life, and if you are ever in Brussels in July, you can join the throngs honouring him on the ‘day of beer’.

The item on the label is not actually a potato waffle, nor either a Belgian waffle – it is in fact a mashing rake, used while brewing to stir the mash. Anyway, long after our good friend Arnold had gone, the years took its toll on the monastery, but in 1898 a certain Abbot Amandus Mertens decided to recreate the beers to honour his St Peter’s Abbey. Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin is one of these.

I think its possibly one of the most attractive labels but quite under-drunk beers. The head was fine and lasted well, over a thin dark underbelly of beer. The smell was bright and hoppy, as was the taste. It continued to sparkle with thin warmth in the mouth and remained clean cut and distinguished but nothing of that remarkableness I was hoping for from a beer of St Arnold.

(Post-Script) – for something with a bit more bite you might want to try the Steenbrugge Tripel (#103)

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Palm