Category Archives: Van Steenberge

#239 – Old Buccaneer Reserve

#239 - Old Buccaneer Reserve

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The fact that here again is another pirate-themed beer seems to back up the fact that these sea-faring plunderers are synonymous with beer and booze. From the annals of buccaneers in the Caribbean to the modern day pirates of Somalia – the common denominator seems to be the natural proclivity to guzzle alcohol. It is a generally accepted myth that virtually the only initiation test a pirate needed to pass was to be able to drink a large boot of beer straight down.

Whilst beer may have played some role on dry land it is probably far more likely that pirates, corsairs and buccaneers would have been drinking other varieties of lubrication once asail. Wine kept well on long voyages and was generally stronger than beer and thus was a popular brew, and of course all pirates are associated with rum. Due to the increased strength and its durability it was the natural choice to take away to sea. It was often much safer to drink than water which wouldn’t have stored particularly well, and so pirates drinking booze was probably quite a sensible choice.

For the exact same reasons gin was also very popular, but pirates didn’t lack creativity. With plenty of time at sea there is recorded evidence that pirates made cocktails to liven up their crew. Bumboo is a fairly well known drink which is a mixture of dark rum, lemon juice and spices, and Flip would be similar to the above but with the addition of egg yolk. Rumfustian was another popular drink and tended to consist of similar ingredients to Flip but with added sherry and gin. Interestingly it seems to be accepted that the popular Mediterranean drink Sangria may have originated on a pirate ship under the name Sangaree where pirate bartenders would combine left over fruit with red wine – anything to avoid scurvy!

Perhaps the best known marine cocktail however has to be Grog. Many of us may commonly use this term to refer to beer or booze in general but in seafaring days of yore, Grog was a drink which was pretty much brewed in the kettle using rum, beer, oatmeal and spices. These ingredients would probably have been in plentiful supply and it isn’t hard to see why Grog was so popular. Whilst the pirates may have drunk Grog, the credit for inventing it seems to lay with Vice Admiral Edward Vernon who introduced the brew into the Royal Navy in 1740 as a remedy for improving health. He always wore a coat made of grogram cloth and thus became known as Old Grog. Grog is still commonly made nowadays but tends to be served warm and made sweeter with sugar which no doubt improves the taste no end.

The grog now sitting in my Belgian beer glass was strictly the barley variety and is actually a label beer made by Van Steenberge. More popularly known as Bornem Tripel, it was created to pad out the du Boucanier range which was sold and distributed through Icobes (#237). It is likely this association is very limited now as I rarely see these beers anymore in reputable beer shops, and this beer is long retired – although the Bornem variant still lives on. The Old Reserve was actually a better beer than some of the others in the range with equal measure of fizz and flavour. A standard fruity tripel which at least got your palate talking to your brain, although one which I wouldn’t buy it again even if I could.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Parrot, Van Steenberge

#237 – du Boucanier Christmas

#237 - du Boucanier Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5%

When you drink 9.5% beers it tends to have an effect on your mental faculties. Of course the range of dysfunction will tend to depend on the number of 9.5% beers consumed however it certainly takes less of these to get to that happy maladjusted state. Once I had got around to polishing off the Biere du Boucanier Christmas I was keen to ask the question – so how do pirates celebrate Christmas?

It’s not something I’m sure many people have ever thought about and once I was sober again I realised it was a stupid question. I have to admit to searching on Google in the extremely optimistic hope that somebody had published a university paper on the subject. Aside from finding a plethora of Christmas carols which had been butchered to fit a jaunty nautical theme or a number of children’s storybooks I found very little. What was I hoping for? A Christmas tree plundered from an island and tied to the mast? Boozed up buccaneers passed out around the wireless waiting for the Kings speech?

I am surprised though that the marketeers haven’t yet cashed in on the festive piratical theme when it comes to the du Boucanier range of beers – they seem to have covered everything else. The beers are brewed by Van Steenberge but marketed and distributed by a company called Icobes. The portfolio of beers consists of the Blonde Ale, a Red Ale (#27), a Dark Ale (#174), and this Christmas Ale. There is also a Buccaneer Old Reserve beer which seems to use the same theme but is actually the same beer as the Bornem Tripel. This is also the same brewery which makes the much tastier Piraat 9 (#15), and Piraat 10.5. Clearly somebody at Van Steenberge likes pirates, and Icobes certainly feel there is a market given the merchandise available.

The beers, in particular the flagship (excuse the pun) Blonde Ale are sold in anything from 33cl bottles, six pack gift boxes and 750ml bottles, to Magnums, Jeroboams and the mighty Salmanazar. These are largely for one-off brews such as the Grand Reserve 3rd Millenium, and the Grand Reserve Prestige du Brasseur, although I have never seen any of these and given the dated nature of the company website can only assume the novelty of the du Boucanier beers has waned in recent years. If anyone wants to put this to the test the following can be ordered for Christmas presents:- T shirts, baseball caps, posters, mirrors, enamelled pins, picture frames, bandannas and shawls, as well as the regular beer mats, gift sets and beer glasses. You can also buy the boot shaped 0.5l glass which was discovered in the du Boucanier Dark Ale (#174). I rarely see these beers anymore although still cling to the hope of trying the popular Blonde Ale some day.

The Christmas beer itself though was really quite disappointing. While the Red and the Dark Ales hadn’t exactly been seminal brews they did at least have some redeeming features, whereas this high strength amber could and should have delivered so much more. It’s a style of beer that I am particularly fond of, but there was very little flavour to the beer, aside from a pineapple tinge and the extra strength offered no increase in character in any way. It will get you pissed though which is at least something when you have had enough of the relatives on Christmas day.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Van Steenberge

#213 – Gulden Draak Vintage

#213 - Gulden Draak Vintage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Although I had previously recounted a version of the legend of the Golden Dragon in my review of Gulden Draak (#145), there is an even more fanciful alternative in a book by Bertha Palmer Lane called ‘Tower Legends’. This anthology details the mystical dragon from Aleppo, and other similar stories related to an assortment of world belfries. It’s more a book for children, and considering children aren’t supposed to be drinking beers and almost certainly should have better things to do than read about beers, I am going to dispel all those myths right here. I did the same whistleblowing recently on the gnomes of Achouffe (#185), and nobody there has come knocking on my door yet.

Despite the fact that the people of Bruges seem to think that their Golden Dragon was stolen by the people of Ghent in actual fact this is complete baloney. It’s hardly surprising they might think this though given that Emperor Maximilian once labelled his own Brugeois people as mad (Brugse Zot #36). We can assume that without the invention of broadband at that time that maybe word of mouth and propaganda was responsible, although the myth has permeated through to the 20th Century. Not only are there still regular requests in Bruges to have the dragon returned, even the people of Norway made a request in 1918 for their claim on the prize. It was after all a Norwegian king who in the legend had first donated the mythical dragon to the Turks. Sigh.

The actual dragon that sits atop the belfry in Ghent was commissioned at the request of the people of Ghent in 1378. It was suggested the dragon would be symbolic of the power and freedom of Ghent at that time, and as dragons are supposed to never sleep, this creature would always look out across the city and protect its citizens. It has often been involved in key historical festivities, notably first in 1500 at the baptism of prince Karel, and on regular occurrences since when it would spit fire (no doubt some sly mechanical sleight of hand in case you were beginning to wonder). It has lain dormant however since 1819; no doubt when the people of Ghent began to realise it was in fact just a copper statue.

Whether you prefer the facts or to lose yourself in the legend, there is no getting away from the popularity of the copper statue and the role it plays in the identity of the city. The two beers made by Van Steenberge are equally iconic; although I haven’t myself quite worked out why as yet. The Gulden Draak Vintage was slightly better than the original beer, but to be honest it wasn’t by a great deal. The Christmas version started badly by viciously exploding on my lap (when will I learn?) and having managed to first decant it into two glasses and then scrubbed the sofa I was able to continue with what was left. I found the remains to be less artificial than the original but lacking in any real flavours which you might expect from a seasonal beer. It packed less of a punch but was slightly more rounded in flavour than the Gulden Draak. I may be in the minority on this one but I’d give both beers a wide berth – once again the truth is less interesting than the hype.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#174 – du Boucanier Dark Ale

#174 - du Boucanier Dark Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV : 9 %

I had already tried the du Boucanier Red Ale (#27), which dealt with the origins of buccaneering. I won’t go into that again, however it would be good to explore the links between buccaneers and their beer. They certainly didn’t mess around when it came to drinking!

These undesirable pirates of the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean had a tradition of drinking a toast while on the deck of plundered ships or harboursides they may have just overrun. Not content with a nice 330ml tumbler or tulip, buccaneers had an altogether different vessel of choice for their strong seafaring ale – their boots! A sobering thought given the hygiene issues many of these vagabonds would have endured. To drink from the boot of a fellow buccaneer was seen as a symbol of brotherhood and a bond of trust between fellow seafarers. It was known as the custom of being “brothers of the coast”.

Modern day acts of brotherhood often include initiation rituals or the sharing of blood. I would imagine all are preferable to swallowing the verrucas and corns of stinking scurvy ridden sailors. This hasn’t deterred the marketeers of the du Boucanier beers though, who have continued the tradition into the modern day world, and sell glasses shaped as half-litre boots. These can be ordered from their website should anybody wish to indulge.

I opted for a half of the dark ale served somewhat more sedately in a Grimbergen chalice. It was not how I would have envisaged real buccaneer dark beer to be though. Although strong and weighing in at a hefty 9%, this beer didn’t have a lot of guts. It was thin and limp, and lacking in any real definitive robust flavour. I enjoyed it, as I do most Belgian beers, however these leaner dark beers often tend to be ten to the penny on the market, and thus this one gets the boot from me I am afraid.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#153 – Tripel de Garre

#153 - Tripel de Garre

Size: on cask

ABV: 11.5 %

We started our Saturday evening on the tiles in a highly recommended bar, wedged into a tiny alley, just a stones throw from the main square in Bruges. The Staminee de Garre in fact sits on the shortest road in Bruges, De Garre, and it took us more than a little while to actually locate the place. Once we did however, we found it even more difficult to leave.

Our visit was largely down to the dramatic owner of the guesthouse in which we were staying. On our arrival he had welcomed us with a free round of Brugse Zot’s (#36) – the staple beer of Bruges, and I was keen to see whether he had any more adventurous taste in beer than the Zot. He pulled us closer in a conspiratorial huddle, looking sheepishly around for witnesses, and told us in a hushed whisper of this bar in town, that serves a beer so strong, that they have to ration you. He claimed it was his favourite beer, and was gone as if in a puff of smoke. He was back two minutes later, armed with a map and a pencil, and thus our plan for the first drink of the evening had been hatched.

It was a small intimate bar, set on two rustic floors, which creaked with character every time you lifted a foot or moved on your chair. It was completely packed on arrival, yet within minutes we had squeezed into a gap upstairs, and were ordering the special house beer. The Tripel de Garre is only available here, although is brewed especially for the bar by Van Steenberge. It is a potent 11.5%, and the thick orange coloured brew is served up in a unique thickset goblet, which serves to preserve the wonderful thick white frothy head. As if that wasn’t enough, each beer is accompanied by meaty chunks of the house cheese, and enough celery salt to dry out a table full of beer stains.

All in all, I look very fondly back on this beer. As a strong fruity thick sweet beer it was always going to score highly for me, but to drink this in a great bar with family helped to make the occasion. It is often true that a good beer tastes even better in the right atmosphere. Even my old man, who is a bona fide English ale drinker couldn’t argue with this one. We were all able to neck a couple each before we headed off to dinner, and so were unable to put the rationing to the test. I am reliably informed that the limit is 2 or 3 Tripel de Garre’s per person – although I am sure in these hard financial times, that the bar staff might avert their eyes once in a while.

To find the Staminee de Garre, click here

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Van Steenberge

#145 – Gulden Draak

#145 - Gulden Draak

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

If you visit Ghent you will almost certainly have to look up at some point at the majestic Belfry in the main square. You shouldn’t need a telescopic lens on your camera to spot the Gulden Draak sat atop the tower. She weighs almost 400 kilograms, is over 3 metres long, and is so famous they decided to name a beer (or two) after it.

There is a legend to the story of the dragon which dates back to the Crusades in the 12th Century, and involves a certain Norse king called Sigrid Magnusson. He had been fighting hard in the Crusades, and had received such a heroes welcome on entering the city of Constantinople (now of course Istanbul), that he took the gold plated dragon from the prow of his boat and donated it to the Hagia Sofia church. Almost a hundred years later, the Flemish earl Boudewijn IX during the 4th Crusade was crowned Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, taking Constantinople from the Turks. Impressed with the dragon, he dragged it all the way back home, which prompted a succession of bids for its possession, culminating in the Battle of Beverhoutsveld in 1382, where the people of Ghent stole it from atop the St. Donaas church in Bruges.

For anyone who has drunk Kastaar, and read the review (#96), an interesting side note is that the legend details the Dragon was originally donated to the people of Biervliet before the Brugse Zot (#36) wrestled it from them, in recognition of the brave soldiers who in 1204 were the first men to climb Constantinople’s walls. This is of course all legend and I plan to disclose the real facts when I get round to tasting the Gulden Draak Vintage (#213).

I can’t say I am particularly looking forward to it though, as the original Gulden Draak was extremely over-rated. I had looked forward to it all day, but all I got was a ridiculously strong dark beer, with no head, and no redeeming features whatsoever. It was bordering on the metallic and was very artificial. Like the legend above, I was beginning to wonder whether all that shimmers really is gold.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#132 – Yersekes Mosselbier

#132 - Yersekes Mosselbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

I first saw this beer right at the beginning of my pilgrimage sitting on a deserted dusty shelf in the great beer warehouse that is Beers of Europe. A beer made with mussels, now that needed trying! It was only on a latter trip to Dinant that I began to fully appreciate the Belgian fetish for bivalve molluscs.

Whether the locals truly love mussels, or that they just remain an iconic tourist catch, you will rarely travel anywhere in the winter months and not find them on the menu. Moules frites, or Mussels and Chips to us is something everyone needs to try at least once. The common denominator is a huge pot of steamed black mussels, sitting in a moat of wholesome broth, all served with a side of chips. The classic moules mariniere remains the staple dish, served in a sumptuous broth made with white wine, shallots and parsley, but many mussel houses offer great alternatives, in particular those cooked in traditional local Belgian beer.

It’s important to remember that mussels are seasonal (September to February usually). Outside these months they become harder to find, and certainly the standard usually diminishes. Waiters can get snobby about these things and may look incredulously at you should you try and order in April!

Either way, mussels are incredibly good for you, being an excellent source of selenium, B12, zinc and folate, in addition to being fun to eat, and usually delicious. In Belgium, you are always guaranteed a healthy portion and there is almost always a fantastic selection of beers to wash them down with. My only recommendation is to drink anything other than the Yersekes Mosselbier, unless weak lagery pils float your boat. This beer certainly wasn’t the worst I would ever drink and at least it didn’t taste of shellfish.

Trivia: Yerseke is a small Dutch village situated on the Southern shore of the Oosterschelde which is well known for its fishing industry, and in particular mussels, oysters and clams.

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Filed under 5, Mussel, Pale Lager, Seagull, Van Steenberge