Category Archives: Labels featuring animals

#243 – Den Drupneuze

#243 - Den Drupneuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Den Drupneuze beer is the first offering on my journey from the brewery Tseut. It is their Christmas brew and the label festively depicts the friendly pig who typically adorns each of their beers. The oinker in this case is the one wearing a seasonal hat and scarf and who is clearly suffering as a result of the wintry weather – a nice drop of blue snot falling from his snuffly snout. Den Drupneuze of course means runny nose in local dialect.

Beer and alcohol has often been cited as the perfect cure for a cold, and as winter sets in all around us I thought I would put this theory to the test. While the younger of us might head straight for the Lemsip or Night Nurse, ask anyone old enough and they will tell you that a warm cup of booze will cure your ills. It is more likely if you get ill at your Grandmothers house that you will end up with a brandy or a glass of hot toddy (whiskey, hot water and lemon juice) than a nice strong Belgian beer however this viewpoint is so universal there has to be some truth in it. Surely.

The hypothesis here is that alcohol can kill a cold, through the fact that it produces an environment where a virus is unable to survive. Essentially if you were able to get enough alcohol in your blood supply you could in fact create a hostile enough environment to decimate the virus completely. The one downside however is that the levels of alcohol required to support this would also completely kill off your liver. Back to the drawing board. So the next hypothesis asks the question whether regular consumption of alcohol can make the average drinker less susceptible to colds and flu?

There have been a number of studies conducted around this suggestion and one in particular in the USA looked at almost 400 adults and noted that resistance to colds did in fact increase in moderate drinkers, although interestingly not those who smoked. A study in Spain also suggested that a certain amount of units of alcohol per week did indeed correlate with an increased resistance to colds, although they couldn’t prove this in terms of spirits or beer; only red wine, which supports the theories that it is the anti-oxidants present which keep the virals at bay. Now the last thing I want is to shift anyone onto drinking wine so what about a final suggestion – will alcohol and beer in particular help to mediate the side-effects of a cold?

The answer is almost certainly a resounding yes, but it comes with a few caveats. In fact a number of studies have suggested that a good strong beer can temporarily alleviate painful symptoms such as a sore throat or nasal congestion. I’m sure I am not the only one who would prefer a couple of Westmalle Tripels (#149) to taking an ibuprofen or paracetamol? The benefits of drinking beer over pills is self-evident but needs to be balanced against the pain of the evil hangover and of course the fact that drinking alcohol will dehydrate your body – which in actual fact will scientifically prolong the effects of your virus. The moral of the story is drink, drink, and drink, but if you specifically want to help yourself cure a cold, then a little of what you fancy is perfect but any more than one or two is probably only going to make matters worse in the long run.

The Den Drupneuze itself is a rare amber festive beer, a choice based on the brewers natural preference. It is brewed from November to March and the current beer at 8.5% is a more watered down version of the original much stronger brew. I am a big fan of strong amber beers but this one didn’t quite reach my growing expectations. It certainly looked the part but the taste never really went anywhere past a faint malty and fruity bitterness. For the extra ABV this was in the end a very average beer, and certainly not the sort of ale I would entrust in getting me through a severe bout of manflu.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Pig, Tseut

#241 – Zatte Bie

#241 - Zatte Bie

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Another offering from the de Bie brewery. I hadn’t had the greatest of experiences up to now from this small brewery (notably #112, #113, and #156) but I had heard good things about the Zatte Bie, and I’m aware the brewery had not always had the most consistent beers from their early offerings.

The name of the beer literally translates as Drunk Bee, and at 9% ABV a few of these wouldn’t take long to instil violence in the common man if you believed everything you read (#240). Almost every beer blog or review you will ever read will concentrate on the sensory experiences associated with tasting the beer, but we almost forget that when you drink beers properly (as opposed to tasting) it doesn’t take too many of them of this strength to wipe you out. Seeing as it’s a fairly topical subject I thought I would take a foray into what might typically happen to my body today as I get Zatted.

Generally the first few beers probably will slip by without too much noticeable activity but then things will start to happen. Alcohol increases bloodflow to the skin which will make the drinker begin to feel warm and look flushed. The Central nervous system will at this point also begin to experience some interference, firstly with picking up sensory information from key organs, and then being able to effectively respond to it. This causes those typical symptoms such as slurring, uneven balance and a dulling of pain. The frontal cortex of the brain will also start to be effected by the alcohol now, and will be the main reason for a lack of inhibition for many. You might also notice for the first few beers that you didn’t need to urinate but all of a sudden the seal has been broken. This will be the combination of alcohol being a diuretic and your kidneys starting to direct fluids straight to the bladder; a direct cause of the dehydration which will follow later in the hangover stage.

The liver starts to work its magic now also; generally responsible for metabolising the alcohol from the body, although it can only do this at about one or two units per hour; probably much slower than you can drink. If it’s Belgian beers that are on the menu then its likely there will be much more glucose entering the bloodstream. The body resists this surge of sweetness by producing more insulin; and it will struggle to know when to stop. In the latter stages of a good beer session that typical shakiness of the limbs and dizziness is caused by the now depleted glucose levels. This will make even the hardened beer drinker tired and the body will begin to crave a carbohydrate boost – a biological explanation for the Munchies.

It’s likely that sleep will be the next thing on the agenda although this will be badly affected as well by the Zatte Bie. Alcohol has a negative effect on sleeping rhythms and the dehydration caused by drinking prevents the quality rest needed to fully recharge batteries. At this stage also the pharyngeal muscles in the throat will have completely relaxed and therefore there will be an increased chance of snoring; culminating in an increased chanced of being poked and nudged all night by disaffected partners. Your body will now be preparing itself nicely for the hangover but I think that can wait for another day as I need to finish by lauding this tidy little stout. This seemed to be a newer batch from the brewery and was very well made. It looked wonderful in the glass with its regal ochre head proudly waiting to be broken. The taste was sweet and malty, with some spice and subtle bitterness underneath. This isn’t the most polished beer in the world but certainly is the pick of the brewery and is probably worth punishing your body with.

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Filed under 7, Bee, Belgian Strong Ale, De Bie

#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

#232 – Hougaerdse Das

#232 - Hougaerdse Das

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.1 %

I would imagine there aren’t many beer fans out there who haven’t at least once tasted the beer Hoegaarden (#81). As previously explained this beer hails from the small Belgian village of the same name. Since the brewing operations of the beer have moved back to the locality there are now two brewing establishments in the vicinity, however it is astonishing to think that in 1750 this tiny place once had 35 breweries operating at one time. With a population of around two thousand people that works out at about one brewery for every 57 people!

A number of reasons have accounted for this massive decline; notably two World wars, and the mass commercialisation of craft beers by bigger companies (of which the beer Hoegaarden has perhaps suffered more than any). A few famous old names have fallen by the wayside including the Brasserie Louis Tomsin, where Pierre Celis once worked when he was a boy, and de Grote Brouwerijen van Hoegaarden, or as it was more commonly known – Brasserie Loriers, for the name of the street on which it once proudly sat.

It was the Brasserie Loriers that launched a beer in 1931 called Hougaerdse Das. The brewmaster was Marcel Thomas who had been travelling to various breweries in England and had tried a small beer which he fell in love with. It became a very popular beer in the locality for the next thirty years until in 1960 the brewery at Loriers went the same way as so many others – bought out by Artois (a forerunner of the foodchain that is Interbrew-InBev-AB/InBev etc). It was only a couple of years and the brewery was shut for ever. Hougaerdse Das became a lost beer, although InBev continued to use the Das yeast to create their Vieuxtemps beer.

If we go back to the story of Hoegaarden (#81) we follow that Pierre Celis set up his de Kluis brewery in the village as a result of watching all his favourite breweries get closed down. In fact, Marcel Thomas helped Pierre to set up his own brewery. Following the terrible fire in 1985 Celis was forced to take alms from Interbrew, and of course the same fate befell him in 1987 when he was bought out. As a result of this unlikely partnership however, Hougaerdse Das was unexpectedly revived in 1996. Perhaps it wasn’t to be too unexpected though, as Celis had used the Das yeast for his own beers also in the early years.

I’m almost certain that in the early days this Speciale Das Ale was probably quite a beer, but it certainly isn’t anymore. It is an unfiltered light amber barley beer, which according to the official website is ‘easily drinkable, full of character and appealing to beer aficionados who like to experiment’. The recipe contains coriander and orange peel in addition to the usual water, barley, malt and hops, although the flavours were largely anonymous. Just like the original Hoegaarden beer changed under new stewardship, so probably has the Hougaerdse Das, given its local reputation of yore. I almost feel like euthanasia might be the best thing for this beer.

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Hoegaarden (InBev), Lion

#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

#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

#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

#206 – Darbyste

#206 - Darbyste

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5.8 %

Marie-Noelle Pourtois and husband Pierre-Alex Carlier, the chief brewers at Blaugies clearly don’t do things by half. Back during my review of La Moneuse (#65) I commented on the morality of a family brewery such as this naming a beer after a notorious womanising murdering highwayman. Well, the Darbyste then is clearly the redemption beer – John Darby after which the beer gains its name was a temperance-preaching minister!

John Nelson Darby is as unlikely an inspiration for a beer as the marauding highwayman Antoine-Joseph Moneuse. He was born in 1800 in London but spent his formative years in the Republic of Ireland. He was primarily known for his travels around Europe with his ‘brethren’, where he spread the word of Jesus Christ as the direct leader of the Church. They preached that Jesus Christ needed no human intermediary on earth, and he went as far as coining the theory of ‘dispensationalism’ (a precursor to the doctrine now very influential amongst fundamental Christian Zionists in modern day America) – that Christ would return at the end of time at Armageddon where good and evil will ultimately confront each other. True believers will be saved, and the unbelievers will face eternal damnation. Good vs evil. La Moneuse vs Darbyste? Could the final battle of time take place in a small farmyard brewery on the Belgian-French border? Now that would be a blog and a half to write!

It is probably highly unlikely as there is actually a rather less symbolic reason for this particular beer being named after the preacherman, and this stems from the low strength brew that Darby promoted amongst his parishioners and workers which was made from fig-juice. Miners in particular were much more likely to return home to their wives in the evening if they weren’t consuming Belgian tripels at 9% and John Nelson Darby had the best intentions for his folk. This clearly inspired the brewers at Blaugies who have recreated the use of figs in this beer primarily to be used as the fermentable material.

The Darbyste, like the Saison de l’Epeautre is a saison style beer made with wheat and then fermented with the figs. It is a particularly dry beer, with plenty of citrus flavours although there is little evidence of much figginess in the taste. It is a beautiful looking cloudy orange farmhouse beer with a beautiful nose and a lip-smacking taste. It did begin to lose a chunk of its bite in the final third, but this beer would be a great accompaniment to a warm afternoon in the sun, assuming of course you aren’t in the middle of an apocalypse.

Talking of which it would be rude not to finish the tale of John Nelson Darby, who having given up his missionary work and translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English, German and French eventually retired to Bournemouth in the UK (well who doesn’t these days?) and eventually died at the ripe old age of 82, no doubt completely oblivious to the beer which would one day be brewed in his honour.

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Filed under 7, Blaugies, Brewers, Horse, Traditional Ale

#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

#199 – Waase Wolf

#199 - Waase Wolf

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

If ever there was a beer that deserved to be blogged then Waase Wolf is that beer. I mean, here is a beer with the tagline, ‘Not for little lambs’ that was brewed in memory of a legendary wolf that ran amok on the Belgian/Dutch border in 2001 mauling and killing sheep for fun. Brilliant stuff – and I reserve any apologies to any sheep offended by this article.

The terror started in October 2000 when a number of farmers around the Zeeland/Waasland border found their valued ovine littered as carcasses across the countryside. Initial thoughts were that this was the work of a depraved fox or dog, but once an eye-witness video of a stray wolf emerged, coupled with reports of a private owner losing such an animal, then word of mouth spread – as did the number of mutilated flocks. The farming community laid siege to the local authorities, and soon the united forces of the police and specialist wolf teams were scouring the countryside in tracking down the beast. Everyday new evidence emerged of alleged sightings as more and more victims piled up.

Like the Beast of Bodmin did in the UK many years ago, so in this small quiet area of Belgium did the Waase Wolf burst into prominence in local folklore. Known at the time as ‘Isegrim’, the animal captured the nation’s attention. Sheep farmers became increasingly anxious as the body count continued, and in the Netherlands rewards of up to 10,000 guilders were placed to kill the wretched beast, much to the dismay of the hordes of conservationalists who rallied in support of the perpetrator, sticking two fingers up at the families of the poor innocent dead sheep.

Then one day in late December, with the collateral at 62 (47 in the Netherlands, and 15 in Belgium), an anonymous email to police reported the beast had been quelled by a bullet and buried humanely in the woods. Nobody ever found the whistleblower or the cadaver but sure enough not another animal was harmed after the 22nd December, and on the 9th January 2001, both police forces officially closed the case. Cue a lifetime of novelty thimbles, tea-towels and t-shirts for anybody visiting the area. And of course where else but in Belgium a commemorative beer.

The Waase Wolf was a thinly bodied amber that was littered with sediment. It smelt absolutely delicious, and once settled I was able to sit back and enjoy this lovely beer. I wasn’t really expecting from the first appearances a really light fruity taste and it made a real change from the recent selection of beers I had tried. There was enough spice and hops to make it interesting, coupled with the delicious sweetness which always seems to keep me coming back for more. The Boelens brewery have delivered  much more here than simply a commemorative beer – I will definitely go back for a pack of these.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Boelens, Wolf

#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

#193 – Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

#193 - Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

It had been a while since my last grapple with a St. Martin beer (#69), and I tried the Cuvee de Noel with next to no anticipation whatsoever. It was better but really only marginally. So who was this St. Martin whose reputation seems relatively under threat now due to this recurring crap beer association?

He was born in Italy of all places in the 4th Century, the son of a Roman military officer and tribune. He would join the army himself at the plucky age of fifteen having recently discovered Christianity, and ended up serving in a garrison in what is now Amiens in France. He clearly wasn’t the fighting type though, and he was jailed for cowardice at a young age for refusing to join a battle; citing his faith as the catalyst for this change of heart. He chose instead to help the sick and needy, and is famously represented in modern day imagery giving half of his officer’s cloak to a beggar who entreated him. It’s difficult to make out but this also seems to be the illustration on the beer’s label.

A lull in the war saved Martin, who was released from all military details. He promptly took up service as a spiritual student at Poitiers, and sought to convert all those he came into contact with; from the thief who once robbed him in the mountains to his own mother back in Lombardy. He was eventually chased out by heretics to the island of Gallinaria (now Isola d’Albenga) where he settled as a hermit for ten years, eventually forming a Benedictine Abbey in Liguge with a bevy of likeminded monks. He gained great success in building churches and converting the unconvertible, and his reputation soared culminating in his eventual consecration as the Bishop of Tours in 372.

St. Martin continued to live as a hermit after becoming a Bishop becoming clearly a much revered figure who gave almost everything he had to help the needy and the poor.  I’m sure though that he would have also liked a good beer in those days – after all what monk didn’t? although I don’t really think he would have approved of this particular beer. An instantly forgettable, thin and uninspiring ruby red beer which started spicy enough but ended up losing all its strength;  just as St. Martin did in 397 before dying amongst his brethren.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brunehaut, Christmas Beer, Horse

#192 – Jupiler

#192 - Jupiler

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Jupiler is probably the most popular beer in Belgium, in terms of hectolitres consumed. If you thought that every Belgian sat in their local cafe sipping Trappistes Rochefort 8s (#31), or Orvals (#37) then you are sadly mistaken. As with any country nowadays pale lagers are king, and Belgium is no exception. The name of the beer comes from the town in which the Piedboeuf brewery is based; Jupille-sur-Meuse, once a municipality itself, but now rather subsumed by the city of Liege.

The logo of Jupiler is that of the bull, and is very much marketed at the male gender in Belgium. The beer is the main sponsor of the top Belgian football division, and has also sponsored the Belgian national football team. I don’t need to sum up how Jupiler represents the masculinity of its drinkers, as no better illustration exists than the marketing contained within the official website. Enjoy…

Jupiler has an outspoken image of masculinity, courage and adventure. Furthermore, Jupiler understands men like no other brand and shares their best moments. This combination of male bonding, self-confidence and self-relativation, speaks to all men and makes Jupiler an ally on their road through life.

Jupiler is the official sponsor of the highest Belgian football division, the Jupiler League, and also supports the Belgian national football team. Just like football, Jupiler is all about competence and ruggedness, effort and reward, team spirit and… festivity!

Aside from understanding exactly what constitutes ‘self relativation’, I am keen to know what exactly Jupiler contains that ensures my ‘competence and ruggedness’. It is in truth a pale lager made from maize which has very little flavour. I drunk this beer while enjoying a cottage in rural Devon. Had it been even faintly drinkable I might have managed to quaff half a crate, beat my chest and go fight with a few locals but it had barely touched the sides before I decided to quickly move onto another beer that tasted of something. So far plenty of effort, and very little reward. What a load of bull.

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Filed under 4, Bull, Pale Lager, Piedboeuf

#191 – Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

#191 - Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

While guzzling on the Bon Secours Brune (#28), I introduced the Bernadine nunnery that was formed in Peruwelz in 1904, and then much later while drinking the Bon Secours Blonde (#159) we got to explore the history of the St. Bernard dogs who bedeck the Bon Secours labels. This latest beer brings these two stories to a nice neat conclusion.

Prior to the formation of the nunnery, a monastery had been founded by monks in 1628 in the rural town of Peruwelz. There are legendary tales of the first brewmaster and unsurprisingly this chap, Father Baudelot was something of a habitual drinker. Sundays were the days where the monks would travel between the monastery and the village of Bonsecours to celebrate at the local church, and the journey back for Father Baudelot was always something of a pub crawl. He would spend long convivial evenings hopping between taverns listening to the stories of the locals. Most nights he would stagger home late, although there were times when he might only make it intact, with the help of his St. Bernard dog who would lead him back in a straight line in the early hours of the morning. Bon Secours does after all translate as ‘good help’ in French.

The brewery Caulier later honoured this story of Father Baudelot through the addition of the St. Bernard dog to the label of their Bon Secours beers. The monastery is long gone, as is now sadly the nunnery which recently shut down in Peruwelz, but through the local beers the legend still remains at large. I might have chosen a better beer however to regale this story. The Bon Secours Blonde de Noel was not an entirely pleasant experience. It was somewhat doughy with a flat overpowering hint of rotten fruit, and although I like strong beers, this one completely overpowered any quality the beer might have had. I definitely needed rescuing from this one, and there was not a helpful dog in sight.

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Filed under 4, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Caulier, Christmas Beer, Dog

#190 – Arend Tripel

#190 - Arend Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Arend Tripel is a beer made by the de Ryck brewery, and is just one of a range of Arend beers that is made in homage to the previous incarnation of this brewery.

It all started back in 1886, when the eponymous Gustaaf de Ryck bought a small landholding in the village of Herzele for the princely sum of 5000 Belgian Francs (the equivalent now of just 124 Euros). He collected some ramshackle equipment and built a functioning brewery more for a hobby than anything. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing though, and locals were desperate for some decent beer, so he packed his bags for Bremen in Germany. There were no brewing schools in Belgium at the time, and thus he needed to travel to learn the art of brewing. He soon returned with imported tubs and kettles and launched his new venture – De Gouden Arend (The Golden Eagle), named in honour of his brewing mentor in Germany.

Things went very well until World War I, when ironically the German forces took over the village and seized the brewery’s horses and kettles, forcing it to close. There was another brewery in the village by now called Dooreman’s and de Ryck continued to soldier on brewing using their equipment. Once the war was over and the Germans had been vanquished, Gustaaf was determined to reinvent the brewery, and did so immediately ridding himself of the link to the German’s who had almost ruined his dream. He chose to rename the brewery after himself, and from this day on this small family brewery has been known as de Ryck.

The Arend beers are hence a recent incarnation, but still bear the logo of the Golden Eagle. I first got my hands on the Arend Tripel which was a fairly enjoyable standard clean and crisp blond tripel, and certainly not in my opinion worthy of the best Belgian tripel which it won in the European Beer Star competition in 2008. According to de Ryck, this was a prestigious international prize although I guess they would say that. I am never clear how these awards are considered, but I challenge anybody to compare this to the Westmalle Tripel (#149).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, de Ryck, Eagle

#189 – Super des Fagnes Griottes

#189 - Super des Fagnes Griottes

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.8 %

Griotte is a French term which defines the genus of sour cherries known scientifically as Prunus cerasus. The crop is largely cultivated in Europe and southwestAsia, and is similar to the regular wild cherry, but for the acidity of the fruit that is borne. The trees tend to be much smaller, and the fruit a lot darker.

One of the most well known sour cherries is that of the Morello. These are distinguished by their dark skin, flesh and juice, and are extremely useful for making pies and jams, and of course beer. The griotte on its own isn’t really ideal for eating as it is quite bitter, but these are perfect for use in beer, in that the strong complex flavour is brought out as a result of melding with large amounts of sugar. The griotte is also a very hardy fruit, being exceptionally resistant to pests and diseases, and is therefore often able to survive the hardest conditions. Its fertility is also renowned amongst sweeter varieties of cherries, and farmers often have little problems keeping cherry production stable. Sour cherries are often labelled self-fertile, or self-pollenizing.

So it’s fairly easy to see why sour cherries have been used so much in Belgiumto make beer. Not only are they easy to grow and store, they give good colour to the brew, but also due to their flavour they are able to hide what might normally be a pretty average beer. I am pretty sure having drunk the Super des Fagnes Griottes, that this is particularly the case here. This was a fairly sour, but largely uninspiring fruit beer. I had previously drunk the average Super des Fagnes Blonde (#56), and the excellent Super des Fagnes Brune (#50), however the Griottes left something of a sour taste in my mouth.

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Filed under 5, Deer, Duck, Fagnes, Fruit Beer

#188 – Gaspar

#188 - Gaspar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Gaspar is one of the three Christmas beers produced by Alvinne to celebrate the Epiphany. See my review on Balthazar (#163) for the background. Whereas the previous report concentrated on the swarthy King of Sheba, this one looks more closely at he who was claimed to be the King Of Tarsus.

As with all the three wise men though, there is actually very little evidence to support exactly who they were or where they came from. Even the gifts they purportedly brought to the crib of Jesus are stuff of legend. Stories throughout history have called them Kings, wise-men or Magi – the truth is nobody really knows anything other than at the birth of Jesus there was a visitation of men from the East who bore gifts. Nobody can say for sure there were three or that all three brought a different gift other than that gold, frankincense and myrrh were presented.

With regards to Gaspar, Jaspar or Caspar as I knew him at school, legend has it that he was a white-bearded king from the land of Tarsus (now in modern day Turkey). Others say he was the Indo-Parthian king called Gondophares, whom interestingly the name of the Afghan city of Kandahar is said to be derived from. Bible historian Chuck Missler also refers to an Armenian tradition which locates Gaspar from India. Whoever he was, or wherever he came from, tradition has dictated that he brought gold as his gift. Some have said this was to represent the spirit of the new born baby, others have suggested the gold was testimony that Jesus was born a king.

Whoever he was, or wherever he came from, at least he brought gold and not this beer. The whole course of history could have been changed in an instant had the Alvinne Gaspar exploded all over the son of God, as it did over me. Sometimes you forget that beers have a life of their own, and I never seem to learn my lesson. Twenty minutes later in a new set of clothes and with little more than two-thirds of a beer left I started again and to be honest wished I hadn’t. This was foul. I’m largely a big fan of the Alvinne picobrewery, and do not wish to cast aspersions so for now I will just suggest this was a one-off bad brew. Lots of likeminded souls rate the Gaspar and its 115 IBUS, so perhaps whatever it was that caused the nuclear reaction in the bottle was probably the same thing that made this beer taste of stale camel urine.

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Filed under 1, Alvinne, Belgian Strong Ale, Camel, Christmas Beer

#184 – ‘T Smisje Dubbel

#184 - 'T Smisje Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

I continued my adventure in the Rake with another beer from ‘T Smisje. The Tripel (#183) had been so good that I opted for the darker double, and am therefore quickly able to continue the story of Johan Brandt following his move of premises to Mater in Oudenaarde.

Between 1995 and 2008 as De Regenboog, the brewery was famous for an extensive range of experimental beers in the traditional style, pulling on interesting and distinctive ingredients, fruits, herbs and spices. Brandt had tried beers made with mustard seeds (Wostyntje), valerian root and lemon balm (BBBourgondier), honey and raisins (Guido), and sloes (Sleedornbier). Brandt had also worked his magic on maturing an ale for six months in Calvados barrels (Calva Reserva), very much in the style of similar beers from de Struise, Alvinne and de Dolle breweries.

In 2010 however it was with regret that I heard that Brandt had decided to take a break from the wide range of beers, and to concentrate his efforts on one or two house beers. Only a new blond hoppy ale called Smiske survives, with a seasonal variant at Christmas to be produced. He hasn’t closed the door entirely though, and has given beer lovers the chance to still get their hands on one historic recipe per year if ten thousand people on Facebook will sign a petition for it. This has recently worked for the Duvel Tripel Hop, although I would hope in keeping with his fine traditions, Brandt doesn’t rip off his customers at 15 Euros a pop, as Moortgat did.

So it is with regret that this ‘T Smisje Dubbel was possibly the last one I would ever taste. In true Brandt fashion, this was no ordinary dubbel, having been made since 1997 with fresh dates and honey. At 9% strength it is also clearly no run of the mill double, abounding with plenty of guts and a sweetness that simply blows you away. I still probably reckon this is about the best beer I have ever had the pleasure of trying in a bar. My only regret was that I had taken the only one left in the overstocked refrigerators of The Rake. I will continue to look for it on my journeys into Belgium in the older and more eclectic beer stores, or else I may just have to hope a petition of like-minded souls can coerce Mr Brandt to somehow recreate this masterpiece.

 

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Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#183 – ‘T Smisje Tripel

#183 - 'T Smisje Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The brewery Smisje has been around since 1995, but began life as the Brouwerij De Regenboog. In fact it was known under this name right up until 2008 when the owner Johan Brandt moved his premises to Oudenaarde.

Brandt was born in 1963, and had trained in the graphics world for most of his tender years. He married Christine de Schepper in 1998 and soon had two sons called Stijn and Joris. The couple set up their own printing business which was fairly successful, and everything in the Brandt garden was rosy – yet the call of beer would eventually become too much. Johan was already brewing beer as a hobby, and thus the kit that was beginning to take over his home was the start of something special. Eventually, the beer did take over his life and he gradually reduced his work in printing, although continuing to use the name of his existing business, De Regenboog, which translates as ‘The Rainbow’.

The first beer produced at De Regenboog was simply known as ‘T Smisje, and was largely experimental in its nature. Brandt was also a bee-keeper and thus plenty of honey was used in this brew. The name ’T Smisje means ‘little blacksmith’, the connotation coming from a local blacksmith’s forge which was adjacent to the location of the Brandt house in Assebroek, a suburb of Bruges. This name was apt in that it in many ways sums up the hand-crafted artisanal nature of this first beer – although to be honest little has changed since. The range of beers from De Regenboog over the years have used a myriad of natural fruits, herbs and spices.

I had heard a fair bit about the beers from De Regenboog, and so when I saw a couple of bottles from the range in The Rake pub in Borough Market, there was never going to be any other choice. I started with the ‘T Smisje Tripel which was absolutely delicious, and bombarded me with the heady sweetness of vanilla and banana, coupled with the seriousness of a Westmalle Tripel (#149). The company was excellent also, bumping into inadvertently another beer blogger by the name of Impy Malting who is considerably further ahead in her writing than my good self. Anybody who travels half way across London to seek out beers of fancy is worth a read in my book.

 

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Dog, Smisje

#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