Category Archives: Fish

#115 – Joseph

#115 - Joseph

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.4 %

Straight after Sara (#114) came Joseph – a kind of younger brother beer from Silenrieux. Where Sara is unusual in that it is made from buckwheat, the Joseph is made from spelt.

Spelt is often known as the ‘poor mans’ wheat’, and is an ancient form of the modern day crop. It does differ in its make-up, but probably only because over the years wheat has been so genetically modified whereas spelt remains fairly true to its heritage. Spelt was the common crop across Europe as far back as the Bronze Age, and survived in abundance right through to medieval times. Only then did farmers began to fiddle with it to ensure a higher level of grain per ear, and therefore better returns. This evolutionary journey is well reflected by the latin term for wheat – ‘spelta’.

Spelt was very easy to grow, in that it did not require particularly fertile land, and inevitably required very little attention to keep it flourishing. Its flavour is often described as nuttier and sweeter, so you wonder what led to the desire to modify it. It may have been much rougher than wheat, and the husks much tougher, but spelt has also been found to contain much more protein, which is one reason for modern day farmers to begin to re-introduce spelt. It is healthier in that it contains more nutrients caused by being genetically unmodified and being grown organically. It is however a popular misconception that spelt is gluten free. It isn’t – although Silenrieux produce two buckwheat beers for this purpose (#110, #114).

The end result is to all intents and purposes a wheat beer – it’s just of course made with spelt. The specimen is pale and fairly cloudy, although the brewers do lightly filter the end product and additionally referment within the bottle. The taste was surprisingly fruity, yet more fizzy and refreshing than your average wheat beer. I really enjoyed this and yet again wished it was a 33cl bottle as it was over so quick. A nice end to a long days driving.

(Post-Script) – I assume the name Joseph is derived from spelt being especially prevalent in biblical times – unless anyone else knows otherwise?

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#114 – Sara Blonde

#114 - Sara Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

I have only just drunk the Sara Brune (#110), and so quickly onto the Sara Blonde, and a rare foray into the world of farming. It would be extremely churlish to drink another buckwheat beer and not know anything about its key ingredient.

The most important point to make is that buckwheat is not actually a cereal or a grass, and therefore not a member of the wheat family, although it does share many similar properties. It is for this reason it is said to belong to the Pseudocereal family, and is much rarer than wheat or barley. Other examples of Pseudocereals include amaranth and quinoa.

These pseudocereals are mostly used nowadays as they still produce a malt that can produce the mash in brewing, but it does not contain gliadin or hordein, which combine to form gluten. People who are sensitve to glycoproteins or who might be coeliacs are able to drink this beer and avoid the common symptoms which wheat, barley and rye can bring about.

It is important to mention that not all Silenrieux beers are made with buckwheat, and therefore not all will be suitable for gluten-free diets, although the Sara beers do hit that spot. Sarasin is the french word for buckwheat, which is how Silenrieux came up with the name, although the name in English originally derives from the word ‘beech wheat’ as the triangular seeds closely resemble those of the beech nut.

Disappointingly I had picked this beer up out of date again, and unlike the darker Belgian beers you need to be a bit more vigilant with lighter beers as they don’t keep as well. The Sara Blonde was extremely pale, petite and very crisp which was welcome after the disaster that was the last beer! (#113). She was very wheaty and ended up just like the farmers girl I had expected to her be – plenty of substance, but otherwise plain. This is though a pretty decent beer for anyone who needs to control or avoid gluten in their diet.

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Filed under 6, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#110 – Sara Brune

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

Silenrieux is a rare breed among breweries in Belgium, promoting a range of traditional beers that are made from the most natural of ingredients. The brewery formed in 1995 in the Ardennes countryside after the locals had spent a fair amount of time in the local library and had begun to discover that the area in which he lived was once rife with two rarer types of grain – namely buckwheat and spelt. They also discovered a history of local brewers long since out of business who had used these grains to produce beer. The mission was now to recreate them; firstly by growing the grains, and then turning the harvest into a range of drinks.

With the help of a number of local authorities including the Director of Agriculture the brewers were able to glean the farming know-how, and through liaising closely with the professors at the University of Louvain was able to rework ancient recipes into a modern day solution. They then set about the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of getting a loan to fund the whole enterprise.

The money soon began to trickle in though, as the quality of the beer became known, and the switch started to trigger in customers that here was a very natural beer. The story reached even greater success with the Sara and Joseph (#115) launching as truly organic beers in 2000. This meant following stricter guidance on the production of the ingredients, but this move towards producing ‘superbeers’ has really paid off. What used to be a rustic farmyard is now a modern brewery which is reeling off 70,000 gallons of excellent beer each year, and exporting as far and wide as much of Western Europe and the United States. You can even drive by and drink the beers on the premises at the bar-restaurant should you wish.

This Sara Brune was picked up in a local beer store in Couvin and drunk in the safety of my own home. I was very interested to discover what a buckwheat beer tastes like, but like most 25cl beers it was all over so soon. It was though pleasantly crisp and light for a dark beer, and fairly spicy on the tongue. I wouldn’t be in a rush to drink another but felt strangely liberated to be drinking an organic beer !

(Post-Script) – Silenrieux also make a Sara Blonde (#114), and this report highlights how the beer got its name.

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#37 – Orval

#37 - Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Orval is the fourth of the six Trappist breweries we have come across thus far in Belgium, and it is almost certainly the most attractive, set in the grounds of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the deep south east of Belgium near the Luxembourg border.

There is definitely not enough space to document the rich history of the Abbey, however since around the 11th Century when the Benedictine monks of Calabria of Italy first settled, beer has been brewed here. Over time, other sets of monks have moved in, and fires and the French Revolution have put pay to the original buildings. The newest incarnation was constructed between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monk Marie-Albert van der Cruyssen, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey, four years after the first Orval beer was brewed.

None of these stories however are quite as interesting as the legend behind the name and beer label of the ‘Queen of Trappists’. Apparently, the recently widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was convalescing after the death of her husband and child in the area when tragically she lost her wedding ring in a spring that ran through the beautiful site. When she sat and prayed to the Virgin Mary for its return, a trout appeared from the depths of the spring, bearing the ring in its mouth. She immediately retook it and exclaimed that this place truly was ‘Val d’Or’ – the Valley of Gold, from which the name Orval is derived. Her immense gratitude was to fund the foundation of the original monastery, and the rest as they say is history, albeit a slightly fanciful one. Does nobody else agree this all sounds just a little bit fishy?

I have been drinking Orval as one of my favourite beers for quite some time, and it was a pleasure to officially record my thoughts on here. Served at the designated temperature as opposed to the chilled examples I have been enjoying over the last few months. At a warmer temperature the pour was still electric amber, carbonating and pffing with a yeasty head. The smell is stupefying and almost alive. The taste is sharp, and sour right to the end, with some orange citrus and a dryness that makes you beg for another. These beers are readily available in large Tesco supermarkets. Stock up, or head to Belgium !

(Post-Script) – the story of the Petit-Orval (#52) recollects a brief visit to the Abbey

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Fish, Orval, Trappist Beer