Category Archives: Horse

#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

#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

#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

#140 – Bavik Pony Stout

 

#140 - Bavik Pony Stout

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

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

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

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

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

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

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#133 – Vicaris Generaal

#133 - Vicaris Generaal

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.8 %

The beers of the ‘vicar’ brand have been lovingly created and commissioned by Vincent Dilewyns since 1999 although de Proef have been brewing them on their behalf since then. So popular though have these beers become that by the end of the year, the Dilewyns family will have taken over the brewing themselves in a converted facility in Dendermonde.

Beer runs through the veins of this family, but that’s probably another story. What is intriguing me though is what inspired Mr Dilewyns to pursue a range of ecclesiastically titled beverages?

Vicaris Generaal, actually translates into ‘vicar general’, and refers to the deputy of a bishop. The vicar general wields the baton on all administrative duties in his diocese, and holds considerable executive power. He is appointed by the bishop himself, and should the bishop die or vacate his role, the vicar general is then immediately terminated. The next incumbent bishop is then expected to appoint his own vicar general. The only real stipulations on a candidate is that they must have a minimum of thirty years knowledge of, or a degree in, theology or canon law. Nothing to do with beer as far as I can see.

Forgetting the religious connotations for a moment, I am beginning to notice that if a beer is made at de Proef, it is normally of a high standard. I get the impression they don’t just brew any old rubbish. The Vicaris Generaal certainly is no exception. Settling back on the sofa with a black and white movie, this was a decent accompaniment. It was dark, mysterious and very strong, with definite licorice and malt that seeped deep into your bones. It remained fairly bitter till the end, and at one stage I faintly hoped that it might sweeten but it never really did. Certainly a well-made brew and full of character but perhaps just a bit too stoutish for me to command my more generous grading.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Proef, Horse

#65 – La Moneuse

#65 - La Moneuse

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 8 %

There is a most definite morbidity amongst the Belgians. We have already come across and drunk beers known as Judas (#5) and Duvel (#34), and learnt of others called Satan and Lucifer. While there is a certain degree of separation between the modern world and these figures of notoriety, the story behind Blaugies La Moneuse is far more contemporary. The person in question is Antoine-Joseph Moneuse, and the co-owner of Blaugies, Marie-Noelle Pourtois, is convinced that she is his descendant. On further reading I might have kept quiet about this !

A J Moneuse claimed to be a miller and a trader, although most who ran into this unsavoury character would argue this was a euphemistic claim. Moneuse spent most of his career as a coach driver cum highwayman, womaniser, robber and murderer. It was unlikely though that he would become anything but given his family background. His grandfather died in prison while on a fourteen year stretch, and his father was murdered during a fight with a sword. He fell into bad company while driving coaches, and it was inevitable he fell into the highwaymans way of life.

It would be easy to romanticise this character in the style of Dick Turpin, however when you read of his works, it is ever more surprising that somebody named such a great beer after him. Legend has it that when unwitting victims refused to give up the location of their stash, Moneuse and his cronies would burn their feet on the open fire until they confessed. The worst story came from 1795 when Moneuse and twelve other men attacked a hostel killing a couple, their six children and the family doctor. Records of the time reported that the bodies were macerated by both blunt and sharp weapons while the body of a twenty-two month old child was found with the guts ripped out in the arms of her dead sister.

Thankfully Moneuse was eventually caught with a number of his cronies and imprisoned in Asquillies. He was eventually sentenced to death and faced the Guillotine (#61) in June 1798 in the Place de Douai with his accomplices. They were made to wear the shameful red shirts set aside only for murderers and poisoners.

It was with trepidation that I visited the Trois Fourquets in Blaugies for lunch on our last day in Belgium. It was a far more enjoyable experience than the one documented above, ordering local sausages cooked in front of us on the open griddle, and served with a large bottle of La Moneuse. This was as near to an Orval (#37) as I had tasted since, yet more subtle and pronounced in its hoppiness. A truly impressive saison drunk in wonderful surroundings. The beer was a pure pleasure, quite unlike the man it is in honour of.

(Post-Script) – I have done a few brewery taps for lunch in Belgium now, but probably none finer than Blaugies – Its remote but if you get the opportunity do it !

Address: Rue de la Frontière
435 Blaugies, 7370
Belgium
Phone: 32 (0)65 65 03 60
Email: info@brasseriedeblaugies.com
URL: http://www.brasseriedeblaugies.com/



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Filed under 8, Blaugies, Horse, Saison

#55 – Saint-Monon Brune

#55 - Saint-Monon Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Our travels took us further today, deep into the heart of rural Germany. I still had a car full of Belgian beers so I was happy, although the only worry I had was keeping them cool. I reverted to buying bags of peas in the supermarket to wrap around those selected but it really was only a temporary measure, and of course I ended up leaving a Hansel and Gretel style trail of peas around the European hinterlands. It had been another long day on the road, and after throwing our tent up and knocking up some dinner I settled down with a Saint-Monon Brune.

St. Monon, believe it or not, was Scottish. Like us, he found himself travelling across Europe albeit it was probably a little more taxing in the 7th Century – I found it hard enough finding the campsite with my sat-nav! He had been visited by an angel (allegedly of course) and instructed to find the village of Nassogne so that he could evangelise the pagans living there. In true tradition of a Saint, he came, he saw and he evangelised, although not without a little help from one of the pigs of the flock he adopted. The pig dug up an old Roman bell called a tintinnabulum, which St. Monon used to call the people to prayer. Over time our Scottish monk worked hard to recruit locals and to destroy the pagan idols, although not without upsetting those less willing to submit to the saintly ways. In 636 St.Monon was ambushed in his oratory by unrepentant sinners who murdered him with a wooden spear. I am beginning to learn that it’s not all rosy being a Saint. They always seem to get offed in the most alarming of ways (#18, #29). Of course he wasn’t a Saint up until this point, but the people of the local area who so appreciated the work he did with the animals made him the Patron Saint of Livestock, of which he still remains to this day.

The beer probably was a bit warm still as the peas had defrosted, but then browns tend to prefer the warmer climate. It was a particularly muddy pour, with a real milk chocolate colour to it – almost to the point of looking quite unappetising. The experience on the tongue was quite spicy, and almost certainly coriander, thus quite unique to date. I wouldn’t say I would go buy it again in a hurry but it was worth the taste, even if it didn’t have the legs to be a stayer – a bit like poor St. Monon.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Dubbel, Horse, Pig, Saint-Monon