Category Archives: Labels featuring animals

#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