Category Archives: 5

This beer warrants a 5/10. This is pretty average fare. You might as well just drink a reasonable fizzy lager

#237 – du Boucanier Christmas

#237 - du Boucanier Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5%

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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

#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

#177 – St. Paul Double

#177 - St. Paul Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.9 %

The range of beers named St. Paul are currently brewed at the Scheldebrouwerij, however it hasn’t always been that way. As noted on the St. Paul Speciale (#143) these were once part of the Sterkens family of beers. To all intents and purposes they still are really, since Sterkens just use the brewing facilities at Schelde to produce the beers. Sterkens still market and export the beers as if they brewed them, and a visit to their website gives little away of this secret.

The move away from brewing their own beers has been a gradual one for Stan Sterkens, the fourteenth generation of brewmeister since the family began brewing way back in 1651. He has been very successful in setting up brewpubs for interested parties. They provide the money, and he puts in the equipment and expertise. One such enterprise was with his daughter Leen Sterkens in Spring Hill, USA. Others have been set up in places as far afield as Taiwan and Japan.

The whole idea of going foreign has worked very well in fact, where the export market has proved exceptionally lucrative for the Sterkens clan. Until 1990 the brewery mainly distributed to over five hundred restaurants and pubs in Belgium. Now however, up to 95% of production is sold abroad. You are far more likely to see a bottle of St. Paul in a US bar or beershop than you would in Belgium. It was for this reason that when I saw a selection of the colourful odd shaped bottles in a Belgian beer shop at Christmas last year I snapped them up.

The St. Paul Speciale was hardly a classic, and to be honest I didn’t really get much joy from the St. Paul Double either. To be fair the beers may have been rebrewed, and it looked like I may have an older selection of the range, but I would expect more from a beer firm who are seemingly pleasing the US market. The craft beer scene in the US is probably second only to Belgium in the world, and as you would expect with the Americans it probably won’t be long before they are knocking the spots even off the Belgians. This beer was thin, bland and boring. I still await my epiphany.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Dubbel, Schelde

#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

#166 – Floris Ninkeberry

#166 - Floris Ninkeberry

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3.6 %

Perhaps only the makers or marketeers of Floris Ninkeberry really know why this beer is thus called. This was the first time I had ever tried a fruit beer from the colourful Floris range, and it was purely due to the fact that I had never tried a Ninkeberry before. Having spent almost ten years of my youth working in the greengrocery industry before and after school you can imagine my excitement at discovering a brand new exotic fruit. Forget the beer!

You can imagine my disappointment when on eagerly studying the label I discovered that this poor excuse for a fruit beer is just a syrupy fruit mix of a medley of other tropical fruits. Ninkeberries do not exist anywhere, only in the devious minds of the Huyghe marketeers. I had popped into the Dovetail for a quick devious lunchtime beer to try and forget the strains of work, and had found myself duped into a buying a syrupy mess named after a made up fruit. The Floris Ninkeberry is actually flavoured with mango, passion fruit, apricot and peach syrups blended into your typical staple wheat beer. Live and Learn.

Ok, so the marketing ploy was working, but what on earth prompted somebody to name a pretend fruit a Ninkeberry? It could be any of the following reasons:-

a)      Ninke is sourced from the name Aikaterine, a Greek name meaning ‘pure’. This could refer to the fact that this beer is pure….well pure rubbish.

b)      Ninke is often a nickname used in the Dutch language for Catharina, again a derivative of Aikaterine. Could it be this beer is named after somebodies daughter or wife?

c)      Other derivatives postulated have been that Ninke comes from the Greek Goddess of Magic (Hecate), or more aptly the Greek Goddess of Torture (Katateino).

d)      An urban slang dictionary labels the term Ninke as a particularly kinky form of sex, no doubt by combining the terms Kinky and Nookie.

Whatever the reason be sure to avoid this one, especially if you are buying it in one of London’s most expensive pubs. What a ninkeberry!

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Filed under 5, Fruit Beer, Huyghe

#157 – Lindemans Tea Beer

#157 - Lindemans Tea Beer

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3.5 %

The rather adventurous Lindemans Tea Beer was first brewed in 1995; a lambic beer brewed with barley, malt, wheat and hops, albeit fermented and matured with tea leaves. The concept of a tea beer completely fascinated me when I spotted this beer on the shelf of an expensive beer shop in Bruges, even more so with its Japanese label – I had to have one.

The whole tea beer thing rather got me thinking, and being English it struck me that beer and tea are about the most popular drinks over here. Everybody knows the fascination of the English with tea, and we aren’t too shy when it comes to beer either. I wondered which one might be ultimately better for you. It might seem an obvious answer especially if not drunk in moderation, but then I discovered an article from an 1822 book called Cottage Economy. The author William Cobbett takes some time to spell out the virtues of both. Tea drinkers, and women – look away now!

The context behind the article was that this was a time when tea was largely taking the place of beer in society, taxes on beer were rising steeply and Mr William Cobbett was rather less than pleased about it. He starts his tirade by arguing that tea weakens the human body for labour as opposed to strengthening it as beer does. He likens the rush from tea to a quick fix you might get through opiates (laudanum), and that tea will inevitably enfeeble a human being. He goes as far as suggesting tea is ‘a destroyer of health, an enfeebler of the frame, an engenderer of effeminacy and laziness, a debaucher of youth, and a maker of misery for old age’. This is based around the argument that in fifteen bushels of malt there are 570 pounds of pure nutrition, as opposed to just 84 pounds in tea. In fact he goes as far as saying that a lean pig will be able to provide all the bacon you need if you feed him beer, but die of hunger on tea.

He doesn’t stop at paralytic pigs. He also makes a fairly decent argument that the contemporary woman (because of course female emasculation is yet just a twinkle in the eye) spends the best part of her day brewing tea where she could be helping in the fields. Beer of course whence made just needs pouring. Womankind gets a further battering in his summing up, whereby he suggests that the ‘gossip of the tea-table is no bad preparatory school for the brothel’, and that ‘the everlasting dawdling about, with the slops of the tea-tackle, gives them a relish for nothing that requires strength and activity’.

So there you have it. The next time you hear somebody tell you beer is bad for you, point them in the direction of William Cobbett, although I can wholly verify that tea beer is bad for you – well at least it must be for your teeth. It was painfully sweet, and to be honest I couldn’t tell the difference between this and a can of cold iced tea. To be fair it would have been a refreshing drink in the warm sunshine, but as a beer to drink after a long day at work it was simply an aberration.

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Filed under 5, Lambic - Fruit, Lindemans

#152 – Belle-Vue Kriek Extra

#152 - Belle-Vue Kriek Extra

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.3 %

There are a whole host of fruit beers on the market that label themselves rather gratuitously. One that had already begun to confuse me was the way that Belle-Vue had two different types of Kriek. One was normal or classique Kriek, weighing in at 5.2%, and then there is the Belle-Vue Kriek Extra at 4.3%. So, if you aren’t getting extra alcohol in your Kriek Extra, what exactly are you getting?

The official website explains that the Extra, is the sweeter, more fruity variety of the traditional Kriek. It is made only with young lambics, with the addition of extra cherries, thus offering extra refreshment and extra sweetness. By that rationale then, one can only assume by adding extra cherries there is less room for alcohol. I was very much enjoying the irony of this (much more than the beer in fact), in that particularly in the US and Great Britain at the moment it seems brewers are offering more choice of beers, in an attempt to curb the latent binge-drinking culture. Stella Artois (#116) now offers a 4% beer, Becks offer the Fier; not to mention all the American Light beers. Only Belgium could offer a reduced alcohol beer and call it Extra!

I would not have normally gone hunting out the Kriek Extra, but I am on a 1000 beer odyssey after all, and as I saw this lying in the fridge at the guesthouse I was staying in, so decided to slump on the bed and refresh myself after the long haul around Bruges. It was I suppose vaguely refreshing, and at least did the job, in that it didn’t send me off to sleep – I was keen to keep myself fresh for the evenings drinking ahead. It poured a crimson red, and my overall analysis would be that this tasted like cherry cordial with the addition of some sparkling water and extra sugar. Considering the Belle-Vue range are made with lambic, I must admit to being fairly disappointed, although many rumours abound with regards to the actual processes that Belle-Vue use nowadays. Perhaps I can save that for the tougher non-Extra.

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Filed under 5, Belle-Vue (InBev), Lambic - Fruit

#148 – Ezel Bruin

#148 - Ezel Bruin

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The logo of the Ezel beers is one of a donkey holding a frothy glass of beer – hardly surprising when you consider that Ezel is Flemish for donkey. Like everything though with Belgian beers there is always a story behind the name.

The nickname Ezel is one that has been given to inhabitants of the municipality of Kuurne. Situated near to the Bavik brewery, it is only a tiny place, with a population of 12,000, but it has faced much derision over the years from its neighbours. The donkey slurs started many years ago when the traders from Kuurne would arrive early in Kortrijk for the market, with assess and carts loaded up with vegetables. The inevitable hullabaloo of braying animals and the rattling across the cobbles would often wake the unfortunate residents. The common greeting was “It’s those asses from Kuurne again!”

There is another story which is part of local legend, and tells of a priest who unable to hold a funeral service on Ash Wednesday, asked the sacrister to take over. All went reasonably well until the application of the cross of ash onto the foreheads of the congregation, where the sacrister couldn’t recall the latin words which were to be proclaimed. He was later castigated by the priest with the immortal line “You were born an ass, and you will die an ass!”, which of course he mistook as the line he had forgotten for all future funerals.

The whole of the local area is now often tarnished with the Ezel taunt; not really as a taunt of stupidity but more likely a reference to the patient and dogged perseverance of the local people. The people of Kuurne have a lot to answer for! Its all very good natured though and something worthy of local pride – in fact the town even has it’s own donkey statue outside the town hall – an oversized and stylish ass named Ambroos, and the winner of the annual pro cycling race between Brussels and Kuurne receives a large fluffy Ambroos on the podium. The association continues with this rather average beer.

The Ezel Bruin had sat in my cellardrobe for well over a year and was by now covered in a mysterious thin layer of dust. The initial aroma on opening was full of promise also; the wafts of herbs and fruit piercing the stuffy evening air. It all went downhill on the tasting though. A thin, effervescent dark brown concoction which was distinctly average and by the time I was half way through, the 250ml had long since become redeemable. The words the sacrister should have remembered were ‘Remember, man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return’. I am happy to banish this one long from the memory.

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Filed under 5, Bavik, Belgian Ale, Donkey

#145 – Gulden Draak

#145 - Gulden Draak

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

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

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

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

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

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

#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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Filed under 5, Bavik, Brewers, Horse, Sweet Stout

#132 – Yersekes Mosselbier

#132 - Yersekes Mosselbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

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

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

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

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

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

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

#81 – Hoegaarden

#81 - Hoegaarden

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.9 %

Everybody has heard of Hoegaarden – certainly since Interbrew exported it around the world. In terms of white/wheat beers there are probably none more famous. The beer gets it name from the town in which it is brewed, and although it is brewed to a traditional recipe that dates back to 1445, this actual beer has only existed since 1966.

The original wheat beer recipe was largely engineered by the monks of Hoegaarden in the middle ages, where they had access to spices such as coriander and curacao due to the Dutch trading influence. So successful was the result, that at one point there were over 30 independent small farmhouse breweries in the tiny town – although by 1957 there were none left! The rise in popularity of mass-produced lager and the asset-stripping that occurred during both world wars had taken its toll on this cottage industry.

In 1966 however, a local milkman with a fond nostalgia for the older white beers decided to reinvent the style. He set up de Kluis (the Cloister) brewery with a few close friends and the rest is history as they say. We have already met this milkman Pierre Celis (#20, #21), and doubtless we will again.

His white beer was a remarkable success over the next twenty or so years, with production growing from 350 hectolitres in 1966 to 75,000 in 1985. Sadly the Hoegaarden plant was completely destroyed by a terrible fire in this year, and Celis was forced to take extra investment from Interbrew, who inevitably were able to influence a take-over of the brewery in 1987. The amount of hectolitres produced would rise to 855,000 over the next ten years, but by then the standard of the beer had fallen sharply. The fact was that by now Hoegaarden was a worldwide commodity, and most people drinking it on a warm summers afternoon had no concept of what this beer once was. The final knife in the back came in 2005, when AB/InBev, who by now had taken over Interbrew, decided to move all production to Jupille, near Liege. Suddenly Hoegaarden was merely a brand, and the village just a memory. Such an outcry followed for the next couple of years that in 2007 brewing returned to Hoegaarden, but sadly the quality has never returned.

I had clearly tried Hoegaarden on and off over the years, but this was the first wheat beer to pass my lips on the Belgian Beer Odyssey. I had brought back a 250 ml bottle from a jaunt to Belgium, and thus was not drinking it from its traditional hexagonal glass*, however it really didn’t taste as I remembered it to be on those warm summer afternoons. Traditional Hoegaarden was famous for being unfiltered, but this was almost translucent, and much too gassy. It looked anaemic and to be fair, if there is still coriander and curacao in this, then it has long since been tastable on my palate. I am not going to bad-mouth the name, because the Hoegaarden Grand Cru is still a mighty fine beer, but this one remains a lesson to us all that we should stand up for the little men amongst the craft breweries of Belgium.

* Did you know? – that the traditional hexagonal glass was supposedly designed to be prised out of ruined drinkers hands at the end of a long night by a spanner.

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Filed under 5, Belgian White (Witbier), Hoegaarden (InBev)

#69 – Saint-Martin Blonde

#69 - Saint-Martin Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

This is another beer that looks like a supermarket beer from the label. In Tesco in England I once tried a stubby bottle of some similarly titled beer and it tasted of baked beans. I did not therefore have high hopes for number #69 on my journey.

It was refreshing I suppose to learn that at least there is an Abbey of Saint Martin, which was founded in Tournai in 1096, based on the teachings of the famous St. Martin. Again as was common throughout Europe at this time, beer was brewed on the premises as a safer alternative to water during the age of disease. This was emphasised when Bishop Radbod gave special charter to the Abbey during the Great Plague, to brew beer and try and halt the widespread starvation that permeated this dark period.

The brewing of beer continued until the late 1790’s when once again the French Revolution wielded its destructive hand on the monastic community. The Abbey of St. Martin lost almost all of it’s abbey structures apart from the relatively new Abbots Palace, and parts of the 13th Century crypt and 14th Century cloister. In fact visitors to Tournai can still see these remnants of one of Belgiums’ greatest abbeys, by visiting the Hotel de Ville. Set in an attractive park, the town hall is one of Tournai’s top tourist destinations.

While the brewery area was completely decimated during the revolution, the recipes for the St. Martin beer were kept well hidden from the revolutionary plunderers, and in 1890 following an altogether more reasonable revolution – the industrial one – there was increased prosperity in Belgium, and the Brasserie de Brunehaut took up the task of recreating these recipes. Either the recipes required the stale, disease-ridden water which would have been used in days of yore, or maybe Brunehaut have just misinterpreted the recipes, but it may really have been better for all if the recipes had been lost during the destruction of the Abbey.

This was a very poor beer. Clear, thin and pasty in appearance, and even more anemic on the tastebuds. Slightly floral in its essence and lacking in any kind of character, this is one to put out of the memory quickly, although I would have to wait three days for the next beer to take away the memory of this one.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Brunehaut

#57 – Hopduvel Blondine

#57 - Hopduvel Blondine

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 9 %

While we are on the subject of blondes, it seems almost the perfect time to introduce the ‘blond/e beer’. When you have a beer called Blondine and a label with a beautiful blonde on it, I doubt there will be a better time to talk about it. I decided to find a translation of Blondine, and discovered it seems to mean the preparation used to bleach ones hair blond. It sounded synthetic and to be honest, I feared the worst.

I have always felt that brown or amber beers are my personal favourites. Just like I prefer red wine to white. My rationale was that average brown or amber beers, and red wines can be well hidden, but an average blond beer or white wine gets shown up. I still think this is true. A good blonde is a real treat, but its much harder to get right. Whether this is true for the female species I shall leave up to everyone else, although again my personal preference has always been the brunette.

Blonde ales tend to be offered by most breweries. You get the feeling that many brewers secretly share my thoughts above, but feel that there is a definite market out there for blonde beers. Again it is this stereotypical view that most beer drinkers would prefer to drink unimaginative blonde lagers. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate this view, as I thought the Piraat 9 (#15) for example was immense, but there appears to be some degree of truth in there somewhere.

That said, there is much more to ‘blonde beers’ than lagers and pils. There are good basic Belgian ales with medium strength but plenty of flavour. Abdij van Roosenberg (#11) a fair example so far, and then there are the hoppier blondes which have much more bite. Tripel beers don’t scientifically have to be blonde, but most tend to be, and are almost always strong and stylish although most I have tried on this trip so far have been a bit of a let down. Then there are the strong Belgian ales or Golden blondes, such as Duvel (#37) which remain classics in their field, or the more experimental with flavours, such as the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29). The latter seem to represent well the craft brewers of Belgium, who seek to give their drinker more value for their money by either trying new techniques or adding new ingredients.

The Hopduvel Blondine on offer tonight was trying to be the latter, but ultimately failed. It was 9% but it certainly didn’t taste it. She tried to explode on opening (probably a by-product of hurtling down the Alps this afternoon), and I caught the cloudy remnants well in the glass. This was definitely more solid and beguiling than the previous blonde, but there was almost something quite unsavoury in there. Her personality was orangey and bitter, and I really felt that with 9% on the label she would be able to offer a little more. Clearly the gentleman is not preferring this blonde.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#51 – Abbaye de Forest

#51 - Abbaye de Forest

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The light had begun to fade at the campsite after our late start, and it had started to get a little chilly. I dug around for my army jumper, pulled myself up to the barbecue and decided to have one last beer for the night. I closed my eyes and randomly stuck my hand into one of the boxes I had filled from our Couvin stop. Abbaye de Forest from the Brasserie Silly, and I just assumed from the uninspiring label that it was one of those tawdry beers made by a supermarket with a made-up Abbey name to sell a few extra brews. I was wrong, not that I am going to apologise to anyone.

There is actually an Abbaye de Forest, and there is actually a place called Forest. Remarkable what a little research can do. Instead of contemplating the two strange campers with the worlds smallest tent who had set up a late night butterfly watching vigil in the woods, I might have sat there pondering the decline of yet another Benedictine Abbey.

The Abbaye de Forest was founded in 1106, and it grew in splendour and importance due to its location near Brussels on the main road from Paris. Often key dignitaries in olden times heading to Brussels, would stop here for food, shelter and entertainment. The community was thus able to grow in size as craftsmen, brewers, wine growers and farmers moved to be near the opportunities provided by the Abbey. The inevitable decline came however in 1764 when a massive fire razed the place, and it wasn’t until 1964 that the local commune were able to begin the restoration of this once majestic complex. The Abbaye is available for visitors now, and is apparently well worth the effort – sadly unlike the beer.

I didn’t expect much, and to be fair the Abbaye de Forest did its best not to disappoint. It looked pale and golden once the froth had decided to calm down, a little like a Duvel (#34), although clearly that is where all comparisons ended. It was watery and non-descript, and although clearly better than most premium lagers, it certainly won’t stay long in my memory. If I was throwing a barbecue in the summer, and this was on offer in the supermarket, I might consider it for the less discerning English drinkers, however I am not, and that’s what Stella Artois (#116) is for anyway.

(Post-Script) – having visited Brussels on my stag weekend, it is clear this is a staple beer of the city;  being freely available in many bars.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Silly

#12 – Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

#12 - Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

This is a tough ask – to sum up Gueuze in a paragraph or two. How can one possibly do that without delving deep into the world of lambic? Well here’s the whistle-stop tour. We can wade deeper into the effluent as the journey continues.

OK. Lambics are beers but not as we know it. They require wild yeasts that sit in the air in the Payottenland area around Brussels to ferment the beer, and they sit for long periods open to this natural process. They do indeed use hops, but only the oldest ones, and so the usual beer flavours are barely noticeable. It is a combination of these two circumstances that cause Lambic based beers to be sour, acetic and somewhat an acquired taste. Gueuze is the by-product of carefully combining these lambics, and so by mixing older ones with younger ones, blenders are able to sweeten the final result. This occurs as the younger lambics have yet to fully ferment and so the fermentable sugars start to work on the combination – the end result being Gueuze.

Timmermans have been making Gueuze since 1781, and despite now being subsumed into the Anthony Martins group, they still retain their ancestry in the staff and identity in their brand. I get the feeling this was a pretty tame Gueuze to begin with. It was particularly sweet and I expect the brewery intended this to make it more marketable alongside a number of their other fruit lambics. The sweeter a Gueuze, the more able it is to mask the often difficult flavours behind it. This tasted more like a flat cidery champagne to me, as I kind of expected. There were some hints of grapefruit in there which added to the sourness somewhat. I have certainly lain my hat in the strong Belgian ale and Abbey Dubbel brands, and so this was an interesting diversion. I can’t say I am a true fan yet !

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Filed under 5, Lambic - Gueuze, Timmermans