Category Archives: 5

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

#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