Category Archives: 6

This beer warrants a 6/10. This is a bearable Belgian brew. It may not win many awards – in fact its the Sunderland of the Premiership

#250 – Les Brasseurs Tripel

 

Les Brasseurs Tripel

Size: cask

ABV:  5.5 %

Stag parties tend to drink quicker than average; which in Belgium can be pretty dangerous. The poor Best Man will tend to hold the pocketful of age-weathered bank-notes and begrudgingly have to order a round of drinks every time the quickest drinker finishes his; and everybody else is too embarrassed to decline a drink so will continue to drink apace. In this case our quickest drinker was one of those more mature gentlemen who spends the majority of his time at the bar in England quaffing three or four pints of real ale every hour and never ever getting even slightly tipsy. This was very bad news.

We had only been in Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place for about eight minutes and we were already on to round two, which included the time it took to order from the bar. Table service seemed to have dried up at the moment the proprietors clocked it was a stag party, although from what I have heard about this place it could just as likely have been their customary incalcitrance. This brewpub is quickly having its reputation tarnished as an unfriendly tourist trap, which of course my party were not helping in any way with.

The location though is damned impressive; set literally just an inch off the Grand Place in Brussels. On a warmer day one can sit outside with a fag and a beer and watch one of Europes finest city squares go about its business. Today though it was cold, and we were all firmly indoors, which is also something of a pleasure. As soon as you enter Les Brasseurs you are immediately faced with the copper brew kettles on your left, from which seemingly miles of steel tubing wends away around the bar, upstairs, and into various atmospheric niches, nooks and crannies. The brewpub is set on three levels and the owners have done well to cram it all in so snugly. If you get bored tried to follow the maze of tubes with your eyes, then there is plenty of breweriana to explore.

Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place opened in the summer of 2001, and occupies a splendid looking building in the corner of the square. It was once a grocers, hardware store and even a concert hall, before finally ending up a famous coffee house in the 14th Century. It was only after a terrible fire in more recent times that the premises changed to one of Belgium’s most famous microbreweries. They continue to serve Brussels tourist fraternity by everyday drinking hours, and only somehow find the time to brew overnight when the public have finally been shoe-horned out the premises. It’s an expensive place to drink as you would expect, and they clearly make a lot of money given the daily throughput.

I recently read a comment about Les Brasseurs along the lines of “it could and should be so much more”, which is really quite painfully true. Here sits a microbrewery set in the very beating heart of a beer drinking capital which doesn’t seem to really take care of its customer. Les Brasseurs seem to have targeted their market at the average tourist, as opposed to any particular beer aficionado, and I feel their beer portfolio probably reflects this well. The Tripel was distinctive in its flavour but not particularly memorable. It was quite pale and a little flat, and I had hardly time to dwell on anything else before somebody was lining up my next one. Sigh

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Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Brasseurs de la Grand Place

#245 – Chapeau Gueuze

#245 - Chapeau Gueuze

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

The Chapeau is the fifth gueuze of my journey thus far. I had started with the fairly unimpressive Timmermans (#12), and Belle-Vue (#62), and had then moved onto the much more respected Boon (#89) and Girardin White Label (#178). My recent lambic enlightenment however took a bit of a step back with this sweetened offering from de Troch.

The Chapeau portfolio of beers is largely dominated by an extensive selection of lambic fruit beers, topped off with a Gueuze, Winter Gueuze and a Faro. They tend to take a bit of a hammering in the company of other such purveyors as Hanssens, Cantillon and Boon but de Troch are a bona fide lambic brewery, who lovingly tend to their beers in the age old traditions. Pauwel Raes is the latest in a long line of family who have headed up the brewery, and he strongly believes in keeping to the old traditions.

The buildings at the de Troch brewery date from 1795 and are steeped in history. Even the equipment still used at de Troch is ancient; an example being the coal-fire kettle which is still used to brew the beer. The buildings are protected by an archaeological order, and while using older equipment in more dated confines does slow down the brewing process, Pauwel Raes argues that it has been instrumental in maintaining the quality of the beer. While many lambic breweries leave the wort to cool in koelschips in the open roof, Pauwel suggests the bacteria have long since just chosen to reside in the open air, but have impregnated every nook and cranny of his premises. It is for this reason that de Troch will resist any movement to bring their technology fully up to date. Pauwel explained that when a recent food safety inspection was carried out, the brewery were ordered to disinfect all the buildings and to stop using wooden barrels. This would have essentially ended the whole possibility of brewing lambic beer and thankfully pressure from local beer groups were able to ensure that less stringent measures are needed to be in place to ensure lambic breweries and blenders can continue to produce this unique brew.

The Chapeau Gueuze is made to the traditional lambic style, and follows a menu of 70% barley, and 30% wheat which is boiled to form the wort ready for spontaneous fermentation. Quite what happens thereafter is unclear but the end result is really quite blindingly sweet. This gueuze was much more akin to the Timmermans and the Belle-Vue than the drier gueuzes and for me tasted much more like a sweetened Faro. Pauwel Raes argues that because of the use of coalfires there is less overall control of the heat, and that this causes a heightened flavour of caramel in the final beer. Having quickly guzzled the contents of my glass I can kind of relate to that. I admit to being a bit of a stickler for sweet beers but having tried now a few of the more respected gueuze on the market I would certainly seek the latter out on a warm sunny afternoon to quench my thirst.

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Filed under 6, de Troch, Lambic - Gueuze

#243 – Den Drupneuze

#243 - Den Drupneuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Den Drupneuze beer is the first offering on my journey from the brewery Tseut. It is their Christmas brew and the label festively depicts the friendly pig who typically adorns each of their beers. The oinker in this case is the one wearing a seasonal hat and scarf and who is clearly suffering as a result of the wintry weather – a nice drop of blue snot falling from his snuffly snout. Den Drupneuze of course means runny nose in local dialect.

Beer and alcohol has often been cited as the perfect cure for a cold, and as winter sets in all around us I thought I would put this theory to the test. While the younger of us might head straight for the Lemsip or Night Nurse, ask anyone old enough and they will tell you that a warm cup of booze will cure your ills. It is more likely if you get ill at your Grandmothers house that you will end up with a brandy or a glass of hot toddy (whiskey, hot water and lemon juice) than a nice strong Belgian beer however this viewpoint is so universal there has to be some truth in it. Surely.

The hypothesis here is that alcohol can kill a cold, through the fact that it produces an environment where a virus is unable to survive. Essentially if you were able to get enough alcohol in your blood supply you could in fact create a hostile enough environment to decimate the virus completely. The one downside however is that the levels of alcohol required to support this would also completely kill off your liver. Back to the drawing board. So the next hypothesis asks the question whether regular consumption of alcohol can make the average drinker less susceptible to colds and flu?

There have been a number of studies conducted around this suggestion and one in particular in the USA looked at almost 400 adults and noted that resistance to colds did in fact increase in moderate drinkers, although interestingly not those who smoked. A study in Spain also suggested that a certain amount of units of alcohol per week did indeed correlate with an increased resistance to colds, although they couldn’t prove this in terms of spirits or beer; only red wine, which supports the theories that it is the anti-oxidants present which keep the virals at bay. Now the last thing I want is to shift anyone onto drinking wine so what about a final suggestion – will alcohol and beer in particular help to mediate the side-effects of a cold?

The answer is almost certainly a resounding yes, but it comes with a few caveats. In fact a number of studies have suggested that a good strong beer can temporarily alleviate painful symptoms such as a sore throat or nasal congestion. I’m sure I am not the only one who would prefer a couple of Westmalle Tripels (#149) to taking an ibuprofen or paracetamol? The benefits of drinking beer over pills is self-evident but needs to be balanced against the pain of the evil hangover and of course the fact that drinking alcohol will dehydrate your body – which in actual fact will scientifically prolong the effects of your virus. The moral of the story is drink, drink, and drink, but if you specifically want to help yourself cure a cold, then a little of what you fancy is perfect but any more than one or two is probably only going to make matters worse in the long run.

The Den Drupneuze itself is a rare amber festive beer, a choice based on the brewers natural preference. It is brewed from November to March and the current beer at 8.5% is a more watered down version of the original much stronger brew. I am a big fan of strong amber beers but this one didn’t quite reach my growing expectations. It certainly looked the part but the taste never really went anywhere past a faint malty and fruity bitterness. For the extra ABV this was in the end a very average beer, and certainly not the sort of ale I would entrust in getting me through a severe bout of manflu.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Pig, Tseut

#242 – St Idesbald Blond

#242 - St Idesbald Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

One of the highlights of drinking a thousand Belgian beers is the opportunity to tell a good story. I’ve already come across a number of Saints on my venerable journey thus far and I’m expecting plenty more to come. This time it’s the turn of St Idesbald to distract us from our guzzling, although to be fair during his actual lifetime there wasn’t a great deal to set the pulse racing.

The chief protagonist of the tale was born in approximately 1090 in West Flanders. He was of good solid stock, belonging to the noble family of van der Gracht who were lords of Moorsel. He continued to ingratiate himself with the more esteemed end of the community as a courtier and page to the Count of Flanders and followed a life of piety as a Cistercian monk. He became a canon priest in the beautiful town of Veurne in 1135, and by 1150 shortly after being widowed he joined the Abbey of our Lady of the Dunes (ten Duinen). He would eventually serve as Abbot until his death in 1167, where he was buried in a lead coffin shrine within the Abbey.

The Abbey was an important pillar of the society, and as the beer label will attest, in 1138 it was taken by the Order of Citeaux as an adopted daughter of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux. The St Idesbald beers in many ways celebrate this milestone as much as they do the man – who for centuries lay dormant in his final resting place. It was only in 1577 that things started to hot up a little, when the Gueuzen (essentially the Flemish uprising) plundered the Abbey and razed it to the ground. St Idesbald had been a key figure in the history of the Abbey and the locals were keen to ensure his remains were left untarnished and so transported his shrine to a farmhouse in Bogaerde. It remained here until 1623 where a macabre local survey was carried out which involved opening up the coffin. Amazingly the body of St Idesbald was found to be fully intact and uncorrupted.

The relics of St Idesbald were to become extremely important to the local populace and while the Abbey no longer existed, the farm in Bogaerde housed the coffin. He remained here until the French Revolutionary troops plundered the area whence his holy remains were whisked off to the relative safety of Bruges, eventually ending up in the hospital chapel at the Abbey of our Lady of the Potteries. Amazingly St Idesbald was not venerated as a Saint until 1894, and you can still visit his untarnished remains at the chapel in Bruges to this day, although unlike in 1623 you cannot actually view his lifeless body any longer.

You can though have a beer to celebrate his life, although the St Idesbald Blond is also hardly a brew to get your pulse racing. It is a typical standard Belgian blonde beer which pours a pale gold with a quite ferocious head. The nose is nothing to write home about and the flavour offers little distinguishable above a light fruity twang. This would be a pleasant enough summer barbecue beer for friends who perhaps don’t quite have the urge to explore anything too interesting on the tongue but want something a little stronger than supermarket lager.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Huyghe

#239 – Old Buccaneer Reserve

#239 - Old Buccaneer Reserve

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The fact that here again is another pirate-themed beer seems to back up the fact that these sea-faring plunderers are synonymous with beer and booze. From the annals of buccaneers in the Caribbean to the modern day pirates of Somalia – the common denominator seems to be the natural proclivity to guzzle alcohol. It is a generally accepted myth that virtually the only initiation test a pirate needed to pass was to be able to drink a large boot of beer straight down.

Whilst beer may have played some role on dry land it is probably far more likely that pirates, corsairs and buccaneers would have been drinking other varieties of lubrication once asail. Wine kept well on long voyages and was generally stronger than beer and thus was a popular brew, and of course all pirates are associated with rum. Due to the increased strength and its durability it was the natural choice to take away to sea. It was often much safer to drink than water which wouldn’t have stored particularly well, and so pirates drinking booze was probably quite a sensible choice.

For the exact same reasons gin was also very popular, but pirates didn’t lack creativity. With plenty of time at sea there is recorded evidence that pirates made cocktails to liven up their crew. Bumboo is a fairly well known drink which is a mixture of dark rum, lemon juice and spices, and Flip would be similar to the above but with the addition of egg yolk. Rumfustian was another popular drink and tended to consist of similar ingredients to Flip but with added sherry and gin. Interestingly it seems to be accepted that the popular Mediterranean drink Sangria may have originated on a pirate ship under the name Sangaree where pirate bartenders would combine left over fruit with red wine – anything to avoid scurvy!

Perhaps the best known marine cocktail however has to be Grog. Many of us may commonly use this term to refer to beer or booze in general but in seafaring days of yore, Grog was a drink which was pretty much brewed in the kettle using rum, beer, oatmeal and spices. These ingredients would probably have been in plentiful supply and it isn’t hard to see why Grog was so popular. Whilst the pirates may have drunk Grog, the credit for inventing it seems to lay with Vice Admiral Edward Vernon who introduced the brew into the Royal Navy in 1740 as a remedy for improving health. He always wore a coat made of grogram cloth and thus became known as Old Grog. Grog is still commonly made nowadays but tends to be served warm and made sweeter with sugar which no doubt improves the taste no end.

The grog now sitting in my Belgian beer glass was strictly the barley variety and is actually a label beer made by Van Steenberge. More popularly known as Bornem Tripel, it was created to pad out the du Boucanier range which was sold and distributed through Icobes (#237). It is likely this association is very limited now as I rarely see these beers anymore in reputable beer shops, and this beer is long retired – although the Bornem variant still lives on. The Old Reserve was actually a better beer than some of the others in the range with equal measure of fizz and flavour. A standard fruity tripel which at least got your palate talking to your brain, although one which I wouldn’t buy it again even if I could.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Parrot, Van Steenberge

#233 – Malheur 6

#233 - Malheur 6

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

The de Landtsheer brewery is yet another family business that has transcended the ages of Belgian history. The current President, Manu de Landtsheer is the latest in a long line of ancestors who have brought highly regarded beers to the market.

The founding father of the Malheur beers was Balthazar de Landtsheer, an exotically named gentleman who was born in 1773 in the hamlet of Bassrode. He set up a small rustic brewery on his farmstead which he named ‘De Halve Maan’. His son Eduard was born in 1808 and aside from eventually taking over the reins at the brewery, he also became the mayor of Bassrode. The nature of his involvement in politics meant that progress in brewing was slow, and it wasn’t until his son Emmanuel took over in the mid 1800s that the business began to muster strength.

Emmanuel decided to transfer the business from Bassrode to Buggenhout more as a means of getting in with the daughter of another local brewer who, to be fair he eventually married. Together they bought a small farm brewery named ‘it Meuleke’ and renamed it the Brouwerij de Zon (Sun Brewery). The business boomed and the company became so successful that they traded off the farm and concentrated solely on the beer. Emmanuel eventually passed away in 1879 leaving the business to his son Charles, who would in due course leave it to his own son; also named Emmanuel. The handover however was untimely as World War I arrived and brewing would have to cease. As was common at this desperate time, the family looked for alternative incomes and the brewery became in the end a depot for Pilsener Urquell, Westmalle, and the now defunct brewery Lamot.

The brewery would continue to remain inactive until 1997. Emmanuel and his son Adolf had by this time set up a successful hop farm on the premises but Adolf true to family tradition became the mayor of Buggenhout which would always distract him from his dream of once again brewing beer like his forefathers. He was mayor for a total of 33 years and he passed away in 1991. It was at this point that his son Manu felt the calling to vicariously achieve his father’s dream by reigniting the beer production on their farm. It’s fair to say they haven’t looked back since.

The Malheur 6 is a mid-strength copper coloured pale ale, which for me was distinctly average. There is much clamour around the globe now when the name Malheur is mentioned, but I would imagine it’s more for the dalliances into champagne style beers such as the Dark Brut, or the Cuvee Royale, than it is for the runty little Malheur 6. It poured an insipid looking amber colour with minimal head, and there was sadly very little of note from either the nose or the palate to recommend, which just like its name is fairly unfortunate.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, de Landtsheer

#226 – Floris Honey

#226 - Floris Honey

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3 %

I haven’t thus far had the most positive experiences with honey beers. The Barbar (#19) was remarkably average and didn’t even taste of honey, and the Le Pave de l’Ours (#117) was more akin to bears piss than anything else. Despite being a pretty naff excuse for a beer, at least the Floris Honey did actually taste of honey.

There are generally two ways in which honey can be added to a beer, and a simple comparison of the Barbar to the Floris Honey may well explain the taste phenomenon. The Barbar method, and the one which I have slightly more respect for, is to add the honey during the kettle boil. This process usually means that the honey will become part of the original gravity of the wort. As the honey tends to be a single sugar profile, then it will tend to ferment out completely and any sweetness may only remain aromatic. Brewers can attract widely varying flavours at this stage by trying different types of honey. Wildflower strains of honey tend to ensure a floral streak, whereas Buckwheat strains lead to a more roasted flavour. This likely though will be at the expense of the sweetness of the honey which is particularly true of the Barbar.

The Huyghe brewers of the Floris Honey however unashamedly add the honey post-fermentation, and so it doesn’t have the opportunity to lose its flavour and of course is added in such amounts that it will likely disguise the lack of flavour of a low strength wheat beer – a low strength wheat beer brewed with the sole intention of being butchered with flavourings. I have no idea what Silenrieux did with the Le Pave de l’Ours, but it may well have been a result of somebody leaving the door open at night!

Unlike the Le Pave de l’Ours, at least the Floris Honey is at least reasonably pleasant. I had popped into the Dovetail pub (#119) for a quick lunchtime beer, ahead of a reasonably important external meeting, and so anything too meaty could render me asleep by the first tea-break. The barmaid filled up a cloudy pale tumbler which had a wonderfully thick bubbly head. I was thirsty and it didn’t take too long to polish off half the glass. I can’t really say much more than it tasted of honey and was particularly refreshing. It wasn’t going to win any prizes but I knew what I expected when I ordered it.

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Filed under 6, Belgian White (Witbier), Huyghe

#213 – Gulden Draak Vintage

#213 - Gulden Draak Vintage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Although I had previously recounted a version of the legend of the Golden Dragon in my review of Gulden Draak (#145), there is an even more fanciful alternative in a book by Bertha Palmer Lane called ‘Tower Legends’. This anthology details the mystical dragon from Aleppo, and other similar stories related to an assortment of world belfries. It’s more a book for children, and considering children aren’t supposed to be drinking beers and almost certainly should have better things to do than read about beers, I am going to dispel all those myths right here. I did the same whistleblowing recently on the gnomes of Achouffe (#185), and nobody there has come knocking on my door yet.

Despite the fact that the people of Bruges seem to think that their Golden Dragon was stolen by the people of Ghent in actual fact this is complete baloney. It’s hardly surprising they might think this though given that Emperor Maximilian once labelled his own Brugeois people as mad (Brugse Zot #36). We can assume that without the invention of broadband at that time that maybe word of mouth and propaganda was responsible, although the myth has permeated through to the 20th Century. Not only are there still regular requests in Bruges to have the dragon returned, even the people of Norway made a request in 1918 for their claim on the prize. It was after all a Norwegian king who in the legend had first donated the mythical dragon to the Turks. Sigh.

The actual dragon that sits atop the belfry in Ghent was commissioned at the request of the people of Ghent in 1378. It was suggested the dragon would be symbolic of the power and freedom of Ghent at that time, and as dragons are supposed to never sleep, this creature would always look out across the city and protect its citizens. It has often been involved in key historical festivities, notably first in 1500 at the baptism of prince Karel, and on regular occurrences since when it would spit fire (no doubt some sly mechanical sleight of hand in case you were beginning to wonder). It has lain dormant however since 1819; no doubt when the people of Ghent began to realise it was in fact just a copper statue.

Whether you prefer the facts or to lose yourself in the legend, there is no getting away from the popularity of the copper statue and the role it plays in the identity of the city. The two beers made by Van Steenberge are equally iconic; although I haven’t myself quite worked out why as yet. The Gulden Draak Vintage was slightly better than the original beer, but to be honest it wasn’t by a great deal. The Christmas version started badly by viciously exploding on my lap (when will I learn?) and having managed to first decant it into two glasses and then scrubbed the sofa I was able to continue with what was left. I found the remains to be less artificial than the original but lacking in any real flavours which you might expect from a seasonal beer. It packed less of a punch but was slightly more rounded in flavour than the Gulden Draak. I may be in the minority on this one but I’d give both beers a wide berth – once again the truth is less interesting than the hype.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#211 – La Binchoise Blonde

#211 - La Binchoise Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

La Binchoise Blonde is another beer which is dominated by the Gilles on the label. For more information on these strange characters then please feel free to divert your attention to the La Binchoise Brune (#121). Today though I want to concentrate on the modern day history of the brewery, and in particular Andre Graux.

The modern day brewery in Binche was only founded in 1986, which is fairly young by Belgian standards. It was set up by Andre Graux and his wife Francoise Jauson who were both unemployed at the time and shared a passion for beer. The business first began at home, but eventually they bought an old malthouse and the reputation of their early beers led to moderate success. At the time the brewery was particularly well known for making their beer in a cauldron which they procured from the Belgian National Guard which added to the intrigue.

The two beers which really launched the commercialisation of the brewery were the Fakir, and Reserve Marie de Hongrie. Strangely, having just literally written about label beers in my last review (#210), both these beers developed alter egos for the linguistically distinct areas of Wallonia and Flanders. The Reserve Marie de Hongrie would double up as La Binchoise Brune in Wallonia, while the La Binchoise Blonde took on the Fakir mandate. Fakir just happened to be the childhood nickname of our chief protagonist Andre Graux. I have added the label of the beer for posterity which is now retired and I am therefore unlikely to run across it again on my travels.

Fakir

The La Binchoise Blonde and La Binchoise Brune remain the flagship beers of the brewery and these two are often relabelled for local shops, carnivals and fetes; in particular the Blonde which accounts for about half of the entire breweries current output. You can also find it locally known as La Molagnarde Blonde.

In my humble opinion the La Binchoise Blonde is a particularly average blonde beer. You can’t dislike it but equally I’d find it unlikely that with the breadth of good solid blonde mid-range beers available that you would continue to drink this one. It looks the part though, with a thick rich amber pour, and the aroma is sweet and fruity. There is a good helping of yeast in the flavour and some basic citric fruits which isn’t that surprising given it is brewed with orange peel – this addition reflective of the orange blossom regularly thrown at the carnival. I may decide to drink this again if a) I ever actually make it to the carnival, or b) if I am lucky enough to get my hands on a Fakir, or a La Molagnarde Blonde.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, La Binchoise

#209 – Hoegaarden Citrons

#209 - Hoegaarden Citrons

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3 %

You only need to read the review of Hoegaarden (#81) to understand why the beer I am drinking today has ever come to exist. I am almost certain that if Pierre Celis still looked after affairs then the Hoegaarden Citrons would be little more than a bad idea scribbled on a discarded flipchart page *. But it’s Belgian, and therefore I need to drink it. I’ll try and be quick.

The history of Hoegaarden I previously outlined was a brief glimpse into the sad demise of the de Kluis brewery, and one of the outcomes of this new modern world was the addition of a number of low strength fruit beers to the range. Simple concept of weak base beer diluted further with some kind of processed syrup. It’s a fairly common practice now amongst modern day breweries who clearly have a market for such stuff or they wouldn’t make it. Hoegaarden have delivered us the Citrons (lemon and lime), and the Rosee (raspberry). Other breweries who have succumbed are Haacht with their Mystic range, Du Bocq who have polluted the market with beers such as Agrumbocq (#74), Redbocq and Applebocq. Bockor (Jacobins), de Smedt (Grisette), Huyghe (Floris) and Het Anker (Boscoulis) are among others who have all cashed in.

The formula clearly does work. In 2009, a year after the production of beer was returned to the Hoegaarden spiritual home, the annual report of AB/InBev referred to Hoegaarden products as the fastest growing brand. This is surely more to do with the international reputation of the staple blanche beer than the summer Citrons and Rosee. An example of this globalisation was the production of Hoegaarden for the South Korean market in 2008, through subsidiary company Oriental Brewery. While this has been another commercial success for AB/InBev through the accounts ledgers, the general public agree that the flavour is a far cry from the original. I guess you could say here is another example of the great brand being Seouled out 😉

The Hoegaarden Citrons hit the Benelux market in 2008, marketed as a ‘beer aromatised with lemon and lime, with sugar and an artificial sweetener. Not filtered, naturally misty’. It was perfectly pitched for those looking for a low strength beer on a hot summer afternoon. Clearly this is why this beer never made it over to the UK, hence I tried it on a dark blustery afternoon indoors. I’m sad to say that I actually found it quite refreshing. It barely touched the sides and reminded me more of cool lime sodas that I regularly drunk while travelling around India. Nothing like nostalgia to improve a rating. If you are the designated driver and you need refreshing there are plenty worse options available than this one.

* Pierre Celis sadly passed away in April this year after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 86 years old. I feel confident that whatever Pierre is drinking right now as he looks down to survey the fruits of his labours, it won’t be a Hoegaarden Citrons.

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Filed under 6, Fruit Beer, Hoegaarden (InBev)

#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

#204 – Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune

#204 - Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

I had planned on taking this opportunity to explore a little about the tiny Ecaussinnes brewery from Hainaut, but while pondering the relative qualities (or lack of qualities) of the Ultra Brune, I almost dropped my best glass in horror when I spotted something undigestable to a writer, and in particular to a writer about beer. I spotted a word that I had never seen before. I can only apologise to my loyal readership for this aberration and will hereforth seek to redress this within this blog entry.

The description on the Ecaussinnes website refers to a ‘light Scotch aftertaste, a nice body coming from the 4 different kinds of malt (one pale, two caramelised and one torrefied malt).’ Torrefied? What !?

torrefy (third-person singular simple present torrefies, present participle torrefying, simple past and past participle torrefied)

  1. To subject to intense heat; to roast

Thanks to some random on-line dictionary above for the clarification. Malts of course are a key ingredient in dark beers, and there are loads of them which brewers can use to spice up their recipes. One of the ways they can add nutty flavours to beers, and to eliminate volatile ingredients is through roasting the malts at a very high temperature, which is exactly what would have been done to the Ecaussinnes Ultra Brune. The brewer would have plucked out some pale and caramelised malts, and finally added malt which had been previously subjected to extreme burnage.

The malts are usually roasted in kilns, and the level of torrefication will vary greatly dependent on the desired result of the flavour. Pale ale malts as used in the Ultra Brune will normally be roasted at relatively low temperatures (could be between 70 and 100 degrees centigrade), however some malts can be torrefied at temperatures as high as 220 degrees centigrade – examples include chocolate, coffee and crystal malts. I find the statement of the ingredients above as somewhat misleading because in actual fact most malts are exposed to some degree of torrefication, including the caramelised malts.

I can only then assume that for the Ultra Brune, the instructions said ‘burn the shit out of it’, although it seems common knowledge that if you over roast malts it will lead to spoilage. This certainly might explain my impression of the Ultra Brune, which once decanted for the ridiculous amount of meaty sediment really was rather unimpressive. For a beer that is 10% ABV I expected a much more flavoursome and wholesome experience – but all I really got was an odd beef-jerky flavour amidst a gob full of brown plankton. It settled eventually and I was able to adjudge some redeemable merit in the taste but I would certainly give this a wide berth again.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Ecaussinnes

#203 – Silly Saison

#203 - Silly Saison

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Way back when I drank the impressive Saison Dupont (#71), I introduced what the ‘saison’ style was all about, and of course with beer it is almost impossible to truly define a style as you only need to change one or two ingredients and you can end up with a drastically different beer.

For reasons already clarified, the Saison is loosely determined as a beer that a) is brewed to last the summer months, and b) that is not too strong. With a definition like that you can begin to see the problem. The signature Silly Saison gives me a further opportunity to clarify the style via the production methodology, by which brewers attempt to produce medium strength beers which are well hopped, yet still have the famous thirst cutting acidity and quenching finish.

Some do it through using harder water, while others ensure the temperature at mashing is higher which allows more un-fermentable sugars to develop giving a harder edge to the final beer. Older techniques have relied upon the wort developing higher levels of lactic acid either before the boil or while it is cooling, and some have even exposed the wort to the air – a technique known as the Baudelot system. Other brewers have encouraged the beer to gain its acidity during maturation while in tanks made of steel. Another technique is to use dry-tasting spices or by adding dry hops to the brew – there simply is no golden rule, which makes trying new beers such fun.

The Silly Saison is one of the best known of the saison style, and the brewers at Silly have used a very different style to acquire the desired result. They take a batch of top fermented beer which has been stored for about twelve months, and blend this with a freshly brewed batch. From this they then store part of it for next year, and so the cycle continues. In the case of the Silly brewery it is all about balancing the sweet and sour enough each year to ensure the correct consistency in aroma and flavour.

I first tried the Silly Saison on a quiet night in, and the pour was uneventful leaving a thin brown ale, which was reliably more orangey when held up to the light. There was little head to talk about which meant I was able quickly to get my thirst quenched. I was under the impression that most ‘saisons’ tend to be highly carbonated, but the Silly Saison was quite flat – in fact if I had not known I might have thought this was a typical Flemish sour brown ale on first taste. The sweet hoppy flavour eventually came through as I guzzled the 25cl bottle, but I was left fairly underwhelmed in the end. This may now be a saison for the masses but I would be particularly silly to choose this over the classic Saison Dupont.

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Filed under 6, Saison, Silly

#201 – Artevelde Grand Cru

#201 - Artevelde Grand Cru

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.3 %

Jacob van Artevelde. He was so good the brewers at Huyghe named him twice. The original Artevelde (#144) was first marketed on the 5th July 1985, and then in 1987 the brewery decided to rightly improve things and had their first stab at bottle conditioning a beer.

Jacob van Artevelde is a natural choice really as a symbol of Ghent. The 14th Century statesman was of Ghent stock, and a successful Flemish statesman. He was also known widely as the ‘Master Brewer of Ghent’ such was his love for making beer. Until very recently and the opening of the Gentse brewery, Huyghe has largely dominated the brewing scene in Ghent, and despite my spurious views on Huyghe as a quality brewery, nobody can really argue that they aren’t the master brewers themselves of Ghent.

The Artevelde beers signalled what was a massive change for the brewers at Huyghe. I’m yet to delve into the earlier history at the brewery, but at this time there was a radical renovation and reformation of its purpose and structure. Away went the dull and listless pilsener recipes for which they were known, and in came the plans to develop high fermentation beers for both the Belgian and International markets. It was a statement of intent, and despite more famously now being known for beers such as the Floris range, or the Delirium Tremens, it was the Artevelde beers which kick-started this successful move into mainstream.

Despite my misgivings of the original Artevelde, the result of the attempts to improve it was the Artevelde Grand Cru. This special vintage beer was destined to be stronger, thicker and brewed using only natural sugars. For some reason I expected a more syrupy version of the original but on the pour I was surprised to see a sepia coloured beer, with a thin meek head. The murky depths provided an oddly herbal aroma, which failed to really materialise on tasting it. There were strains of malt and chocolate somewhere within, but the flavour never really went anywhere, and although this was a reasonable first attempt at bottle conditioning, I would be lying if I said this stood the test against comparable beers.

Jacob van Artevelde was murdered by a mob of his own townspeople and is in many ways a martyr to the city of Ghent. In a kind of symbolic way I get the feeling the beers of Artevelde remain on the market more out of nostalgia for their role in revolutionising Huyghe than for any aesthetic qualities they bring – which seems fair enough.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#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

#180 – De Block Speciale

#180 - De Block Speciale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

De Block is a solid little brewery tucked away in the Flemish Brabant region of Belgium. I had already tried their Dendermonde Tripel (#47), and Kastaar (#96), each of which had a unique story to tell, but as yet the story of De Block has gone untold. They don’t produce a wide range of beers so I will take my opportunity now.

It’s another great family tradition that has endured for well over half a millennia. The actual brewery was initiated by Louis de Block who was a local miller and farmer, who married the daughter of a brewer from Baardegem. This was particularly handy for Louis as he had inherited a right to brew beer from his immediate family. Henricus de Block way back in the 14th Century had been bestowed this privilege for his contribution as a vassal of the Duke of Brabant and Burgundy. Whether Louis had chosen his bride out of love, or for her specialist brewing knowledge is now immaterial.

As is common in the lowlands, the family tradition has been to hand down the baton of brewing to the next family member, and the De Blocks are no exception. We can trace the family history right the way back. The most recent beneficiary is Paul Saerens who married into the De Block family. He has been keen to ensure that the De Block name continues despite the apparent void of male heirs. It has been under Saerens that De Block have widened their scope in the export market. Flemish Brabant is not shy of a few breweries, being one of the most condensed areas in Belgium for beer production. Saerens spotted this and opened up De Block to the rest of Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, and now almost 80% of current production leaves Belgium for foreign shores. Perhaps the most recognisable brand is that of the Satan beers which dominate the brewery’s marketing.

You might be mistaken for thinking as I was that, that the De Block Speciale is a staple house beer. It is far from that! The unique taste of this attractively packaged beer is certainly one to divide opinion. It is actually a brew blended from both young and old beers, and is flavoured with pomegranate and elderflowers. This certainly accounts for the bizarre medicinal floridity which is definitely one of the most unsubtle kicks I have had so far on this journey. Although on first appearance the De Block Speciale looks like a traditional golden ale all comparisons thereafter can be written off. This is a particularly carbonated fruity sour ale albeit with a redeeming bitterness. It is certainly unique, although after about half a glass becomes somewhat tiresome. I guess this is one of those beers you would have little chance of not recognising blindfolded, and I am still trying to work out if that is a compliment or not.

(Thanks to Andrew at 40 Beers at 40 for the excellent photograph)

 

 

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, De Block

#176 – Brugs Witbier

#176 - Brugs Witbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

Brugs Witbier, or Brugs Tarwebier as it is known locally, is a cloudy unfiltered wheat beer which is based on a traditional Brabant recipe. Although now mass produced by the Brasserie Union (Alken Maes), it was once upon a time brewed exclusively in Bruges, at the now defunct Gouden Boum brewery, which you may recall also used to produce the Brugge Tripel (#104).

Although the above is all now just history, the Brugs Witbier label still interestingly adorns the logo of the Gouden Boom (Golden Tree). This is a nostalgic reference back to the Gouden Boom trophy which was awarded to knights that won medieval tournaments in the city way back in the Middle Ages. The Golden Tree has been a key symbol of Bruges since 1587 and even now is still a key part of the traditions of the City. Tourists often flock to the Pageant of the Golden Tree which is a massive carnival held in the town square which seeks to recreate the famous wedding of Charles the Bold (the Duke of Burgundy, and Count of Flanders) to Margaret of York (the sister of King Edward IV of England) which took place in 1468. The modern day festivities usually comprise well over 2000 actors, six choirs and 100 horsemen who retell the events within around ninety different scenes.

Even now wandering around Bruges, it is difficult to wander the cobbled streets and not feel yourself transported back in time. It is unlikely however that the Cities’ coaching inns and taverns would have served the Brugs Witbier to its discerning customers. In the 21st Century, the Brugs Witbier is traditionally served with a slice of lemon, and is brewed with bitter orange peel and coriander. Had any man asked for a pint of this in bygone days, then execution for treason may have been a suitable punishment. The beer is though particularly turbid, which would have been representative of beers of the Middle Ages, where particularly crude filtering techniques would have been employed.

The Brugs Witbier that I was drinking was very typical of a modern day wheat beer – it was cloudy, fairly tart and even without a slice of lemon was reminiscent of citrus. I really struggle to get excited about most Belgian wheat beers today. I don’t think any country really makes a better wheat beer than the Germans, and this was absolutely no exception.

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Filed under 6, Alken-Maes, Belgian White (Witbier)

#174 – du Boucanier Dark Ale

#174 - du Boucanier Dark Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV : 9 %

I had already tried the du Boucanier Red Ale (#27), which dealt with the origins of buccaneering. I won’t go into that again, however it would be good to explore the links between buccaneers and their beer. They certainly didn’t mess around when it came to drinking!

These undesirable pirates of the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean had a tradition of drinking a toast while on the deck of plundered ships or harboursides they may have just overrun. Not content with a nice 330ml tumbler or tulip, buccaneers had an altogether different vessel of choice for their strong seafaring ale – their boots! A sobering thought given the hygiene issues many of these vagabonds would have endured. To drink from the boot of a fellow buccaneer was seen as a symbol of brotherhood and a bond of trust between fellow seafarers. It was known as the custom of being “brothers of the coast”.

Modern day acts of brotherhood often include initiation rituals or the sharing of blood. I would imagine all are preferable to swallowing the verrucas and corns of stinking scurvy ridden sailors. This hasn’t deterred the marketeers of the du Boucanier beers though, who have continued the tradition into the modern day world, and sell glasses shaped as half-litre boots. These can be ordered from their website should anybody wish to indulge.

I opted for a half of the dark ale served somewhat more sedately in a Grimbergen chalice. It was not how I would have envisaged real buccaneer dark beer to be though. Although strong and weighing in at a hefty 9%, this beer didn’t have a lot of guts. It was thin and limp, and lacking in any real definitive robust flavour. I enjoyed it, as I do most Belgian beers, however these leaner dark beers often tend to be ten to the penny on the market, and thus this one gets the boot from me I am afraid.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#169 – Lucifer (pre 2008)

#169 - Lucifer

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

There is almost a frightening symbolism to the fate of the beer Lucifer. Here was a strong golden ale which stood proud and strong in the pantheon of beers, and yet following the bankruptcy of the Riva brewery it found itself cast down into Purgatory.

Lucifer, as the beer label of the pre-2008 beer will attest, is a name nowadays widely used to describe the devil himself. Interestingly however this particular reference is never used in the Bible. In fact according to the Old Testament, Lucifer refers to the latin term lucern ferre meaning ‘light bearer’, referring to the rising of the Morning Star (the planet Venus).Throughout religious antiquities, stars have often been commonly regarded as living celestial beings, and it has commonly been believed that shooting stars are in fact fallen angels. One such famous fallen angel from Apocalyptic literature is Lucifer.

Lucifer was though not just any old angel – he was the favourite archangel of God, only second in command after his own son Jesus Christ. His light which shone more brightly than all the others reflected his perfect form and powerful intellect. So the story goes that he began to seriously believe in his own hype and became intensely jealous of God’s son, believing that it should be he, and only he, at God’s side. He began to appeal to the other Angels who he promised he could offer a better life, not only as replacement as God’s deputy, but inevitably as God himself. The Angels of Heaven watched on in horror as Lucifer managed to stir up a rebellion against God, who sat passively with his security blanket of omnipotence watching the malevolence play out.

Thus it was that Lucifer, the light-bearer and sharer of God’s glory became Satan, God’s adversary. The battle of good and evil began to play out, and once satisfied that Lucifer could not be saved, God inevitably expelled him and his rioting angels from Heaven. Lucifer had been cast off and forced to seek his revenge on mankind. The same of course was true for the beer. When Riva could no longer afford to pay the bills, Duvel Moortgat came in to offer a lifeline, although inevitably opted to give more attention to the fruit beers inherited from Riva. The beer deserved better, and eventually an agreement was made with het Anker to re-launch and re-brand the beer. Lucifer, the fallen Angel was given another chance at redemption. God’s work is seemingly playing out in the kettles and tuns of East Flanders.

I managed to get my hands on a 750 ml bottle of the original pre-2008 Lucifer. It was a strong golden ale, very much of course in the image of Duvel (#34) and Judas (#5), particularly fruity, but somehow lacking in the depth of the former and ending up more in similarity with the less impressive latter. It was not quite as good as I remember it had been in older days, but I had taken my Belgian beer drinking much more seriously since then. I will be keen to try the new reformed Lucifer just to see if the light truly has returned to this famous beer.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Riva (defunct)

#164 – Bush Blonde

#164 - Bush Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

The Bush Blonde is a relatively new creation, being only first brewed in 1998 on the 65th anniversary of the launch of the Bush Ambree (#3). It was the first blonde beer produced by this very traditional brewery, who are proud of their roots and values. Dubuisson only have a small selection of beers considering their status and size, and steadfastly refuse to produce label beers for anybody else. In fact, prior to the launch of the blonde, the brewery only offered the Ambree and the Bush de Noel (#83).

The key to the traditional outlook may lie in the history of the brewery, which was first formed in 1769, by Joseph Leroy (a direct descendant of eight generations of the current manager Hughues Dubuisson). It is the oldest brewery in Wallonia, which is a source of some local pride, and is still situated on the very same spot it was first built. Even before then, Joseph Leroy was brewing beer across the road on the Ghissegnies land, which was a seigniorial estate – these breweries were then exempt from tax and particularly lucrative. The Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria who at the time ruled the region had picked up on this quite quickly and decided in 1769 to order their unconditional destruction. Joseph Leroy quietly packed up his kettles and tuns, crossed the road, and set up his own independent farm brewery. This quiet determination has been a strong family trend ever since.

It had been quite a while since I first drunk the Bush Ambree, and to be honest I certainly didn’t have great hopes for this one. My drinking pal Andrew had gleefully passed me his last bottle of this, with the view that it was one of the most revolting drinks he had ever tasted. I would add it to my 1000 and let myself be the judge of that. It was certainly very strong, with the ethanol very evident in the flavour, but with just 250ml of the stuff, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I actually preferred this to the Ambree, and certainly couldn’t see what was so dislikeable about it. The Blonde definitely wasn’t a classic, but neither was it worthy of a sub-average score. I will enter it into my pantheon of beers defined as a ‘workmanlike strong Belgian blonde – nothing else’.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Dubuisson