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