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

#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