Category Archives: 7

This beer warrants a 7/10. This is good tasty stuff. It tastes good, looks good and feels good, but something is missing

#248 – Achel Blond 8

#248 - Achel Blond 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It wasn’t that long ago that I had first tried the Achel Bruin (#200), and up next was the highly rated Blond. The previous tale I spun was around the history of the brewery, but one shouldn’t leave these beers without a good look at the Abbey itself.

The real origins of the Achelse Kluis began way back in the mid 17th Century, out in the isolated countryside of Achel, which was then a small Princedom belonging to Liege. Here was built a small chapel which served the community as a worshipping place for the Catholic people of the nearby Protestant Netherlands who were not allowed to worship there under the current regime. The roots of the Abbey itself stem from Petrus van Eynatten heading here fromEindhoven in 1686 and setting up a priory of hermits which soon began to lead a life of prayer and contemplation. This quiet remote area would have drifted on and on but for the French Revolution in 1789 which tore the heart and soul out of the place.

The priory was then sold into the private hands of Jan Diederik van Tuyll van Serooskerken, but monastic life would eventually return thanks to the Trappist monks from the Abbey of Westmalle who founded the Abbey of St. Benedict in 1846. They put all their energies into ramping up the agricultural infrastructure; largely by developing livestock farming and by replacing wasteland with arable soil. Achel was granted Abbey status in 1871 and from here on really began to prosper, and sister projects would eventually spring up at Echt, Diepenveen, Rochefort (#31) and even at Kasanza in Congo.

Life would remain pretty unchanged at Achel until 1917 when the invading Germans dismantled the brewery for copper – 750kg of the stuff. The monks left, and a new Abbey was eventually built between 1946 and 1952, although in 1989, just after brewing had recommenced on the premises, most of the land attached was sold to the Dutch National Forest Administration and the Flemish Government. What remains at the Abbey now is the final Trappist brewery, and a number of tertiary services which also include a small shop selling various paraphernalia, and a guesthouse.

Achel is often the most overlooked of the Trappist breweries, and I have to admit I haven’t been completely convinced up to now as to what all the fuss is about. I sat down to drink the Achel Blond the night before my stag weekend expecting something a little more grand. It was an enjoyably strong tripel which had a clean and crisp flavour but it certainly lacked any of the fire that you associate with the monastic brewers of Belgium. I began to wonder what this might have tasted like prior to World War I and ended up drifting off to sleep on the sofa.

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Filed under 7, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#247 – Tongerlo Christmas

#247 - Tongerlo Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I have slowly been working my way through the Tongerlo collection; a fact made more noticeable by the recent re-marketing of the beers and adaptation of styles. I first tried the very average Tripel Blonde (#30) where I was able to introduce the brewing at the Abbey. I then followed up with the slightly better Dubbel Bruin (#137); and a look at the Norbertine monks. The latest offering is the Tongerlo Christmas beer, and now a closer look at the history of the Abbey.

The religious community at Tongerlo was formed in 1133 by a group of monks from the Norbertine Abbey of St Michael of Antwerp, who had been invited by the wealthy landowner Giselbert Castelre to settle on his Tongerlo estate. The monks were characterised by the Norbertine traditions which was a popular and modern movement at the time. The Abbey grew in power through the 13th Century as a papal bull placed Tongerlo at the centre of a number of parish churches in the region. Numbers soon grew on the estate and the community began to spread itself wider. The remit of the Abbey steadily became more powerful, and the buildings grew in size with the best local architects enhancing the beauty of the place.

The rise to prominence was only checked in the 16th Century when the Abbey fell under the strongly Catholic stronghold of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.Rome began to increase taxes and salaries from Tongerlo considerably, and it was only in 1629 under the Calvinist revolt that Tongerlo was spared. It was probably a case of ‘better the devil you know’ however as the Calvinists banned all Catholic worship and many monks were exiled away from their parishes. Things became even worse in 1796 when the French Revolution swept into town and the Abbey came under private ownership. It was as late as 1838 when the Belgian state came into being, that a religious community found its way back to Tongerlo. The brothers have largely remained ever since; with just a brief sojourn at the Abbey of Leffe when a huge fire swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in 1929.

The Tongerlo Christmas is not your traditional dark Christmas fayre. It pours a rusty copper colour with a small and unassuming head. The hint of vanilla on the nose wasn’t completely lost on me, although I struggled to reach the same conclusion once it hit my tastebuds. It was a fairly fruity and enjoyable beer which just lacked any unique characteristics which might have led me to recommend it any further. Essentially if Father Christmas was buying you a sack full of Christmas beers this yuletide you might be a bit disappointed with too many of these.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, Haacht

#244 – Dulle Griet

#244 - Dulle Griet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

I first came across the Dulle Griet when drinking the Kastaar (#96), a review retelling the story of the Biervliet festivities which have regularly culminated in acts of mass kleptomania. One of the items once purloined was the 12 ton cannon named the Dulle Griet. This medieval supergun sits in Ghent (no doubt now superglued to the pavement) and was built in the early part of the 15th Century. It was then fully utilised on behalf of the City of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, which didn’t completely end happily as the retreating fighters were overrun and the gun taken. It was only finally returned to its true home in 1578, and tourists regularly come across it on their way through the Friday market square in the old town.

The gun was one of a number of 15th Century superguns which were used in battles of the age, and all were cutely personalised in a similar style. (Faule Mette, Faule Grete, Grose Bochse). While the examples in parentheses were titled for either their cumbersome nature (Lazy Mette, Lazy Grete), or their sheer size (Big Gun), the Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) paid its homage to the female figure of Flemish folklore who was famously the subject of a 1562 painting by our old friend Peter Brueghel the Elder (#175). The painting which can be viewed in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp depicts the peasant woman Meg leading an army of women to plunder and pillage Hell.

Brueghel’s paintings are often uncomfortable on the eye when you start to pore over the detail, but equally the vivid nature of the detail is engrossing once you give it your attention. The female protagonist is caught in a moment in time as she sprints across a desolate landscape; armour covering her modest dress with her weapon drawn in one hand and all her worldly possessions in the other. All around her the world is in turmoil, as her reality drifts into a perverse freakshow of fire and brimstone, which leaks from the scarlet sky above. Hell and Earth are uncomfortably uniting before us and you wonder just what future Brueghel thought Europe faced at this time. Little could he have known that 450 years later the land painted on his canvas would be an idyllic paradise of fine beer and gourmet cuisine?

The Dulle Griet which found itself into my glass this evening was a 7% dark beer which didn’t quite match the drama of the previous incumbents of the title. She poured a chestnut hue with an off-white head which quickly receded to nothing. The nose was alluring, and was matched by a spicy malt flavour which was definitely enjoyable. There was no standout moment for me though, and while I enjoyed the beer I couldn’t see myself going out my way to either overly recommend it or buy any more. Longer in the memory though will remain the painting.

Dulle Griet, by Peter Brueghel the Elder

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Schelde

#241 – Zatte Bie

#241 - Zatte Bie

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Another offering from the de Bie brewery. I hadn’t had the greatest of experiences up to now from this small brewery (notably #112, #113, and #156) but I had heard good things about the Zatte Bie, and I’m aware the brewery had not always had the most consistent beers from their early offerings.

The name of the beer literally translates as Drunk Bee, and at 9% ABV a few of these wouldn’t take long to instil violence in the common man if you believed everything you read (#240). Almost every beer blog or review you will ever read will concentrate on the sensory experiences associated with tasting the beer, but we almost forget that when you drink beers properly (as opposed to tasting) it doesn’t take too many of them of this strength to wipe you out. Seeing as it’s a fairly topical subject I thought I would take a foray into what might typically happen to my body today as I get Zatted.

Generally the first few beers probably will slip by without too much noticeable activity but then things will start to happen. Alcohol increases bloodflow to the skin which will make the drinker begin to feel warm and look flushed. The Central nervous system will at this point also begin to experience some interference, firstly with picking up sensory information from key organs, and then being able to effectively respond to it. This causes those typical symptoms such as slurring, uneven balance and a dulling of pain. The frontal cortex of the brain will also start to be effected by the alcohol now, and will be the main reason for a lack of inhibition for many. You might also notice for the first few beers that you didn’t need to urinate but all of a sudden the seal has been broken. This will be the combination of alcohol being a diuretic and your kidneys starting to direct fluids straight to the bladder; a direct cause of the dehydration which will follow later in the hangover stage.

The liver starts to work its magic now also; generally responsible for metabolising the alcohol from the body, although it can only do this at about one or two units per hour; probably much slower than you can drink. If it’s Belgian beers that are on the menu then its likely there will be much more glucose entering the bloodstream. The body resists this surge of sweetness by producing more insulin; and it will struggle to know when to stop. In the latter stages of a good beer session that typical shakiness of the limbs and dizziness is caused by the now depleted glucose levels. This will make even the hardened beer drinker tired and the body will begin to crave a carbohydrate boost – a biological explanation for the Munchies.

It’s likely that sleep will be the next thing on the agenda although this will be badly affected as well by the Zatte Bie. Alcohol has a negative effect on sleeping rhythms and the dehydration caused by drinking prevents the quality rest needed to fully recharge batteries. At this stage also the pharyngeal muscles in the throat will have completely relaxed and therefore there will be an increased chance of snoring; culminating in an increased chanced of being poked and nudged all night by disaffected partners. Your body will now be preparing itself nicely for the hangover but I think that can wait for another day as I need to finish by lauding this tidy little stout. This seemed to be a newer batch from the brewery and was very well made. It looked wonderful in the glass with its regal ochre head proudly waiting to be broken. The taste was sweet and malty, with some spice and subtle bitterness underneath. This isn’t the most polished beer in the world but certainly is the pick of the brewery and is probably worth punishing your body with.

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Filed under 7, Bee, Belgian Strong Ale, De Bie

#238 – Bosprotter

#238 - Bosprotter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Some time ago I asked Jef Goetelen, the brewmaster and owner of t’Hofbrouwerijke if he could explain the story behind the names of some of his beers. It is often a quandary to monolinguistic people like me trying to write about beers written and made in another language. I’m glad I asked, as I wasn’t expecting Bosprotter to be a reference to people that fart in the forest.

Whilst clearing ones pipes in a designated outdoor area is probably more eco- and family-friendly than not, I was relieved to hear that the term forest-farter has a less literal meaning when translated from Flemish to English. A bosprotter is a mountain-biker, and when Jef isn’t brewing beer, and whilst his brews are fermenting each week he and his fellow bosprotters can often be found in the woods getting muddy and scaring the local wildlife!

The Bosprotter was Jefs first proper beer, and the odd title for a beer is one which is symbolic of Jefs approach to brewing, which he sees as more of a hobby than a full time job. Jefs love of forest-farting is no different to his love of brewing beer, which considering the professional set up of equipment at t’Hofbrouwerijke is surprising – Jef rebuilt his entire house to accommodate the current brewing facilities. Jef may only consider his brewing to be a hobby but many of his beers have met with high acclaim. This is clearly a result of having good kit and having practiced for many years getting it right, but I will save that story for maybe the next beer.

The Bosprotterin question which took a little while to pour and settle, was a proper home-made Tripel. It was evident that it was unfiltered and unpasteurised and underneath the slowly dissipating head sat a rich golden coloured beer. There was definitely some unique sweet and spicy flavours in there which was professionally accompanied by some good old fashioned maltiness. The beer tended to fade somewhat the longer it was in the glass which was a bit of a shame, but I’d still say it’s worth a shot if you see it in sitting on the shelves. The newer labels should easily identify it now, and at least back up the title of the beer more appropriately with what looks like an old fart in the forest making beer!

Bosprotter's new identity

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, t'Hofbrouwerijke

#236 – Witkap Pater Dubbel

#236 - Witkap Pater Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It’s difficult to drink beer in Belgium and not be touched by the hand of God somewhere along the way. I have lost track over the past couple of hundred brews how many times I have come across abbeys, monks and monasteries. The beer from the Witkap range which I previously tried was the Tripel (#94) which led me to investigate the Cistercian monk from the label. I have already met Benedictines, Carmelites (#229), and Trappists and so I thought I’d use the Witkap Pater Dubbel to try and make some sense of some of these monastic classifications.

There are essentially two main categories of order; Contemplative, and Non-Contemplative. I will deal with the former first, which contain the bulk of the orders you will come across while drinking Belgian beers ie the Trappists, Carmelites, Carthusians and Cistercians. Contemplative orders are those who have given their lives to God but with minimal interaction with the outside world. Although they seek not to talk to the world, by praying they hope to save those very souls they shy away from. There are three main types who can all be traced back to their founders – the Benedictines from St Benedict (525), the Carmelites who formed at Mount Carmel (circa 14th Century), and the Carthusians from St Bruno (11th Century).

Benedictine orders typically reside in communities but have limited interaction, although they do interact with each other. This in contrast to the austere Carthusians whose monks isolate themselves even from their fellow brothers. Carmelites tend to be somewhere in the middle, although of course it is impossible to simplify these orders too much. To confuse matters even more it is worth pointing out that in fact the Cistercians formed as a splinter group from the Benedictines and that the Trappists have over time diverged from the Cistercians. Both groups sought a more literal interpretation of the Benedictine doctrine and both choose their vocation with subtle differences. Trappists tend to make a living from the production of goods for the public and have thrived whereas the insulated lives of the Benedictines and Cistercians haven’t.

The other Order, those Non-Contemplatives, are also known as Active Orders. These are the communities of monks who tend to have more direct interaction with the outside world. They are less bound by the walls of the monastery and rather than being self-supportive often tend to live off the charity of others. The two main types are the Franciscans, formed by St Francis (13th Century), and the Dominicans, hailing from St Dominic (also 13th Century). The former live a simple life with the main aim of giving aid to the poor through prayer and good works, whereas the latter have taken a more educational stance towards engaging and training society to look after itself.

It would be insulting to those involved to suggest it is in anyway as simplistic as this. Each monastic community across Belgium and the world will act and live to its own particular custom, but it does give the beer drinker a perspective on the colourful background which accompanies each brew. In the case of the Witkap Pater Dubbel, the history is probably a little more interesting than the actual beer, which was a standard malty double, with a fair level of carbonation and a sharp spicy finish. Fairly enjoyable but hardly worth writing about – unless of course you try to disseminate thousands of years of monastic life into a few paragraphs!

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Slagmuylder

#224 – Affligem Dubbel

#224 - Affligem Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Affligem Dubbel is what I like to call a proper Abbey beer. There are some breweries which might use the name of a defunct Abbey to help sell their beers, such as the St. Feuillien range or the Floreffe (#40) beers made by Lefebvre, but then there are those breweries which work under the licence from an existing functioning Abbey. The Affligem beers are very much in the latter category, and lets face it when it comes to Abbey’s, you don’t get much more ‘proper’ than the one in Affligem.

It all started not far short of a thousand years ago, when monk Wedericus from St. Peter’s Abbey in Ghent coerced six errant knights to repent their violent lifestyles and seek a new direction in life.  St. Anno, the Archbishop of Cologne at the time provided the guidance, and Count Palatine of Lotharingia provided his land, and essentially the spirit of the Abbey of Affligem had been founded. In 1085 the new monks had adopted the teachings of St Benedict, and by the next year the first church had been consecrated. That same year the Count of Leuven offered around 200 hectares of his domain to Affligem, and the land began to grow at a remarkable rate (over 8000 hectares at its pomp). The Abbey of Affligem was easily one of the richest domains in the Low Countries.

Affligem was also one of the most influential with many monasteries being founded by the Abbey – these included Bornem (1120) and St. Andrews of Bruges (1100). It became known as the ‘Primaria Brabantiae’ which essentially regarded it as the most important in the Duchy of Brabant. The banner of Brabant was stored there during peace time, and at least five Dukes are still buried there. The power grew through the 14th and 15th Centuries following consecration as an Abbey, and then the granting of Primate in the Brabantian states. Monasteries and religious institutions all over Europe wanted a piece of Affligem.

It wasn’t always good news though. The Abbey was twice plundered during the 14th Century wars between Brabant and Flanders, and monks were often exiled for periods of time. This happened again in 1580 when followers of William of Orange looted the place, leaving it empty for up to 27 years, and then of course there was the French Revolution which took the Abbey out of play for another 76 years until it could be reformed. The Abbey has existed in more placid circumstances ever since and still contains 22 working monks to this day.

The famous Affligem beers have been brewed at the Abbey in some form since 1574, which would have included the brown Dubbel. This is a highly rated mid-strength brew which is fairly standard in appearance and aroma, but is ultimately a pleasurable beer to drink. It has a fair degree of carbonation which was something of a surprise, and leaves a particularly fruity after-effect on the tongue. The whole package is particularly professional and although the beer is not exactly a world beater there is certainly a deep satisfaction felt sitting down drinking a beer which has such a worldly history.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, de Smedt

#221 – Leffe 9

#221 - Leffe 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

This was my first deviation from the standard Leffe Blonde (#41) and Leffe Brune (#25), and I was reliably informed that the Leffe 9 was the pick of the bunch. It was time to find out. I’ve tended to drift my conversations around Leffe to the politics and machinations of the rise of Interbrew, so I will take a break from that today. I’m going to concentrate on the beer, and according to the website, the Leffe 9 is a perfect Aperitif beer. It all sounded a little bit poncey and thus I deemed it worth the briefest of investigations.

Aperitif is a French term for a starter drink which opens the formalities of a meal. Not only is it a starter but it also serves as the welcome to your guests and is designed to stimulate the appetite. It is usually alcoholic in nature, and comes served with some kind of nibbles. The general suggestion is that the Leffe 9 has ‘spicy, bitter and fruity aromas with a slightly smoky aftertaste’. This would therefore be ‘delightful with charcuterie, cheese or tapas’. I didn’t find this particularly helpful due to tapas normally constituting

a) anything approaching its sell by date which is traditionally given to customers to accompany their drinks (in Spain), or

b) anything approaching its sell by date which is routinely served up in the smallest of portions and charged at excruciatingly exorbitant prices to customers who think that sharing a few meatballs is truly liberating (in the UK).

Why not try making a ‘brioche waffle with fried foie gras and raspberry and spice sauce’ – apparently the power and smoothness of the Leffe 9 will marry well with the baked fois in the apples causing a ‘feast for the senses’. Alternatively why not try ‘mini-sandwiches of smoked trout, Ardennes ham and fromage frais with black pepper’ or ‘mini-skewers of red pepper preserves, chorizo and small sweet potatoes’. I’m trying to take the nonsense out of beer drinking and then Leffe start writing rubbish like this. Whilst there is nothing wrong with admitting that Belgian beer is somewhat more classier than your average lager, any man that cracks open a Leffe 9 and then pops on a pinny to immediately rustle up some vol-au-vents is probably missing the point.

The Leffe 9 is so named because it is 9%. It isn’t therefore a beer to be trifled with. Apparently it is not correct etiquette to lubricate guests beyond the point of not being able to sit up straight or to spend each course staggering to the lavatory so I wonder whether this is the ideal aperitif beer; although again it is common practice to usually only just serve the one. I began to consider the above in terms of my hosting etiquette and realised perhaps that I still had some way to go. One beer just never seems to be enough, and although I very much enjoy a good Belgian beer with good food, the thought of entertaining my friends with a food pairing exhibition fills me with abject horror. I did therefore drink the Leffe 9 alone, and did deem it to be fairly decent but it was far from perfect. It started very strongly with plenty of bite but lost much of its oomph in the middle, thus I promised myself next time I would try it with a terrine of caramelised pheasant offal.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, InBev (Belgium)

#220 – Kossaat

#220 - Kossaat

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

The Kossaat beer is brewed by the unremarkable Lefebvre, but on behalf of the Brouwerij Vercauteren. There is a genealogical link for the name of this beer which takes us way back through history. It will explain the rustic looking gentleman on the label of the beer.

The Vercauteren story starts in the late 18th Century with Cornelius Cuyckens who was a farmer and occasional brewer by trade. He tended a small plot of land on the edge of the village at Malderen, and when he died he left behind seven children. It was one of his sons Peter who would take over the reins of this small-holding, and when he too eventually died, again the reins were passed on. Eventually after a couple more generations one of the granddaughters of Peter married an Alfons Vercauteren who took up the challenge and inspired the eventual modernisation of their practices. The journey continued through son Maurice and then grandson Andre before the brewing finally stopped with the latest in this long line – another Alfons Vercauteren.

The gentleman celebrated on the label of the Kossaat beer is the original farmer and brewer of this long chain – Cornelius. A Kossaat is/was a term largely used in Prussia during the 18th Century for a farmer who lived on the edge of the community and who largely eked out a living from their small plot of land. This was often impossible, and so they might have worked extra manual work for the richer farmers and landholders. Neither though were the Kossaaten the poorest around – at least they had some land, and the odd bit of livestock. The etymology of Kossaat derives from the Kotta, which was the Germanic name for the small cottages in which they would live. The term Kossaat literally means ‘those who sit in the cottages’.

It is likely that the Kossaten were of Slavic origin, and that this spread through to Prussia and into this Western corner of Europe. Cornelius Cuyckens certainly lived this simple lifestyle, as did his ancestors, and he was the one who essentially kickstarted the Brouwerij Vercauteren all those years ago. The beer, as you would expect from Lefebvre was distinctly average with very little to get excited about. It was a standard pleasant blonde with a light fruity flavour that was laced with some faintly impressive hopping. The history of the Kossaat may be semi interesting but the beer certainly isn’t.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Lefebvre

#219 – St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

#219 - St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

Size: 500 ml

ABV: 7.6 %

It’s pretty hard to miss the St. Sebastiaan beers in their 500 ml coloured enamel crocks – which is exactly what the Sterkens family would have wanted. With hundreds of Belgian beers to choose from in the Beers of Europe warehouse the St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru stood out a mile. Even if I didn’t like the beer, the bottle would look great on my shelves.

We have already established that Stan Sterkens was the original father of this range of beers but that the actual brewing now happens elsewhere. When I had previously drunk the St. Paul Double (#177), this was under the remit of the Scheldebrouwerij in Meer, although all beers are now picked up by Duvel Moortgat on behalf of the Sterkens brewery. The Scheldebrouwerij still use the name of the beers though which only further adds to the confusion.

The significance of St. Sebastiaan on the world of beer is unclear, and his story can wait for another beer, however Stan Sterkens clearly likes a saint or two. He is perhaps best known for his St. Paul range of beers, and the family brewpub which opened in the US in Spring Hill was also known as the Saint Sebastiaan Microbrewery. The idea was to showcase to the local population the Belgian way of brewing although to be fair it would all eventually fall on its feet. The location wasn’t ideal and subsequently the beers were perhaps a little ahead of their time for the US Market. The Sterkens family eventually fled back to Belgium and the original Saint Sebastiaan sat empty. I hear it has since been renovated into a stereotypical chain restaurant/bar with no hint of any Belgian beers or a saintly name.

The St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru, or the St. Sebastiaan Golden as it is perhaps more commonly known abroad is a limited edition release. A single batch is made every year to a secretive Sterkens family recipe. It is also brewed in line with the Bavarian Purity Laws which I had explained a while back when drinking the Corsendonk Pater (#35). The Grand Cru was another beer that I shared with my sister although this one didn’t quite have the WOW factor that the bottle would have you believe. It was your average Belgian style tripel which was pleasant to drink but that couldn’t deliver above and beyond expectations. If you like a pale citrus flavour then maybe this is for you, but for me all that glitters in this case was definitely not golden.

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Filed under 7, Golden Ale, Schelde

#217 – Grimbergen Tripel

#217 - Grimbergen Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Only beer #217 and it was with some relief that I reached the end of the Grimbergen range with the Tripel. I’m not saying that these beers are awful in anyway, but if ever there was an example of mass marketed mediocrity then this is it. This is an accusation often levelled at Leffe, but to be fair I’d take the Leffe Blonde (#41) over any of the Grimbergen beers any day.

It was only a few beers ago when I went exploring the Grimbergen website to search for the Goud/Doree (#212) and it was there that I found something most peculiar. Everything was in order on the Belgian version of the website, but somehow I had also managed to end up on a slightly different version of the website which presented me with what could only amount to a parallel universe. Where I was previously perusing through the Grimbergen Blonde (#8), and Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), I suddenly found myself at the end of a long dusty wardrobe staring out at an alien wintry landscape – there in full Grimbergen regalia stood a Grimbergen Blanche, and a Grimbergen Rouge. I rubbed the centre of my eyes to dramatic effect and looked again only for a Grimbergen Ambree to bounce into view. I really had entered some awful version of Beer Narnia.

With the horrific realisation that I might have to try more Grimbergen beers, I panicked and stumbled back through the wardrobe grasping at the fur lined coats and gasping for breath. As I sat in a puddle on the floor I tried to make sense of what I had just seen. I tried the website again. Nothing. I searched for Grimbergen. Nothing. I even checked with the O’Mighty one at ratebeer. Still confused. I looked back through the wardrobe and there was nothing but a sturdy oak panel. Christ, what did they put in that Val-Dieu Tripel (#216)?

Once my mind was straight(er) I was able to eventually find my way back to the reality which all stems from the history of takeovers which have punctuated the existence of the Brasserie Union; from its days as Alken-Maes, to the takeover by Carlsberg, and now where it sits under the watchful sentry of Kronenbourg. The latter of course are a monolithic beer producer in France, and all the apparitional beers which clouded my judgment do exist but more notably for the French market. There is even a Grimbergen La Reserve which I’m still working out whether I need to consider adding to my Odyssey. For now though I’m drinking the Grimbergen Tripel with the view that this will be my last for quite some time.

In fairness this may not have been that bad a beer. Although the pour was particularly flat with little sign of any lasting head, and that there was a certain flatness to the carbonation – the taste was quintessentially Tripel. There was some medium spicing and a good level of alcohol which you would expect from a beer of 9% ABV. I would go as far as saying this was the pick of the range that is marketed in Belgium – and I will leave it there for now. I have grudgingly accepted that that there is no quelling that damned Phoenix.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#216 – Val-Dieu Triple

#216 - Val-Dieu Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Brasserie de L’Abbaye du Val-Dieu is in actual fact the only non-Trappist brewing Abbey in Belgium. I won’t go into the history of the Abbey as I covered that when christening the Val-Dieu Biere de Noel (#127) but that opening gambit is certainly an interesting enough nugget of factoid to whet my appetite for the Val-Dieu Triple.

The whole rules and regulations thing which governs becoming ordained as a Trappist brewery has been covered before (#7) although I will need to refresh slightly to explain how the Abbey at Val-Dieu was left high and dry. Firstly in 1997 the brewery at the Abbey ceased to function as a fully operational monastery – there were simply not enough monks remaining. Today at the brewery all the main duties are carried out by laymen, and it looks likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future, despite the fact the Abbey remains a fully functioning religious institution.

The other issue, which is much more complicated is that which relates to the subtle differences between Trappists and Cistercians. For a starter explanation have a read of the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) but essentially the Cistercians were a splinter group from the Benedictines, and the Trappists were a splinter group from the Cistercians. It’s very loose, but essentially the Trappists are actually known as ‘Cistercians of the Strict Observance’, and they focus far more attention on being contemplative. This aside – the bottom line is that the Abbey at Val-Dieu is Cistercian and always has been.If this religious pendancy wasn’t quite so rigid we would see far more designated breweries across the world than the Magnificent Seven we have in Belgium (and the Netherlands). In particular in Germany there are many non-Trappist monasteries producing beer just like the one at Val-Dieu. Its just they aren’t Trappist.

Anyway, the beers in question that are produced at Aubel are based upon an original recipe from the Val-Dieu monks, and they bear the hallmark which designates them as Authentic Belgian Abbey Beer. The Val-Dieu Triple regardless of its designation was a particularly decent beer – as standard a tripel as I could describe in terms of looks, aroma and taste. It was sweet, strong and quite dry on tasting but it didn’t jump out in any way from its competitors. In many ways, just as all the above will confirm, it really is the nearly-man of Belgian beer.

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#214 – Achilles Serafijn Blond

#214 - Achilles Serafijn Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

We first met Achiel van de Moer when I tried my first Achilles beer – the Serafijn Tripel (#161). The Serafijn Blond was next up, and an opportunity to explore the symbolism of the Serafijn brand.

Achiel was a music and dance teacher before he moved into brewing, and is still a keen musician today supported ably by his wife Jo. Legend has it that if you pass by the microbrewery at the right time of the day or night you may be lucky enough to hear a duet or two resonating around the copper kettles. With this in mind, it was perhaps a logical choice to choose the Seraph as the symbol for the house beers – the Seraphim are the six-winged high angels of Heaven who exist to serve as messengers between God and man. They are particularly noted for their sweet celestial singing skills, and Achiel would go as far to argue that the Seraphim are also natural beer lovers – although I found little evidence of this in any research I did.

In fact the angelic female form that Achiel has chosen to use on his labels are perhaps a far cry from the reality of the real Seraphs. The Bible reveals the Seraphim in the Book of Isaiah to be fiery six-winged beings who continually praise God while encircling his throne, and the etymology of the word Seraph translates literally as “burning ones”. The Book of Revelation goes onto describe the Seraphim as having ‘eyes all around, even under his wings’. Both Hebrew and Christian Bibles even use the term Seraph as a synonym for serpents. Not ideal images I suppose to promote a family run brewery.

The image of the Serafijn throughout the ages though has tended to be portrayed in the more euphemistic light. Thomas Aquinas considered that the Serafijn “have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others”.  Pico della Mirandolo’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1487) also went as far as to say that “they burn with the fire of charity as the highest models of human aspiration”. Which just leaves the question of whether the beers can live up to the brand?

The Serafijn Tripel had certainly previously delivered, and the Serafijn Blond really wasn’t that far behind. It poured obediently and hit all the right buttons on the aroma. Here was a pertly crisp blonde beer with enough bite to distinguish it from the pantheon of average mid-strength blonde beers. I am not convinced that the two beers I had tried thus far serve as the highest models of human aspiration, but considering they are pretty much made in Achiel van de Moer’s garage, they get my vote.

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#210 – Triple Moine

#210 - Triple Moine

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.3 %

When is a new beer not a new beer? The answer to this question became obvious on my brewery tour of Du Bocq. Following a mystifying non-English speaking jaunt around the premises I was delighted to settle in the brewery tap and select my free beer from the bar. I’d opted for the Deugniet (#64) for no other reason than it had a jaunty picture of a jester on the label and I’d never seen it before. As I recall it was a reasonable beer, and it was with beer in hand that I approached the bar and attempted to engage the bar girl in some inane beer chat. It’s what the English are good at.

“Sho”, she says in a thick Flemish drawl, “thees Deugniet beer you are drinking eest the same as these one here”, pointing at the small bottle of beer behind the bar with the dull brown label that didn’t have a jaunty picture of a jester on the label. “Excuse me?”, I said trying my best not to sound Dutch. “Yesh, they are the shame beers, but for different markets – the Deugniet eest for the Dutch speaking people, and the Triple Moine eest for the French speaking people”. I’ll spare the rest of the conversation from these pages, but it essentially covered the Belgium Conundrum, and one of course which has resonated through the politics of the country for the last year or so. Belgium is divided of course and if it helps to sell beer then why not market the same beer to two different populations?

I’ll tell you why not – because it fucks with my counting! Is the Triple Moine a new beer? It’s not is it? It’s the same beer but it’s just called something different. I decided the matter needed investigating, and once I was back in the UK I started to poke around. I noticed the small farmyard brewery at St Monon did it. Their Ambree for example doubles up as a number of brand beers for local breweries. Lefebvre have done it also – their Floreffe Double (#40) is also a double of the Durboyse Brune; their Floreffe Wit is also their Blanche de Bruxelles. Brasserie de Silly have done it, Millevertus have done it, and Van Steenberge – well they are guilty beyond belief.

I needed to make a judgment call and decided to rest my case on the tasting. I much preferred this one to the Deugniet. It looked the same as you would expect, but this seemed to be more fruity than I noted from the brewery tap. It had a decent afterkick and it lasted well to the end of the beer. I am beginning to learn that on different occasions and under different conditions, beers often can taste very different, even if they are actually the same. For that reason, and because a different label can tell a different story I am counting them. In this case a new beer actually is a new beer, though there isn’t much of a story on this one. Moine means monk, and that’s about as interesting as it gets.

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#206 – Darbyste

#206 - Darbyste

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5.8 %

Marie-Noelle Pourtois and husband Pierre-Alex Carlier, the chief brewers at Blaugies clearly don’t do things by half. Back during my review of La Moneuse (#65) I commented on the morality of a family brewery such as this naming a beer after a notorious womanising murdering highwayman. Well, the Darbyste then is clearly the redemption beer – John Darby after which the beer gains its name was a temperance-preaching minister!

John Nelson Darby is as unlikely an inspiration for a beer as the marauding highwayman Antoine-Joseph Moneuse. He was born in 1800 in London but spent his formative years in the Republic of Ireland. He was primarily known for his travels around Europe with his ‘brethren’, where he spread the word of Jesus Christ as the direct leader of the Church. They preached that Jesus Christ needed no human intermediary on earth, and he went as far as coining the theory of ‘dispensationalism’ (a precursor to the doctrine now very influential amongst fundamental Christian Zionists in modern day America) – that Christ would return at the end of time at Armageddon where good and evil will ultimately confront each other. True believers will be saved, and the unbelievers will face eternal damnation. Good vs evil. La Moneuse vs Darbyste? Could the final battle of time take place in a small farmyard brewery on the Belgian-French border? Now that would be a blog and a half to write!

It is probably highly unlikely as there is actually a rather less symbolic reason for this particular beer being named after the preacherman, and this stems from the low strength brew that Darby promoted amongst his parishioners and workers which was made from fig-juice. Miners in particular were much more likely to return home to their wives in the evening if they weren’t consuming Belgian tripels at 9% and John Nelson Darby had the best intentions for his folk. This clearly inspired the brewers at Blaugies who have recreated the use of figs in this beer primarily to be used as the fermentable material.

The Darbyste, like the Saison de l’Epeautre is a saison style beer made with wheat and then fermented with the figs. It is a particularly dry beer, with plenty of citrus flavours although there is little evidence of much figginess in the taste. It is a beautiful looking cloudy orange farmhouse beer with a beautiful nose and a lip-smacking taste. It did begin to lose a chunk of its bite in the final third, but this beer would be a great accompaniment to a warm afternoon in the sun, assuming of course you aren’t in the middle of an apocalypse.

Talking of which it would be rude not to finish the tale of John Nelson Darby, who having given up his missionary work and translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English, German and French eventually retired to Bournemouth in the UK (well who doesn’t these days?) and eventually died at the ripe old age of 82, no doubt completely oblivious to the beer which would one day be brewed in his honour.

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Filed under 7, Blaugies, Brewers, Horse, Traditional Ale

#197 – Ename Cuvee 974

#197 - Ename Cuvee 974

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

This is an interestingly titled beer, which actually refers to the founding date of the local borough of Ename, which has now essentially been subsumed into the bigger town of Oudenaarde.

The beer was first brewed in 2002 as a winter beer, at a time when the local town was working very hard to celebrate its rich medieval heritage. Since the 1980s there has been an ongoing project called Ename 974, jointly sponsored by the Flemish Heritage Institute and the Province of East Flanders. The aim of this work was to conduct important archaeological excavations, historical research and to promote the local municipality. The resident brewery Roman supported this work by promoting a new beer to the Ename range.

Another key driver of the Ename 974 project is the Provincial Archaeological Museum which was opened in 1998 and is located beside the St Lawrence Church. It highlights the daily life in Ename from the early Middle Ages until the present day. The Roman brewery also supports this local cause in the form of royalties paid for the sale of its beers. The logos that adorn the Ename range of beers are in reference to the ruined Abbey which is part of the archaeological presence in the town. It’s pretty much an accepted truth that a brewery who can tie their beer to an Abbey will sell more beer regardless of the quality.

There are plenty more Ename beers to be drunk and so I will save the enlightening history of the abbey until then. For now I need to wheedle my attentions away from archaeology before anyone falls asleep and onto the important matter in hand. Beer. The Ename Cuvee 974 was a promising looking brew, which poured obediently leaving a good looking average sized head atop a dark amber mass. The aroma was hoppy and herbal with a tinge of fruit, which to be honest promised more than the actual beer delivered. There was certainly a degree of exotic spice contained within but it was eminently unable to take me anywhere else. A nice beer but in the end really rather average. I guess at least though I have done my bit for the restoration of history in Ename.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Roman

#195 – Rodenbach

#195 - Rodenbach

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Rodenbach is a name that many beer afficionados will immediately get excited about, primarily for the highly rated Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17) which is likely the finest example of a Belgian Sour ale that is known to man. There also exists the standard Rodenbach which was to pass my palate on this particular occasion.

Now, where the Rodenbach Grand Cru relies upon the finest matured vats of sour ale from the cellars to be mixed together, the standard Rodenbach mixes the old with the much younger which inevitably results in a more subdued flavour as you might expect. Essentially what this means is that after the original beer has had its main fermentation, it is then conditioned for around four to five weeks in casks, whereby the beer starts to acquire its sharp lactic flavour. The brewery are not particularly open in terms of the exact time they leave the younger beer to develop, however it is fair to say that the longer a beer is left in this fashion, the less likely it will be to retain its fresh clean taste. It is likely now that for the standard Rodenbach offering a period of four weeks is given to condition the “younger” beer.

Once the brewers are able to nail down the younger beer, they are able to play around with different varieties of the matured casks to create different strains of beer. A number of these efforts already sit in my cellar waiting to be drunk on a special occasion. The key to the development naturally comes not only from the various ages of vats, but also from some very special and unique varieties of yeast. Rodenbach tend to play with around twenty different strains, which include lactobacilli and Brettanomyces – reknowned of course for their important role in the production of lambic beers. A number of very reputable breweries, including De Dolle and Westvleteren used Rodenbach yeasts for around twenty years!

This particular beer was always going to be a little bit of a step down from the Grand Cru, however it was far from being the ugly sister. It had all the same colour and consistency that graced the Grand Cru, and poured without virtually any traces of head. The flavour was naturally sour but without the lip smacking tartness which I had previously encountered. It was a very pleasant start to the evening and a great example of a typical standard Belgian sour ale which many other local breweries have not been able to produce so appealingly.

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Filed under 7, Rodenbach (Palm), Sour Ale

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix

#190 – Arend Tripel

#190 - Arend Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Arend Tripel is a beer made by the de Ryck brewery, and is just one of a range of Arend beers that is made in homage to the previous incarnation of this brewery.

It all started back in 1886, when the eponymous Gustaaf de Ryck bought a small landholding in the village of Herzele for the princely sum of 5000 Belgian Francs (the equivalent now of just 124 Euros). He collected some ramshackle equipment and built a functioning brewery more for a hobby than anything. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing though, and locals were desperate for some decent beer, so he packed his bags for Bremen in Germany. There were no brewing schools in Belgium at the time, and thus he needed to travel to learn the art of brewing. He soon returned with imported tubs and kettles and launched his new venture – De Gouden Arend (The Golden Eagle), named in honour of his brewing mentor in Germany.

Things went very well until World War I, when ironically the German forces took over the village and seized the brewery’s horses and kettles, forcing it to close. There was another brewery in the village by now called Dooreman’s and de Ryck continued to soldier on brewing using their equipment. Once the war was over and the Germans had been vanquished, Gustaaf was determined to reinvent the brewery, and did so immediately ridding himself of the link to the German’s who had almost ruined his dream. He chose to rename the brewery after himself, and from this day on this small family brewery has been known as de Ryck.

The Arend beers are hence a recent incarnation, but still bear the logo of the Golden Eagle. I first got my hands on the Arend Tripel which was a fairly enjoyable standard clean and crisp blond tripel, and certainly not in my opinion worthy of the best Belgian tripel which it won in the European Beer Star competition in 2008. According to de Ryck, this was a prestigious international prize although I guess they would say that. I am never clear how these awards are considered, but I challenge anybody to compare this to the Westmalle Tripel (#149).

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#186 – Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

#186 - Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

There are two beers which make up the Bourgogne des Flandres range. Most punters would likely have first tasted the brune, which is a famous sour ale from this area of West Flanders. I however first managed to get my hands on the golden Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde, the stronger but less auspicious sister beer.

The most striking quality about these beers is perhaps the bottles. Both come packaged without traditional labels but with beautifully crafted and embossed images of the Bruges skyline, complete with the famous Belfry, or Belfort. It was here about seven generations ago that the artisanal brewers of the Van Houtryve family first got their hands dirty with the fine sour brown ale. A further clue to this strong family tradition is the shield of the Van Houtryve family which bedecks the neck of the bottle itself.

The family stopped brewing the beer themselves in the 1950’s, whereupon distant relatives at Verhaeghe took over the production; themselves well renowned for their sour ales of Vichtenaar (#146) and Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105). Time ran out on this partnership however in 1985 when Timmermans offered to become chief custodians. The 25 year relationship has been successful for the Bourgogne des Flandres beers, which have been marketed under the Anthony Martin’s “Finest Beer selection since 1993.

To be fair most of the marketing around the beers is about the famous sour ale which continues to gather dust in my cellar, however the blonde accompaniment is no trite addition. It is a lively little beer which mixes a spicy bitterness with a dry hoppy nature. It doesn’t exactly blow you away, but I’d recommend anybody buying at least one and keeping the bottle on a dusty shelf somewhere for friends and family to admire at their leisure.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Timmermans