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

#181 – Kasteel Triple

#181 - Kasteel Triple

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11 %

This is the second and penultimate beer from the Kasteel range which has found its way down my throat. The first was the dark sweet cloying beast that is the Kasteel Donker (#93), where I had previously told the story of the history of the famous castle in Ingelmunster, up until 1986 when the brewing siblings Luc and Marc Van Honsebrouck moved in.

It hasn’t all been good news though since. In 2001 the beautiful moated building was devastated by a terrible fire. Work has been done ever since to restore the castle however so immense was the damage that at least two thirds are no longer open to the public. The structure does though remain, and has been bandaged up over the years to at least look better on the outside, but the heart and soul has literally been ripped out of this historic building. This is no better exemplified than by the loss of almost everything inside – family furniture, tapestries, sculptures and paintings all perished forever one September evening.

It also isn’t the first time that the castle has burnt down. This jinxed building and in fact the whole village of Ingelmunster was completely razed in 1695 following hostilities between English, French and Spanish soldiers. The rebuilding which followed under Hapsburg rule has led to the current design which has only just hung onto existence by the very skin of its teeth. In fact, the only area now safe for the public to enter is the Kasteelkelder, the atmospheric name for the castle’s basement. It is here where tourists and beer fans can enjoy tasting the famous Van Honsebrouck beers in their traditional castle shaped glasses.

The Kasteel Triple is another megalith of a beer. Weighing in at 11% you would need to ensure you had a designated driver if you were stopping in at Ingelmunster for a quick tipple. Somebody recently suggested to me that this beer is similar to the Bush Blonde (#164) by Dubuisson, and to be fair they aren’t too far wrong in terms of appearance and potency, however I feel the Kasteel Tripel has just a little more panache in the finish. There is some fruit in there, some spice and whatever that something is that just urges you to want another. This is by no means a professional ground-breaking brew, but it deserves its place as one of the better super-strength triples.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Van Honsebrouck

#179 – Duivels Bier

#179 - Duivels Bier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is yet another tale of a modern beer with a very rich and gothic history. Frank Boon (#89, #147) our hero and defender of lambic put Duivels Bier on the market in 2003 – a very unassuming looking dark beer amidst a sea of high quality lambic and gueuze. He had once enjoyed a beer called Duivelsbier which was produced by Vander Linden. Sadly this was another regional brewery who bit the bullet during challenging times, and Frank, just as he did with lambic, could not bear to sit by while this favourite beer rotted into extinction.

The original Duivelsbier was the first of its kind in Belgium to appellate itself to the Devil. In 1883 the brewery in Halle known as Petre Freres started brewing a Scotch Ale that was made with the raw materials of a Faro, yet with English hops and yeast. It did so well that in 1900 Joseph Petre won a “Grand Prix” award, and by 1916 the town of Halle was famous for it. It would still be another eight years until the famous beer from Moortgat would title its beer after the Devil (#34). This would eventually lead to quite a fierce rivalry for the name.

The brewery Petre Freres unfortunately lost its way after the Second World War, and in 1952 was taken over by Vander Linden who acquired the brand name of the Devils beer, and repackaged it in enamel 33cl bottles. In 1958 they further upped the stakes with a switch to a darkly gothic label and font – one not at all dissimilar from that of the most well known beer named after the Devil as illustrated below.

Gothic Label

The rise and fall of each beer over the next forty or so years is most appropriately indicated by the fact that when Frank Boon repackaged Duivels Bier in 2003 he was not best placed to recreate the original gothic labels so as to distinguish itself from Duvel.

The two beers are of course very different. Duvel is a famous golden ale, whereas the original Duivelsbier from Halle was much darker, sour and spontaneously fermented. Frank Boon has kept the new Duivels Bier a much more steady brown offering. It is fairly sweet and yet remains dry on the palate with hints of malt and chestnuts. It is thick enough to discern itself from other similar beers but for me is still rather living in the shadow of a beer that in a previous life was once its apprentice.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Boon

#178 – Girardin Gueuze White Label

#178 - Girardin Gueuze White Label

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5 %

The Brouwerij Girardin is something altogether a bit special. People often talk about their Gueuze Black Label as being the ultimate lambic experience. When you consider that they live in the company of greats like Boon, Cantillon, de Cam and Hanssens, you begin to generate an instant respect for this quiet and secluded countryside establishment.

With beers as good as theirs are supposed to be, you would expect them to be crowing about it from the top of the hill on which the brewery is spectacularly set, but it’s the complete opposite. They don’t even have a website, which makes the life of snoops like me much more difficult. The family see marketing as nothing more than driving around the local countryside in a van selling their beers to shops and cafes. Paul Girardin, the latest in the long family dynasty is reported to have said “Here we brew beer, we don’t do marketing!”

What happens behind the scenes at Girardin is also a complete mystery. They don’t advertise, they don’t run tours, and they certainly don’t talk about themselves. They just brew. I completely dig the attitude of Girardin. It is indeed extreme but is not atypical of much of the Belgian beer community. Pockets of inspiration hidden away in the countryside behind modest premises often produce such gems of brilliance. Even if there was a beer writer out there who had had the fortune of seeing what goes on behind the scenes at Girardin, they would probably feel like they were telling on a friend were they to share their story.

Girardin don’t actually need to market their beer. It does it by itself. I remember reading not so long ago articles on Belgian beer that were preparing for the death of the craft scene. The astronomical reduction in the number of breweries over the past hundred years is testimony to this but it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened because of breweries like Girardin, and because of people like you and me who know what we like. Quality and integrity are rare commodities in business these days, but the beer industry in Belgium can largely hold its head high. I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather write about.

The filtered Gueuze White Label was my first foray into the world of Girardin, and although still completely novice on all things lambic, I was very impressed with the professionalism of this brew. It was clean and crisp and still remarkably tart and pungent. Although still with my true heart in other beer styles, this was my first real feeling that I might someday really start to enjoy gueuze like the moustachioed professional I aim one day to be. The unfiltered pinnacle of the Black Label still awaits my exploration but I think I will be more than prepared for the expedition by the time it arrives.

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Filed under 7, Girardin, Lambic - Gueuze

#173 – Omer Traditional Blond

#173 - Omer Traditional Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Omer Traditional Blond is a highly regarded beer whose recipe is based on one that has been passed down from generation to generation of the Vander Ghinste family. It all started way back in 1892 when Remi Vander Ghinste bought a brewery for his son Omer. As part of his gift, he named it the Brouwerijen Omer Vander Ghinste. This name stuck for another 85 years until 1977 when the brewery was renamed Bockor for commercial purposes.

The recipe for Omer has always been something of a secret, and each father of the family would pass it down to his own son. This has continued at the latest count for five generations, and the upshot is that the eldest son of every generation is called Omer, and hence becomes the head of the brewery.

The reason for this is particularly interesting. Back in 1892 it was unusual for brand names to be used for beers, moreover they were often named after the owner and the brewery. Omer Vander Ghinste had promoted his beer by making stained glass windows which incorporated the slogan ‘bieren Omer Vander Ghinste’, and after passing on the brewery (and recipe) in 1929 to his son Remi, it was deemed excessive to have to replace the expensive windows every time there was a change of owner. It was therefore decided that the name Omer would precede the name of each owner for every generation to come. This is true for Omer who followed Omer Remi in 1961, and then for Omer Jean in 2007 who still runs the company today.

Clearly this tale of old traditions has been the inspiration behind the name of this beer which celebrates the famous recipe, and of course keeps loyally to the same name. The beer itself is made from the highest quality malted barley from the Loire region of France, and uses three varieties of hops harvested from the fields of Germany, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. It is these hops which help to identify the sharp bitterness which this beer imparts on consumption. The Omer Traditional Blond is a good beer which is crisp and fruity, as well as hoppy and is very professionally produced. It doesn’t quite leave you gagging for the same beer again, but then I am becoming more and more choosy with each beer.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Bockor

#172 – Timmermans Kriek

#172 - Timmermans Kriek

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 4 %

It has been a while since I last supped on a Timmermans beer (#12), which gave me the opportunity to talk about their gueuze. It seems only right now to introduce a little bit of the history.

Timmermans is naturally a family business, and first started brewing gueuze in a disused cow shed in Itterbeek, a suburb of Brussels, way back in 1781.The first brewer was a gentleman by the name of Henry Vanheyleweghen who eventually handed over and leased the buildings to Jacobus Walraevens. By 1832 the smallholding had amassed also a farm, an orchard, café and malt house, and also a name – the Brasserie de la Taupe (the Mole brewery).

Eventually the son of Jacobus, Paul Walraevens inherited the business and continued to provide a multitude of excellent local products. It was only in 1911 under new ownership that all subsidiary activities were finally stopped, with the complete focus being the pub and brewery. The youngest Walraevens daughter had married brewer Frans Timmermans, although the name didn’t finally stick until 1960 when Paul van Cutsem, the son-in-law of Frans, took over proceedings and changed the name to Mol Timmermans.

The Timmermans name still lives on even though the brewery is now under the stewardship of the Anthony Martin group. They are famous for their lambic gueuze and faro, and for the colourful range of fruit lambic beers of which the Timmermans Kriek is one of the most popular – I certainly did enjoy this one. There are almost certainly more authentic and traditional lambic krieks out there, but this one certainly hit the spot for refreshment and sweetness. I had the larger 330 ml bottle which meant it wasn’t over before it had begun. The flavour lasted to the very end, and bearing in mind they sell this in my local supermarket, I may well be going back on a hot summers day to try this one again.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Timmermans

#171 – La Ploquette

#171 - La Ploquette

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

This is an important beer for the town of Verviers as it purveys the rich history of the flourishing wool industry here. Although the beer is now brewed at the nearby Val Dieu, it was actually once brewed just outside Verviers at the Brasserie Ruwet, which now just concentrates on cider.

The strange bowler-hatted characters depicted on the label of this rare little beer are actually wool merchants; typical in the Vervietoise region of East of Belgium. The characters are based on a 3 metre high bronze statue by Louis-Pierre Wagelmans (Marchand de Ploquettes, 1999) which stands in the town of Verviers in the Place des Martyrs. These typically jolly merchants in bygone days would earn their living wandering the towns and countryside with the finest local and international wools for sale. These wool samples were cylindrically packaged in blue crepe paper ploquettes which can also be seen in the hands of the merchants on the label.

The beer represents a golden age for Verviers; an age when the town was once considered to be the Wool Capital of the World – something that perhaps only Bradford in the UK, Monchengladbach in Germany, and Roubaix in France could have equally lain claim to. In fact even now these places are twinned! The wool, or “soft gold” as it was once known locally was said to be of such a high quality due to the quality of the water from the Vesdres river which flowed through the town. Although the wool industry may have waned somewhat over the years, the town of Verviers is now more recently famous for its water. It is regarded as a Ville d’eau (water town), with the showcase being the Parcours des Fontaines (Route of the Fountains).

The beer itself was surprisingly good. I had picked it up quite some time ago in a great ramshackle beer store in Annevoie, and have never ever come across it since. It poured a hazy blonde with some floating yeast, although it soon settled nicely. It hit the palate with an impressive fruitiness with just enough spice to keep it interesting. I would say if you see this beer sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere – give it a home.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Val Dieu

#163 – Balthazar

#163 - Balthazar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Balthazar is one of three Christmas beers produced by the Picobrouwerij Alvinne. They are labelled as the Epiphany beers, which toast the pre-Christmas holiday of Epiphany which is popular in Belgium. Epiphany is also known in the Christian calendar as Three Kings Day, which is customary to be the Sunday which falls between 2 and 8 January.

Anybody who was dressed up at primary school as a shepherd will probably remember they spent the whole Christmas play wishing they were one of the Three Kings or at least Joseph! The feast day of Epiphany, certainly in Belgium, commemorates the visitation of the Magi, or Three Kings to the birthplace of Baby Jesus. Balthazar was the dark swarthy third King of Sheba in the story, or at least in the modern accounts of the story which were first documented in about 9 A.D. The legend has it that Gaspar (#188), the white-bearded King of Tarsus brought gold for Jesus, that Melchior, the aging King of Arabia brought Frankincense, and Balthazar came with myrrh. Each of the three above are all Christmas beers from Alvinne.

Balthazar derives from the Phoenician language, and generally is thought to mean “Baal protects the King”, which is apt when considered in terms of the Nativity story. However Balthazar also has other meanings. Some more recent conspiracy theories have suggested the link between the demon Balthazar who was committed by the Demon King Seth to rot in the Fires of Hell for eternity. The thought that the King of Sheba may have also been an incarnation of Satan is a sobering one, but could explain the portent of his impending doom. The Myrrh after all according to legend was saved for the burial of Jesus.

More merrily, and back of course on to our favourite subject, any learned wine or beer scholar will know that a Balthazar is also 12 litre champagne or wine bottle. I’m not sure any beers have ever been packaged in a Balthazar, but if they have then that’s going straight on my Christmas list for Santa. The Balthazar I was drinking tonight however came rather disappointingly in just a third of a litre bottle. It was fairly interesting however, being unsurprisingly dark and full of eastern spice – Balthazar is brewed with four special malts, dark candies and coriander, cardamom and ginger. The result was a unique beer, that was fairly pleasant to drink, but which by the end was perhaps just a bit too quirky to be truly remarkable. This was certainly not an Epiphany for me !

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Filed under 7, Alvinne, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer

#160 – La Trappe Dubbel

#160 - La Trappe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It has been mentioned before very early into the Odyssey that there are only seven Trappist breweries in the whole of the world (#7). Six of these are in Belgium, and the other one is in the Netherlands. I was too busy lamenting the strength of Quadrupels on the previous outing with La Trappe (#154), so it’s fortunate I can now spend some time on the Abbey at Koningshoeven. I won’t get time to finish the story, but can at least make a decent start.

It all goes back to the French monks from the Trappist monastery Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in Northern France. You may remember these from drinking the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). In 1880 many of the inhabiting monks had begun to fear the repercussions of the anti-church legislation, and so a few went on scouting missions to find safer ground. One of the monks, a certain Sebastianus Wyart, went over to the Netherlands which had a fairly liberal attitude to religion. There, near the town of Tilburg, he found fields awash with heather, surrounded by small farms and a sheeps cage. This village of Berkel-Enschot called these farms the ‘Koningshoeven’ (the Royal Farms), as they were once owned by King Willem II. Soon, Sebastianus had enticed a number of the community to this peaceful paradise.

Within just a year, the sheep cage was renovated into the first trappings of a monastery, with the first service being held on the 5 March 1881. It wasn’t all good news however; the soil and land they had chosen was far too arid, and with the numbers increasing at the monastery a solution was needed. This came in 1884 when the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart decided beer was the answer, and thus under the supervision of Friar Romaldus, the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven began its first foray as a brewery. It soon became the main source of income for the monastery, and still is to this day.

I don’t have any particular problem classing the La Trappe beers within my Belgian classification. If anyone chooses to argue with me, I will just continue on past 1000. The La Trappe Dubbel is a typical trappist Dubbel – strong, dark, extremely malty and full of spicy Christmas spirit. It wasn’t the best beer I would ever drink, in that it lost its legs a little in the final third, but was a great accompaniment to the football I was watching on the TV.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#139 – Moinette Blonde

#139 - Moinette Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

There could be a handful of reasons why Dupont chose to name their popular beer Moinette Blonde. I’m happy to run through a number of hypotheses and let you play detective (#75).

1. Well its obvious really. The word monk in French is moine. The success of Abbey beers led to the association. The little monk beer.

2. The original name of the beer created in 1955 was the Abbaye de la Moinette. It was the showpiece beer from Dupont, and again was paying lip service to the sellability of Abbey Tripel style beers on the market. The name was changed to Moinette in 1980 due to the fact there is no Abbaye de la Moinette.

3. The Dupont brewery is situated in a swampy area renowned for its marshland. The modern French term for swamp is marais, whilst the ancient French term was moene. The beer was therefore named Moinette, as it was from the Moene region.

4. In the tiny village of Tourpes, which is the home of Dupont, there used to be an old mill, and a farmstead which belonged to the long line of Dupont ancestors. This farmstead was known as the Cense de la Moinette. The name of the flagship beer was chosen as a sentimental reference to the good old days.

It’s safe to say that all the above are pretty much a minor variation on a common set of truths. The one common factor that is beyond doubt however is the general appreciation of this beer. Aside from qualifying in the Top 100 Belgian Beers to try before you die book, the label and style of this beer reeks of professionalism. The beer itself was similar with a classy velvet finish. The flavour was smooth without being stunning, and yet had all the hoppiness I have come to expect from Dupont. It’s a great beer, but isn’t necessarily the kind of style that I get overly excited about.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Dupont

#137 – Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

#137 - Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

This is the second dabbling I have had with the beers of Tongerlo, my first stop being the Tongerlo Tripel Blonde (#30) which gave me a chance to introduce the Abbey which so elegantly adorns the beers labels. The abbey is famous for its Norbertine traditions, but just what sets aside a Norbertine from say a Cistercian, or a Trappist?

It all stems funnily enough from St. Norbert, who was a migrant preacher that founded the religious community of Premontre in France in 1121. The influential teachings here spread like wildfire, and the Norbertines or Premonstratensians were soon involved in the beginnings of Tongerlo Abbey in 1133. You may also recall he was the founder of Grimbergen Abbey (#8).

The main difference in the Norbertines of the Premonstratensian order was that they weren’t exactly monks, they were canons regular. It’s a subtle difference, one in which I am trying manfully to get my head round – especially as the orders and expectations manifest themselves so differently through time. Essentially the Norbertines originally based their traditions on the Cistercian (#94), and Augustinian ways, in that they were seeking a more austere way of being, but fundamentally they acted as canons regular, and therefore did not lead the true monastic contemplative life. They had far more responsibility in looking to minister to those outside the abbeys, and were if you like, the link between the inner sanctum of the monks, and the wider secular clergy. A subtle difference but one which saved the canon regulars from the long choral duties, and systemic moral reproofs which characterised the monks lives.

At the end of the day though, they were bonded by the brewing of the beer, and I say amen to that. The Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin itself was a safe brown. Thinner and fizzier than I expected, but with the subtle maltiness that you expect from a decent brown beer. At 6% it didn’t have the kick of some darker Belgians but is one I wouldn’t have a problem drinking again.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht

#134 – Keizer Karel Rouge

#134 - Keizer Karel Rouge

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

We first met Charles Quint (Keizer Karel Blonde #39) 95 beers ago. That seems an age ago now, and many historical figures have come and gone since, but good old Charles always liked a beer, and this is partly why he is so revered by the Belgian beer community.

We already know that Charles spent most of his time in Spain, but he also liked to get out and travel across his Empire, especially finding time to get home. Legend has it on one such night in a little village called Olen near Antwerp, he found an inn serving his favourite tipple. The innkeeper brought a mug of beer to his table and held it by its handle as he handed it across. Charles felt it was inappropriate to handle it in this way, and so asked the innkeeper to return with the beer in a mug with two handles. The patient landlord duly returned carrying the heavy cup with both hands, still leaving Charles with no free handle to take the glass from him. Charles is said to have then paid the innkeeper handsomely in gold to go away and have a cup made with three handles – especially for him to be able to accept the drink like a gentleman.

If you go to Olen, there is a statue of this famous beer glass, and it is possible in the right places to drink Keizer Karel/Charles Quint beers out of this three-eared style tankard. The locals have also, rightly or wrongly, garnered quite a reputation for their lack of intellectual prowess. All this because of a 16th Century innkeeper!

The beer itself wasn’t unlike the last one I had drunk (#133), in that it was dark, malty and of an aniseed persuasion, which to be honest I certainly wasn’t expecting. It was eminently more fizzy though and once through the thickset head, it ended up being a perfect supper time tipple.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Haacht

#133 – Vicaris Generaal

#133 - Vicaris Generaal

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.8 %

The beers of the ‘vicar’ brand have been lovingly created and commissioned by Vincent Dilewyns since 1999 although de Proef have been brewing them on their behalf since then. So popular though have these beers become that by the end of the year, the Dilewyns family will have taken over the brewing themselves in a converted facility in Dendermonde.

Beer runs through the veins of this family, but that’s probably another story. What is intriguing me though is what inspired Mr Dilewyns to pursue a range of ecclesiastically titled beverages?

Vicaris Generaal, actually translates into ‘vicar general’, and refers to the deputy of a bishop. The vicar general wields the baton on all administrative duties in his diocese, and holds considerable executive power. He is appointed by the bishop himself, and should the bishop die or vacate his role, the vicar general is then immediately terminated. The next incumbent bishop is then expected to appoint his own vicar general. The only real stipulations on a candidate is that they must have a minimum of thirty years knowledge of, or a degree in, theology or canon law. Nothing to do with beer as far as I can see.

Forgetting the religious connotations for a moment, I am beginning to notice that if a beer is made at de Proef, it is normally of a high standard. I get the impression they don’t just brew any old rubbish. The Vicaris Generaal certainly is no exception. Settling back on the sofa with a black and white movie, this was a decent accompaniment. It was dark, mysterious and very strong, with definite licorice and malt that seeped deep into your bones. It remained fairly bitter till the end, and at one stage I faintly hoped that it might sweeten but it never really did. Certainly a well-made brew and full of character but perhaps just a bit too stoutish for me to command my more generous grading.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Proef, Horse

#130 – Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

#130 - Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The striking feature of the Oud Beersel Oude Kriek label is the elegantly designed illustration of a castle. This Kasteel van Beersel is the most striking tourist attraction of the town of Beersel from which the beer/brewery derives its name. It was built approximately 700 years ago by Jan II, the Duke of Brabant as part of the defensive base for Brussels – the capital sits just 12km to the north east of Beersel.

The castle has been a key part of the towns history, being damaged in the War of Succession of Brabant (1356-57), during the rebellion against Maximilian in 1489, and then finally being left to the ravages of desolation during the 18th Century when it was left unoccupied. A cotton factory was initiated in the building in 1818, and eventually passed through a series of local families until it was donated to the League of Friends of Beersel in 1928, whereupon it was beautifully restored to its present glory.

Beersel is also the home to two famous breweries. Drie Fonteinen, and of course Oud Beersel. Both are renowned for the quality of their lambic beer in a region which is famous for it. Once you have climbed the castle and taken in the stunning views across town, you can wander off to any bar and have the pick of some of Belgiums finest beers. Be sure to make sure the service includes ‘boterham met plattekaas en radijzen’ (bread with white cheese and radishes) and ‘mandjeskaas’ (white cheese in small baskets) – both are tasty traditional snacks of Beersel and which accompany lambic beers perfectly apparently.

This was to be my third lambic of the night in the Rake. It was extremely sour still, but after the abomination of the Cassisframbozenlambic (#129) I wasn’t complaining. It was more subtle than other Krieks I had tried, which I put down to being from a professional brewer/blender. There was definitely a cherryness deep in the brew but you had to work hard to get there while the acidic dryness rebounded all round your lips. It was perfect to sip while pulling up a bar stool and catching up on old chat, and peering into the well stocked fridges to see what to choose next.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Oud Beersel

#128 – Oudbeitje

#128 - Oudbeitje

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6 %

Oudbeitje gets your mouth into a twist in more ways than one. At the bar at The Rake pub in South London I attempted to pronounce it, but after the third miserable failure coupled with exponentiating quizzical looks from the barmaid, I opted to point and mouth ‘strawberry beer’ over the din of the evening punters. I needn’t have been so ashamed as there is no Fruli (#24) to be found in this cracking little pub, and I was eventually served with a beer I had wanted to try for ages.

Oudbeitje can be rather easily translated from the Flemish for ‘old berry’ – in this case old, rich pungent strawberries, which are added to lambic beer during the summer months. During the winter the whole lot sits and matures, waiting for the bottling which will take place in Spring. Unlike a Gueuze or a Kriek, there is no need for blending of old and young lambics, as the typical characteristics of the strawberries cause the lambic to react as Gueuze would. This has an impact on the secondary fermentation which is far less spirited and therefore contains far less carbon dioxide. It is this reason that the Oudbeitje is so flat.

There were a number of surprises about this beer. Firstly the price – Although I know good lambic beer does not come cheap even in Belgium, I was a little unprepared for the savage looks I was getting from the friend of a friend who had offered to buy the first round. I just nodded and pretended to look like the beer geek I was starting to become. The second surprise was the colour. Anybody who has drunk Fruli will know that it almost certainly turns your stomach scarlet – the Oudbeitje however was a pale golden colour which was so innocuous it could almost have been a Gueuze. The taste though was as pongy as one might expect from real lambic, but it was imbued with the faint taste of bygone British summers in front of the tennis. Despite the tart flatness, and the fact that the next round cost me even more, I will still remember this beer fondly.

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Filed under 7, Hanssens, Lambic - Fruit

#124 – Winterkoninck

#124 - Winterkoninck

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

As we have already ascertained, the Antwerp beer scene is synonymous with De Koninck (#122), although it would be most useful to find out quite how this happened with another history lesson.

The De Koninck story begins as far back as 1827 when a certain Joseph Henricus De Koninck purchased an old coach house which straddled the border post between Antwerp and Berchem. The border was marked by a solitary stone boundary post, on which was sculpted an open hand. The coach house, known as the De Plaisante Hof, was a popular stopping point for travellers who would pull up at the sculptured hand and pay a toll to cross into Antwerp.

Joseph Henricus sadly though was not long for the world, and no sooner than 1833 his widow Elisabeth Cop had remarried a warehouse foreman named Johannes Verliet who decided to convert the coach house into a brewery. The inspiration was the stone boundary post on the roadside, and the new venture became known as the Brouwerij de Hand. Since that very day, the same hand has graced the labels of the beers that have come from this historic brewery.

The fact that the brewery is not known as Verliet may have something to do with the fact that in 1845, Carolus De Koninck, the eldest son of Joseph Henricus took over the business. The place has been in the family ever since, and since 1912 has been called the Brasserie Charles de Koninck. The story of the next hundred years I will happily retell on a later beer, but anybody keen on dropping by the brewery can still see the original stone post which after years gathering dust beneath the Vleeshuis is now proudly and rightfully on show in the brewery courtyard.

If the previous tipple, St Feuillien Noel (#123) was the epitomy of an idyllic white Christmas, then I am afraid the Winterkoninck was of the regular overcast Christmas variety, complete with grey skies and miserable relatives. It had a very dreary amber complexion, with a tacky synthetic aftertaste. While not being horrible in any way, I was just disappointed to follow the St. Feuillien with this. It really was the slushy mess that follows a white Christmas.

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#122 – De Koninck Tripel

#122 - De Koninck Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

If you asked me to describe what Antwerp means to me I would probably say three things. Diamonds – shouldn’t it have been Antwerp where James Bond had the infamous fight in the lift in Diamonds are Forever? Nausea – the worst whitey I have ever had in my life was after an errant Norwegian persuaded me one fateful night to stick a wad of snus on my gums (which I forgot about until the headspins began) . Finally, it has to be the Kulminator bar – the best ever Chimay Grand Reserve (#45) aged and served from the cellar. The hangover though was crippling.

Ask any Antwerpian however and you might get a different answer. The Schelde – the famous river which dissects the town is the lifeblood of the city. The Zoo – apparently so? The most likely answer though would be De Koninck beer. Probably no beer in Belgium is so intrinsically linked to a city than De Koninck. The beer started being brewed here as far back as 1933, and has been as popular with locals ever since.

The phenomenon may be more of a regional thing though. On my wanderings through Belgium I rarely see it out of Antwerp, which considering 114,000 hectolitres is produced annually is quite remarkable. The brewery reckons 35% leaves the country though, most to the Dutch, and you have probably as much chance of seeing it in Amsterdam as you will in Brussels. Go to Antwerp however and you have no chance of escaping the influence. In any bar, it really is a part of the furniture.

Recent events are worrying the locals though, with Duvel Moortgat only a few days ago acquiring 100% of the shares in De Koninck. It is fair to say that De Konick have had better days – there was a time when they would brew up to 140,000 hectolitres a year, but their beers now only equate to about half a percent of the overall Belgian beer market, and as the world recession hits us all, it is wielding its stick particularly on café culture in Belgium. Drinkers have less money, and as De Koninck is very much an Antwerp café beer (present in at least a hundred cafes in Antwerp alone), it is a worrying sign. La Chouffe is an example of a relationship with Duvel Moortgat that has worked well and we keep our fingers crossed that De Koninck is able to keep its head above the froth.

As for the De Koninck Tripel, which came highly recommended I might add, I would bestow a consistent 7. As the beer is made with biological South American cane sugar, as opposed to the typical Belgian white sugar, I had expected a sweet, thick glutenous beverage, but it was much lighter, and I just couldn’t recreate the head that dominates the advertising. If it meant buying a crate to keep De Koninck from selling up (and out) though, then I’d be happy keeping this as a safety beer.

(Post-Script) – Antwerp has never been renowned as the party capital of Europe, but I seem to have had my fair share of debauchery here. It was only after racking my brains further on what Antwerp means to me, that I recalled getting detained by the police on a long walk back to my hotel. I had rather unintelligently chosen the main police office wall to urinate against. I have made better decisions in my life.

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#119 – St. Feuillien Brune

#118 - St. Feuillien Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I was having a rough day and I needed to get out of the office. I don’t tend to take lunchbreaks that often but if I ever do, then it has to be somewhere special. That place is more often than not the Dovetail. I have already told the story of St. Feuillien (#29), and there are plenty more varieties from this brewery sitting waiting, so please permit me the chance to talk about the Dovetail – almost certainly the best Belgian beer bar in central London.

It’s a hard place to find, wedged into a small alley hidden away in atmospheric Clerkenwell. There are many good pubs around here, including the Gunmakers and the Crown, but none of these come close to offering the breadth of choice that the Dovetail can. The website claims to offer over a hundred different Belgian beers, although experience tells me that what they offer, they don’t always have in stock. Even so, any bar outside Belgium where you can sit and be waited on and choose your beer from a menu is a treasure for me. The food is pretty good also!

Timeout magazine labelled the Dovetail in 2007 as ‘The kind of place everyone wishes they had as their local’, which in a sense it is to me. I have been popping in here on and off for the last eight years; and in terms of appearance the place has barely changed. The décor is a mix between an Abbey refectory and beer museum, with the walls adorned with the kitsch tin beer plates which never cease to fascinate me. If you can wedge yourself in early, whether it’s a lunch-time or an evening, you can normally escape the feeling of the growing crowds and get carried away with the feeling you might just be outside of the UK.

As I sat and drank my St. Feuillien Brune though, the conversation soon revolved around to the place, and perhaps it isn’t just me nowadays that thinks the place is losing some of its charm. While it hasn’t sold itself out completely like the Lowlander in Covent Garden, the overall feel-good factor has certainly dissipated. I may have been spoilt in Belgium, but I do still expect the right glass, believe I have the right to be served with a smile, and not to have to pay a deposit for my glass on a Friday night. There also was a time when the bar staff were knowledgeable about the beers on offer but I guess those days have long gone with the preference for cheap labour. Nostalgia though just isn’t what it once was, and I should be grateful for what I have on my doorstep – which is still excellent beer.

The St. Feuillien Brune was no exception to this. It poured a majestic muddy chocolate colour, lighter than most brown beers, but finished with an exceptionally creamy fluffy head. If I hadn’t known where I was, I might have just assumed I had been brought a glass of cocoa. There was something somewhat comforting in the taste, hints of chocolate and malt, but as you finished her off she tended to lose her way a little. That said a very pleasant beer to spend on your lunch break, and as per usual I was dribbling and nodding off at my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

(Post-Script) – For a bit of family history from St. Feuillien see the review on the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (#123).

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#115 – Joseph

#115 - Joseph

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.4 %

Straight after Sara (#114) came Joseph – a kind of younger brother beer from Silenrieux. Where Sara is unusual in that it is made from buckwheat, the Joseph is made from spelt.

Spelt is often known as the ‘poor mans’ wheat’, and is an ancient form of the modern day crop. It does differ in its make-up, but probably only because over the years wheat has been so genetically modified whereas spelt remains fairly true to its heritage. Spelt was the common crop across Europe as far back as the Bronze Age, and survived in abundance right through to medieval times. Only then did farmers began to fiddle with it to ensure a higher level of grain per ear, and therefore better returns. This evolutionary journey is well reflected by the latin term for wheat – ‘spelta’.

Spelt was very easy to grow, in that it did not require particularly fertile land, and inevitably required very little attention to keep it flourishing. Its flavour is often described as nuttier and sweeter, so you wonder what led to the desire to modify it. It may have been much rougher than wheat, and the husks much tougher, but spelt has also been found to contain much more protein, which is one reason for modern day farmers to begin to re-introduce spelt. It is healthier in that it contains more nutrients caused by being genetically unmodified and being grown organically. It is however a popular misconception that spelt is gluten free. It isn’t – although Silenrieux produce two buckwheat beers for this purpose (#110, #114).

The end result is to all intents and purposes a wheat beer – it’s just of course made with spelt. The specimen is pale and fairly cloudy, although the brewers do lightly filter the end product and additionally referment within the bottle. The taste was surprisingly fruity, yet more fizzy and refreshing than your average wheat beer. I really enjoyed this and yet again wished it was a 33cl bottle as it was over so quick. A nice end to a long days driving.

(Post-Script) – I assume the name Joseph is derived from spelt being especially prevalent in biblical times – unless anyone else knows otherwise?

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#110 – Sara Brune

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

Silenrieux is a rare breed among breweries in Belgium, promoting a range of traditional beers that are made from the most natural of ingredients. The brewery formed in 1995 in the Ardennes countryside after the locals had spent a fair amount of time in the local library and had begun to discover that the area in which he lived was once rife with two rarer types of grain – namely buckwheat and spelt. They also discovered a history of local brewers long since out of business who had used these grains to produce beer. The mission was now to recreate them; firstly by growing the grains, and then turning the harvest into a range of drinks.

With the help of a number of local authorities including the Director of Agriculture the brewers were able to glean the farming know-how, and through liaising closely with the professors at the University of Louvain was able to rework ancient recipes into a modern day solution. They then set about the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of getting a loan to fund the whole enterprise.

The money soon began to trickle in though, as the quality of the beer became known, and the switch started to trigger in customers that here was a very natural beer. The story reached even greater success with the Sara and Joseph (#115) launching as truly organic beers in 2000. This meant following stricter guidance on the production of the ingredients, but this move towards producing ‘superbeers’ has really paid off. What used to be a rustic farmyard is now a modern brewery which is reeling off 70,000 gallons of excellent beer each year, and exporting as far and wide as much of Western Europe and the United States. You can even drive by and drink the beers on the premises at the bar-restaurant should you wish.

This Sara Brune was picked up in a local beer store in Couvin and drunk in the safety of my own home. I was very interested to discover what a buckwheat beer tastes like, but like most 25cl beers it was all over so soon. It was though pleasantly crisp and light for a dark beer, and fairly spicy on the tongue. I wouldn’t be in a rush to drink another but felt strangely liberated to be drinking an organic beer !

(Post-Script) – Silenrieux also make a Sara Blonde (#114), and this report highlights how the beer got its name.

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#109 – Pecheresse

#109 - Pecheresse

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 2.5 %

Some people after a severe night on the tiles (of the Scrabble variety of course) take a glass of water to bed with them to cure the inevitable hangover. Belgian beer connoisseurs of course, of which I was now surely worthy of calling myself, pick up their nearest fruit beer and down that with a paracetamol or two. The Pecheresse by Lindemans weighed in at a meagre 2.5%, which would be a perfect nightcap.

Pecheresse is a beer created by adding peach juice to the typical Lindemans lambic base. It’s a formula which has tended to work well for Lindemans over the years. The name is an interesting take on the the French term ‘peche’ for peach, and ‘pecheresse’ which translates as a female sinner; who we see draped exotically across the typically attractive Lindemans label. The message is clearly one of seduction, although at this late stage of the night it was certainly more about sedation for me.

The idea for Pecheresse may well have come from the medieval French play of the same name, which tells the story of a young girl who after enduring watching her parents die under the weight of extreme poverty, becomes tempted by Satan to prostitute herself to a life of vice in order to give her mother and father a better life. Good of course prevails over evil, just as it does in the Joan Crawford and Clark Gable film of the same name (The Laughing Sinners) which was released in 1931, where the title character finally chooses strength of moral character over that of fleeting erotic desire.

A label depicting a semi-naked woman would normally have to work a lot harder to tempt me to drink this kind of rubbish, but it was late, I was away from the wife, and I’d had about the equivalent of ten pints. I have since confessed my sins,  and to be fair I quite enjoyed it at the time. Fortunately when I woke in the morning with a pulsing head, and a mouth like a bear’s armpit, the hazy recollection of a brief dalliance with this harlot of the night had been consigned to the recycling. Nothing more needs to be said.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Lindemans