Category Archives: 8

This beer warrants an 8/10. This is worth buying a six-pack of. Its got style, it tastes good and could be unique in flavour. I want more

#249 – Les Brasseurs Ambree

#249 - Les Brasseurs Ambree

Size: cask

ABV: 6 %

Most stag weekends these days tend to head to hedonistic Eastern European cities, where the beers are cheap, the police turn a blind eye and if you want to look at ladies or worse, then you don’t have to look too far. Imagine the glares on my friend’s faces when news spread we were heading to Belgium for my weekend of debauchery. A country famed for its expensive beers, heavy handed police and distinct lack of vice; not to mention the tapestries, chocolate and lace.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m the wrong side of thirty, and that my obsession with Belgian Beer was quickly becoming obsessive. Brussels would be the perfect destination for twelve good and proper gentlemen to educate themselves in the art of drinking beer – its just most of them didn’t know it yet. I left the Best Man to sort out the travel and the digs, while I pored over a succession of esteemed beer joints to continue on my Odyssey in style.

Eurostar took eleven of us into the city centre by early afternoon on the Friday, and while we waited for the final team-member to arrive from the Middle East we began to fill our boots in the hotel reception. The sensible ones started on the easy drinking Maes, while in true Beer Shrimper fashion I went for the high ABV Trappists early doors. I’d managed a few of these by the time all parties were present and we headed into town. I’d managed to convince everyone to trust me on the first round of drinks and manfully got the Best Man to rustle up twelve Tripel Karmeliets (#229). While the quality of the beer was never in question there were a few discerning remarks from the real ale drinkers about drinking from floral goblets, and questioning the sexuality* of those who might choose to. If I was to continue educating my group in the finer aspects of Belgian beer then I would need a different approach.

I’d planned the visit to Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place a little later in the night, but now seemed a good a time as any. A real microbrewery, with real mens glasses right in the middle of the famous town square. I could tick off a few more beers that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else, and my chums could choose from a varied selection of home-made beers or any other lagery drivel they wanted. The more sensible in the group went off and took the opportunity to grab some strategic food to help soak up the alcohol while I stood strong in advocating that any kind of eating was most definitely cheating. It would inevitably be a truly regrettable stance.

The first selection from this tiny little brewpub was the Les Brasseurs Ambree. Contrary to public opinion of which I am now more recently acquainted I found this to be a pretty enjoyable little beer. A deep copper coloured beverage with a spicy little accent on the nose, or at least that’s what I seem to recall. I remember thinking this was going to be the first of many decent beers in this joint but it was largely the pick of what turned out to be a fairly sorry bunch.

*Anybody who has enjoyed the film In Bruges may remember a similar scene.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Brasseurs de la Grand Place

#235 – Avec les Bons Voeux

#235 - Avec les Bons Voeux

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 9.5%

There are numerous reasons why brewers make Christmas beers which I touched upon when I celebrated the Bush de Noel (#83), and one of those key reasons was by way of a thank you present from the brewery to its regular customers. It had certainly been an issue in Germany in the past that due to higher levies of tax placed upon higher strength beers, brewers would make less financial return on the sale of seasonal beverages. It was therefore the customer that was seen as benefiting most, although I’m less convinced on a wider level with this somewhat altruistic view. If there was ever a story thought that really merited the claims that brewers gave presents to their loyal customers, then the Avec les Bons Voeux must be the perfect example.

The clue is in the ridiculously long full title – Avec les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont – which translates towith the best wishes of the brewery Dupont’. In 1970, the then head brewer and owner, Sylva Rosier wanted to reward the loyal customers of Dupont for their continued custom and decided to brew a one-off extremely limited higher strength beer. The beer was so limited that customers needed to be on a very select reservation list. The more and more I get to know about the Brasserie Dupont, the more I know that this was no marketing gimmick. They valued their customers immensely and this was their New Year present back to them. Such was the clamour for the beer, that Rosier once again brewed another very exclusive batch the following year. Unbelievably it would be another twenty-six years before the beer would finally be brewed on a regular basis where production levels were increased to be available to both the local and international markets.

There is no doubt that this was a great result for the beer drinking public of the world. The Avec les Bons Voeux is a fantastic beer which many claim to be the best beer made at Dupont; which given the reputation of many of the other beers in their portfolio is high praise indeed. It is a high strength saison, which pours a delightful copperish blonde, with an almost perfect head. It is both fruity and dry, and yet wonderfully bitter – a by-product of dry-hopping as the final act of good will. It has a complex flavour which is fairly hard to pin down and yet it leaves you knowing you are drinking a seriously high quality beer. At 9.5% ABV it is also deceptively strong. Saisons began life as beers which could be drunk by workers in the sun while they toiled in the fields. This certainly isn’t one of them. It only comes in large bottles, and while the 750ml bottle should be manageable on your own, you might want to ask for assistance in polishing off the Magnum sized bottle. I was stupid enough to share this one with my dad who naturally moaned that it wasnt real ale – what a waste of good beer!

 

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Filed under 8, Dupont, Saison

#234 – Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel

#234 - Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel, is the official beer of the town of Aalst. De Glazen Toren are the brewery who make this interesting beer, and are based in the hamlet of Erpe Mere which sits just outside the town. Oilsjtersen Tripel essentially translates into the Tripel from Aalst.

De Glazen Toren have chosen the spindly female character Ondineke to represent the beer, and who depending on the vintage of the beer, you can find gracing the beautifully decorated red and yellow paper labels. She is the main character from a famous book by the Flemish author Louis Paul Boon. The book is called De Kapellekensbaan, and is largely considered to be the authors literary masterpiece – so much so that it was widely touted as a potential winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Ondineke clearly means something to the people of Aalst, despite the main subplot of the book being her continued fruitless efforts to rid herself of the place. Born as a feisty working class girl, she attempts to use her all the charms she has available to her to influence a better life for herself elsewhere. Ondineke’s labours are set in the industrial 1900s however the critique and author commentary style of the book is largely set much later in the century.  It is a somewhat chaotic book which reflects the personality of the author at the time who was wrestling with his inner Marxist demons. Gone it would seem were the idealistic aspirations which had shaped much of his early work, and what was left was a gritty taste of small town realism. It seems to suit the Belgium I know quite well, unless of course you like beer.

I have yet to visit Aalst, but I’m told if you visit you will probably come across Ondineke in some capacity. The local beer shops will no doubt stock plenty of the beer, there is a café of the same name, and if you visit the City Hall there is a cute copy of a sculpture of Ondineke which was recently moved there to protect it from vandalism. The original can be found at the Stedelijk Museum in the old fish market.

The beer itself was particularly enjoyable. I was frequenting one of those classic Pakistani kebab restaurants in the East End of London where they encourage you to bring your own booze, and although it probably could have benefited from being a bit cooler; it was the perfect accompaniment to a great meal. Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel is a classic Tripel which has a unique taste of its own; probably from the addition of a good dose of liquid candi sugar. The beer is double hopped with local produce, and no further spice is added, and the result is an aromatically pungent thick orange brew which stands out from the usual mainstream Tripel. It certainly got the seal of approval from my fellow diners who felt they were missing out on something with their cheap wine and tins of Aussie lager.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Glazen Toren

#231 – Authentique Blonde de Noel

#231 - Authentique Blonde de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Part of the fun of trying at least a thousand different beers is that it forces you to deviate from the popular and the mainstream. Sometimes you really wonder why you bother but then every now and then you get a nice surprise. The Brasserie Authentique is one such example.

This very small brewery in Blaton, deep in the Hainaut countryside was started by Frederick Baert back in 2004. The first few years began with just a once weekly brew which allowed him to experiment with the beers and get the business running. As with any small entrepreneurial brewing operation the kit starts to build slowly, and in the first few years Frederick was using brew kettles which were once used in the dairy for milk. He wouldn’t be the first and certainly won’t be the last. As the years have progressed, so has the output, and by 2007 Authentique were knocking out 60 hectolitres per year which virtually doubled in 2008, when a whole new set of fermentation tanks were installed.

Frederick takes the artisanal role very seriously – his brews are completely unpasteurised and bottle conditioned, and he uses different yeasts for the bottle conditioning than he does for the initial fermentation. The whole process takes about eight weeks from brewing to the final product being ready for the local shops and pubs. The first two weeks are typically spent in the warm conditioning room, followed by a couple of weeks settling themselves. A fortnight is usually then spent beginning the fermentation process, before the final two weeks is spent cold-conditioning the beers.

Authentique produce a variety of beers, including a blonde, tripel and brune (labelled as 621), however I first got my hands on the Blonde de Noel Christmas offering, which was my first beer back from the energetic weekend spent in Antwerp. I needed something strong and spicy to get me back in the saddle, and this proved to be the perfect antidote. The Blonde de Noel is brewed with star anise and juniper which certainly added a lively kick to proceedings. It poured quickly and powerfully and I was unable to get the whole beer in the glass to begin with. After a little patience I was finally able to fully decant and ended up particularly impressed with the beer in my still trembling hands. It was strong, fruity and had plenty of depth; which no doubt the spices provided. I’m glad I have a few more of the Authentique range in my beer shed to cure my future excesses.

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Filed under 8, Authentique, Belgian Strong Ale

#230 – Het Kapittel Tripel Abt

#230 - Het Kapittel Tripel Abt

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 10 %

It would be extremely rude to spend a night in the Kulminator bar and not pay more than just fleeting attention to this most impressive of booze joints. As fate would have it I’ve dabbled with a couple of others in the Het Kapittel portfolio, notably the Pater (#2), and the Dubbel (#108) so there would be a good place to brush up on the beers and the brewery.

The Kulminator is close to the city centre but far out enough to be off the tourist trail. For those curious it’s on Vleminckveld – although it’s easy to miss so look for the number 32. Hours can vary but most evenings you will find it open until the owners Dirk and Leen decide they’ve had enough for the night. This is a beer bar which is very much open on the terms of the proprietors which in essence defines the character of the place. I’ve been in enough beer bars now to appreciate a deviation from the norm and this is certainly no exception.

It was a cold wet night in question, and it easily took me two or three minutes to demist the glasses and come to terms with the stuffy layout. It took that long to find a dog-eared beer menu, and appropriate a seat at the bar, which was just enough time for Leen to accept our first order (#228). The beer was delicious, the music was stately and the atmosphere was eerie. Dirk was sat in a dusty corner surrounded by antiquities nursing a goblet of something fancy while completing his accounts. He barely raised an eye at our arrival, although I very much got the feeling that the days takings were peripheral to the real reason for being open.

The story of Dirk and Leen is an interesting one and dates back to 1974 when the couple opened a wine bar named Bodega in the Kiel district of Antwerp. The locals seemed though to prefer the grain to the grape, and so the focus of the bar was diverted towards beer; and not just local beer. Although all the Belgian classics were found there, you could also get your hands on Danish porters and reknowned German lagers and Bocks. One beer in particular, the EKU 28 was particularly popular and a favourite of Dirk. You might have heard of it by its other name – the Kulminator 28.

The Bodega bar eventually could no longer serve the increasing clientele which Dirk and Leen were garnering through their beer selection. Although the cellar could hold around a thousand cases of aging beer easily enough, the bar could only accommodate about thirty people, and so in 1979 they moved to their current location. The name was changed but the concept remained, and by 2005 they eventually managed to move all their old beer across. Some would say the Kulminator is more a museum than a bar, and it is hard to disagree. The place is littered with breweriana, but not only can you choose a beer, you get to select your vintage. Our second order of the night was a particularly expensive Chimay Blue (#45) that sent Leen into the bowels of the Kulminator. She returned a fair time later with a dust-laden vintage beautifully presented in a wicker basket. Needless to say it was well worth the investment.

By the time we had shared the Het Kapittel Abt the owners were getting restless, and we had had plenty enough beer, breaking open a Tripel Karmeliet (#229) and a La Montagnarde prior (#167). It isn’t therefore with much confidence that I bring you the thoughts on the beer, but from what I recall it was a thick meaty amberish brown which was full of flavour. Like most beers they tend to taste better from the bigger bottles where the yeast has more room to develop, and this was no different. By the time we had polished off the remains and put the world to rights, Dirk had kicked us unceremoniously out the door in his trademark no-nonsense fashion and of course having crossed the line of common sense some time ago we went in search of more beer. I’m not sure who was most upset – us the next day with the chronic hangover, or the landlady of our digs who had to let us in at some unearthly hour of the morning. Well and truly Kulminated I’m afraid.

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Filed under 8, Abt/Quadrupel, Van Eecke

#228 – Dulle Teve

#228 - Dulle Teve

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

This beer found me in Antwerp, and when in Antwerp there really is only one place to be – the Kulminator bar. We found a cosy couple of seats at the bar and eventually a dog-eared menu. It would be a long night, and a very long hangover, and it all started with a Mad Bitch.

Kris Herteleer, the enigmatic head brewer at de Dolle, would have people believe that this beer is named after his mother Moes, who in her mid nineties has been known to conduct tours around the Esen-based brewery. While there may be some truth behind this, there is actually another very good reason for the presence of this beer in the de Dolle range, which all stems from the history of the brewery here in the heart of West Flanders.

As the date etched onto one of the buildings in the main yard will testify there has been a building here since as far back as 1835. At that time a local doctor by the name of Louis Nevejan had set up a small brewery and distillery on the premises. Nevejan would eventually pass on in the year 1882, and the property and its trade was sold to Louis Costenoble whose family for three generations ran the brewery and distillery. In 1980 the Costenoble family ran out of interested parties to take on the business and so again the premises were put up for sale. It was at this point that the de Dolle brothers were messing about with home brews fairly seriously and were unhappy to see the loss of another local brewery. They stumped up the cash and decided to take a chance on improving their recipes in more professional surroundings.

The brewery had been inactive for a little while and so there was plenty of clearing up to be done which brothers Jo and Kris began promptly. As they began to prepare the premises for fresh brewing they discovered many old reminders from the Costenoble days – a number of which were old 250 ml bottles with labels still glued on. Costenoble had been brewing a 6% beer called de Dulle Teve for the local Het Niew Museum pub, and here were the only reminders of that time. The de Dolle Brouwers decided to recreate this beer, albeit somewhat more potently, and kept the same labels – a drawing by a local artist from Bruges.

The brewers were very keen to make a strong tripel and de Dulle Teve certainly lives up to the billing. The name, which essentially translates as Mad Bitch in English certainly conjures up how you might feel if you have had a few of these. It poured a murky golden hue, and sat menacingly looking at me from the glass. I wasn’t sure at first but as it started to warm up in the heady atmosphere of the bar all the typical de Dolle flavours began to swim with me. Made with pure malt, and candi sugar it was solid, strong and full of dark undertones which I couldn’t quite define but to be honest I didn’t really care. I wouldn’t label it a classic but I would certainly drink it again given another chance just to see if it was able to recreate the moment. I understand this beer has been rebranded simply as Tripel in the US as the name was deemed inappropriate. After writing about Satan Red (#215) that fact doesn’t really surprise me.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, De Dolle Brouwers

#227 – Kerst Pater Special

#227 - Kerst Pater Special

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Christmas beers largely exist for a number of perfectly good reasons, which if you want to revisit please feel free to check out the Bush de Noel (#83) – the first Christmas beer of my journey. For me, the best reason to have a Christmas beer is to snugly sink into the traditions of yuletide, and a strong, dark, rich and wholesomely fruity beer is simply perfect on a cold winters night.

The idea of these kind of drinks is nothing new, especially in the UK, where mulled wine is a particular favourite at Christmas. I began to look back historically at the types of drinks served at this time of year and one of the earliest forms of Christmas beer turned out to be a drink known as Lambswool, which seems to have been fairly common as far back as the late 15th Century. The brew consists of spiced ale (or in later years cider) and baked apples. There are various explanations for the name; although the most likely is that the light colour and frothy appearance on the surface looks remarkably like the sheared wool of a lamb.

The odd looking drink was traditionally associated with the act of ‘wassailing’ – which basically amounts to a procession of merry persons (usually inebriated on lambswool) who wander their locality toasting either a) their neighbours or b) the environment. The first custom of ‘house visiting’ usually requires the females to dress up in bows and ribbons and offer their bowls of lambswool to owners. The second custom is slightly more bizarre, in that usually the males wander fields and orchards ladling their lambswool over crops and trees, and singing ancient rhymes. The idea in Pagan times was that this would guarantee the crop for the following year. It is largely now just a fading tradition of folklore which tends to occur in country villages around Somerset and Gloucester on Twelfth Night (January 5th) or thereabouts.

I normally make some kind of mulled wine over Christmas, however as we approach this festive break I am going to break from tradition and supplement my Belgian beers with some lambswool. Essentially a good half a gallon of real ale, combined with some apples, nutmeg, ginger and brown sugar should suffice. I will be the new boy in the street so will decline the dressing up as a morris dancer part though. Anyway, enough of this frivolity – what about the Kerst Pater Special? This is a much better beer than the other Pater Lieven brews (#18, #73) that I had tried thus far. It was punchy on the nose, and continued to work on my tastebuds. It had all the attributes you associate with a good Christmas beer – rustic fruit, spice, cloves, and cinnamon. This beer doesn’t get a lot of press but is certainly too good to waste pouring over your neighbours perennials.

 

Thanks to Bernt Rostad for the photograph

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Van den Bossche