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

#225 – Santa Bee

#225 - Santa Bee

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Kris Boelens family run brewery from Belsele essentially started brewing in 1993 at a time when the mini revival of Belgian beer was in full swing. Towns and villages were tired of standing by and watching the conglomerates like Heineken and InBev pick off their historic family run businesses. The Boelens story though wasn’t a particularly new one – Kris Boelens can trace his brewing family tree right back to his great grandfather!

The Boelens brewery actually began its life in Lokeren in the 19th Century, a dozen miles away from the town of Belsele, where the family opened another brewery called De Meester. The owner would eventually pass away leaving his wife with a business she was ill-equipped to run. As she was also the sister of the brewer of the Boelens brewery she sought help from the family. It would be Henri Boelens, (her nephew, and Kris Boelens grandfather) who had trained as a brewer who joined his aunt in Belsele to take the business venture on. Henri eventually decided to rename the Belsele brewery Boelens; and it was in this very building that the current Boelens brewery is still based.

At that time the brewery was providing for seventeen pubs and inns in the town, which considering it only had a population of just under two thousand was pretty impressive, however fortune was to turn sour for the family run business in the shape of the German invasion during World War I. The systematic removal of all copper from Belgian breweries meant that the Boelens family had to choose another means of survival. They gained agreement from the German army to change the nature of their business into the distribution of existing beer, and thus brewing stopped, and wouldn’t start again until 1993 where we begun our little tale.

The Santa Bee, or the Kerstbier as it is more often known is unsurprisingly the Boelens Christmas offering. It is a dark tasty brew, very much in the typical Christmas beer genre. It poured a heavy chocolate brown with a thick rich head and reminded me somewhat of the Sainte-Monon Brune (#55). I’m definitely growing to like this little brewery who have yet to disappoint me on my journey.  There’s also plenty more in the cellar to come.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Boelens

#223 – Guldenberg

#223 - Guldenberg

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Guldenberg was the very first commercial beer brewed at De Ranke. It was so named because of the ancient Guldenberg Abbey which once stood in the town of Wevelgem, and brewed the local beer. It was in this town that Nino Bacelle, the founder of De Ranke was born.

It all started in 1994 when our man Nino started brewing under his own name. His family had been in the industry since the 1930s, and Nino himself started to tinker with recipes and homebrews from about 1981. He studied brewing (now why didn’t I get that career advice at school?) in Ghent during the mid-Eighties and continued to practice his art. Eventually in the early 90s he had begun to really perfect his passion and friends and family were urging him to launch to the public. He decided to go for it and took the less risky route of using another brewery’s equipment. This meant less initial investment, and so a relationship was formed with Deca Services in Woesten.

In that first year Nino managed to produce nine thousand litres of Guldenberg, which was received to much acclaim. Demand continued to increase and Nino began to once again survey his options. It was then in the mid-Nineties that Nino decided to join forces with a friend and fellow beer lover Guido de Vos, who was a founder member of the HOP beer tasting association, and who had also been tinkering with homebrew for much of his life. The Nino Bacelle brewery suddenly became a 50/50 venture and with that in mind they chose to rename the brewery. De Ranke was officially formed in 1996 and has rarely looked back since. They continued to brew at Deca until 2005 but I will save that story for another brew.

So what about the Guldenberg beer? Well, I would say it certainly lives up to the hype. It’s a strong crisp blonde ale weighing in at 8.5% and is particularly hoppy. This is derived from the use of high quality Hallertau hops, and of course a good measure of dry-hopping. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s in the same league as the XX Bitter (#131) on that front but it certainly matches it in overall presence, with the extra ABV perhaps giving it a leading edge. It’s a particularly delicious beer and one that essentially launched one of Belgium’s most impressive breweries.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, De Ranke

#222 – Slaapmutske Bruin

#222 - Slaapmutske Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

When I started this Odyssey I wasn’t entirely sure what it would bring. To be honest I wasn’t sure that writing about beer was really that interesting but I had fallen in love with the beer. I’m not turned on by beer rating websites – they don’t do it for me. I started to plot my journey on ratebeer but I soon got fed up of that. I’m not sure the swigging and swilling, and the sniffing and swishing were what I wanted to be a part of. What I have found though is that I really love the stories that every beer seems to be screaming to tell. I’d almost go as far as to say that in some cases the stories are just as good as that first taste of a new beer, and the Slaapmutske Bruin is the perfectest example.

The protagonists of this wonderful tale are Dany de Smet, the one-time brewmaster at Huyghe, and Marleen Vercaigne, his partner and beer lover extraordinaire. They shared a passion, and that passion led them to creating their own homebrews with the dream of one day setting up their own brewery. This unadulterated passion would eventually lead to marriage, and inevitably a baby boy called Jonas was born to both in 1999. As is surprisingly common amongst brewers, the happy couple celebrated the birth by making a new batch of homebrew which they christened Jonasbier. As a new dad I can testify to the fact that newborn babies have a natural tendency to cry just as you are trying to sleep off the sneaky few Tripels you had left in the cellar, and Jonas was no exception. In fact it got so bad during one particular night that Dany and Marleen decided as a last resort to try dipping his pacifier in the latest incarnation of their Jonasbier.

It’s certainly not in the baby raising textbooks, but the result was that Jonas immediately stopped fussing and almost slept for the whole night, which allowed Dany and Marleen to return to the sitting room to continue working out a name for this latest brew. Marleen had commented that “This beer is a real Slaapmutske”, which in East Flanders literally means ‘sleeping hat’, or what we in the UK might call ‘a cheeky little nightcap’. Suddenly the beer had a name, and as it was the middle of winter, this latest incarnation of the Jonasbier became the Slaapmutske Winterbier (later to be also known as the Slaapmutske Bruin). So impressive was this latest batch, that later the following the year the beer was released to the Belgian market. The couple were now living their dream.

It’s no surprise that the Slaapmutske Bruin was the catalyst for their mainstream movement into brewing. For a 6% beer it is remarkably tasty, mainly due to the blending of colour malts, aromatic hops and coriander. It is sweet, rich and spicy, yet velvety smooth on the tongue. Rarely have I been so impressed with a beer of this strength. I have often recommended friends and colleagues to pick some of these beers up in Belgium, and rarely has anyone been disappointed. I only wish this particular nightcap was just that little bit stronger.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Proef

#218 – La Prime de la Fin d’Annee

#218 - La Prime de la Fin d'Annee

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

This was my first beer from the St. Helene brewery. Interestingly I had driven through the town of Virton on a recent jaunt to Luxembourg and the location of this brewery had randomly popped up on the Sat Nav (Not strictly true as I had painstakingly entered all the locations of the breweries into it before I left – what else would a true beer professional do?). I was surprised to find a small suburban semi-detached house in a quiet residential road. I peered in the front door and called out a few times but nobody heard me. I got back in the car and we drove onwards – the shortest brewery tour ever, and one of the most unremarkable.

It turns out that the current location in Virton was actually something of an upgrade from the previous location. Eddy Pourtois started the ball rolling in 1993 following a succession of experimental home brews which friends and family had loved and encouraged him to continue. By 1995 the first amber beer was produced and the St Helene brewery was kind of officially formed. It took its name from the then home address of 21 Rue St. Helene, Orsinfaing. Despite the 2003 move to Virton, the brewery has kept the same name, and until only recently, virtually the same range of beers.

Eddy Pourtois slowly began to take himself seriously and was making more and more beers. He took courses in biology and chemistry and by 1998 had officially accepted his position as a reputable local brewer. The marketing began in earnest in 1999 and despite the modest facilities he managed to knock out three hectoliters of beer by the end of the year. A further sixty followed in 2000. Eddy Pourtois had found himself and began the search to find larger premises to continue his adventure which would eventually lead him to Virton – where we had almost met.

I’d managed to pick up a 750ml bottle of the La Prime de la Fin d’Annee at the Bruges Beer Festival later in the year based solely on the nostalgia of my little detour. It was an apt name for a beer that is essentially brewed for festivals at the end of the year, and is only produced from October with September reserves. The title of the beer is a reference to a term used in France to denote the end of year reward in businesses. Often a 13th month salary is paid to workers as a bonus for their hard work over the year. This beer is the St Helene bonus to its punters. I was only happy to oblige.

I decided to share the bottle with my sister who isn’t one to shy away from a decent beer and we were both suitably impressed. It poured a muddy milky chocolate in both colour and texture and sported a most mysterious nose. The taste was ruggedly unique and rustic, with the subtlest sweetness of chocolate throughout. This was backed up by the bottle which confirmed it was brewed with colour, caramel and chocolate malts. My only regret was that I had shared my annual beery bonus.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, St Helene

#207 – Silly Enghien Noel Tripel Blonde

#207 - Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Silly brewery acquired the Enghien range of beers in 1975, when they took over the Tennstedt Decroes family brewery in the town of Enghien. The staple beer at the time was the Speciale Double Enghien, which is now more commonly known as the Double Enghien Brune. Over the years the Silly Enghien Blonde, and the Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde have been added to their range.

The Brasserie du Pot d’Etain as it was known was founded way back in 1880 and only just fell short of its centenary celebrations, when the Van der Haegen-Mynsbrughen family did the business deal with the local Tennstedt-Decroes family. This ensured the continuation of the Enghien beers with an already well established brewery in the locality. It seems a shame though not to dwell on some of these now defunct breweries, and so I would like to concentrate for the rest of this review on the original name of the brewery.

Pot d’Etain is actually a common title in France or Belgium and is often used in the names of breweries, hotels or bars. It actually translates into English as The Pewter Pot – a type of lidded drinking vessel often used in bygone days. Pewter is a metal alloy, mostly made of tin but mixed with other metals such as copper, bismuth, antimony and lead. Before the widespread manufacture of glass, most items of tableware throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries were made of pewter. Although not widely used anymore there is almost a deferential nostalgia for beer steins made of pewter and it is widely held by scientists that the pewter ensures the consistent temperature of the beer, protecting it from the warm hands of human beings. As a boy I remember my dad having a pewter beer pot sitting in the sideboard in the lounge gathering dust for a special occasion. I must ask him what he did with it.

I’m not sure how the Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde might have tasted in a Pot d’Etain, but at least in the glass I had chosen I could apply the routine inspection of the full beer before tasting, which was a medium bodied darker blonde. It had a real essence of farmyard to the aroma, and I was surprised how hoppy it was on the tongue. It certainly started out not unlike the XX Bitter (#131), or the Buffalo Belgian Bitter (#196) although at 9% ABV I expected it to retain its flavour a bit more which did fade a little as I supped. It didn’t particularly strike me as a typical Christmas beer, but I guess it was an excuse for Silly to raise the stakes on the 7.5% Silly Enghien Double Blond, which I would argue is a success. There aren’t that many strong bitter triple blondes out there worth a try, but I would recommend a solitary bottle of this for the cellar. Why not even go one better and try it in a pot d’etain?

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Christmas Beer, Silly

#202 – La Trappe Blond

#202 - La Trappe Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

When I tried the La Trappe Dubbel (#159) I introduced the history of the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven across the border in the Netherlands. I promised then that I would continue the story, and so the La Trappe Blond gives me that opportunity.

We left the story just where the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart in 1884 decided that the Abbey needed a brewery, and effectively its been there ever since. Many breweries suffered at the hands of the copper-hungry Germans in World War I, however the Netherlands remained neutral at this time and so the Abbey of Koningshoeven remained untouched. In fact in the 1920s the production at the brewery began to increase, and the brewery was modernised considerably in order that it could cope with the demand.

The brewery continued to brew lighter blonde beers, including a first prototype of the La Trappe Blond, and it continued to flourish until World War II when resources were scarce. The 1950s and 1960s saw further developments including a lemonade factory and laboratory being built, and more recipes were established including dark beers, Pilseners, Dortmunders and Bocks. A number of collaborations were made with other brewers to enable the monks to find time to pray, however by 1980 the monks regained full control and established the La Trappe brand, which has remained true to this day.

In 1987 a brand new brewery was reconstructed on the premises moving the production firmly into the 21st Century, and more La Trappe beers were to follow until another partnership was formed with the Bavaria brewery in Lieshout. A new bottling plant followed shortly after, and the Koningshoeven story ambles to a unremarkable conclusion – the brewery now living well off it’s claim as the 7th Trappist brewery, and attracting Belgian beer hunters the short distance across the border.

The La Trappe Blond recipe has altered a fair bit since the 1920s, and is now a solid golden blonde which was the perfect accompaniment to a spicy tandoori chicken curry. This was a really thick fruity brew which for its relatively low strength by Belgian standards was very impressive. It faded a little in the final death throes, which may have something to do with being completely stuffed with curry, but I’d definitely seek this beer out again; even though it isn’t strictly Belgian*

* I have argued my case for inclusion somewhere before – I think it was #101

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Koningshoeven

#200 – Achel Bruin 8

#200 - Achel Bruin 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It has taken me 200 beers to finally try a beer from all seven official Trappist breweries. The final piece in this monastic jigsaw turned out to be also the smallest of the lot – the Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse.

Achel, as it is more commonly know, is a small municipality hidden away in the north east of the country in the sparsely populated province of Limburg. As the official title of the monastery suggests, the brewery is situated in the Abbey of St-Benedict. The first beer, Patersvaatje was brewed on this site as far back as 1852 when the building was a priory, although it wasn’t until 1871 that the site became an Abbey with brewing capabilities.

Life at the brewery remained virtually unaltered for years until the German invasion of World War I. As was standard practice for those Abbeys affected, the monks were evicted and the Germans dismantled the entire brewery in order to recycle over 700kg of raw copper for their eventually unfruitful war effort. Life changed dramatically after the war when the monks who returned to the Abbey were forced to find other ways to gain a subsistence. Agriculture and farming were the obvious choices but these took their toll on the more elderly monks. Eventually, with a large injection of cash, and with help from the monks at the Trappist Abbeys of Westmalle and Rochefort, work was completed on the sixth and final Trappist brewery in Belgium.

The beers were not instantly made available for distribution, and existed only at the adjoining tavern, however word of mouth soon spread on the quality of the brews at the local Auberge, and the crowds began to flock on what was a popular hiking and cycling route. The monks soon cashed in on the popularity of the beers, and their smooth path to existence has remained ever since.

The first beer I managed to get my grubby paws on was the relatively common Achel Bruin 8 which weighed in unsurprisingly at a robust 8%. It was a bubbly dark brown pour; perhaps a little thinner than some equivalent Trappist beers I had tried. On the nose it was malty, dark and full of rich Christmas promise, and on the tongue it tasted like rich pulpy fruit mixed into burnt toffee with a tartness which didn’t quite seem to fit the bill. In the end it was a pretty delicious beer to bring up a significant milestone on my Odyssey, although I couldn’t quite help feeling that this Achel was still someway behind the comparable beers of Chimay (#45), Rochefort (#31) and Westvleteren (#198).

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Filed under 8, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer