Category Archives: 9

This beer warrants a 9/10. This is a class act. We are talking here of some seriously good shit !

#229 – Tripel Karmeliet

#229 - Tripel Karmeliet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.4 %

I am surprised as anyone that it has taken this long to try this beer. After the Dulle Teve (#228) and some wonderful aged Chimay Blue (#45) from the depths of the Kulminator cellar it was time to try this highly rated Tripel.

In many ways the Tripel Karmeliet is a new beer; launched by the quirky Bosteels brewery in 1996, however the original recipe is said to hail from the former Carmelite monastery in Dendermonde. It was there in 1679 that friars made a beer brewed not only with barley, but also wheat and oats – proof that multi-grain isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. It is now heavily spiced and flavoured with Styrian hops which may have been beyond the friars, as was the bottle refermentation, but the idea was the same.

The Karmeliet, or Carmelites, were an influential bunch in Europe in the late 17th Century when this beer was first conceptualised. The Order is said to have originated on Mount Carmel near Haifa in Israel. The mountain has significant Biblical relevance in its connections to the prophet Elijah, and has long been a refuge for hermits laying down their lives to God – long before a 12th Century chapel was built in honour of Mary by the hermetical Brothers of St Mary of Mount Carmel. It was here that the typical characteristics of the Carmelite Order were formed; notably the importance of poverty and manual labour, and latterly the devotion to silent prayer.

Around 1235 the Carmelites were forced to flee Israel under threat of the Saracen invaders and Europe was the obvious destination for many. Over the next two hundred years the Carmelite Orders grew in importance and power, and monasteries blossomed in this new spiritual and intellectual age. Relying on their own labour and alms it was a natural inclination to begin to brew beer for the local population and save them from the evils of disease-ridden water. Of course the Carmelites would have met their match during the French Revolution and they have been virtually wiped off the map apart from small areas of the Netherlands and Belgium.

In the Tripel Karmeliet however the Ordo Carmelitarum lives on, and lives on in style. This is a robustly delicious brew which is instantly recognisable on first looks, and then taste. Its appearance, most notably served in the ostentatious and slightly tacky fleur-de-lys glass, is a light blond carbonated brew, which once put to the nose offers up a miasma of citrus and spice. The mix of wheat and oats into the grist gives the beer a uniquely dry, crisp and refreshing flavour which is bitter and sweet, and yet fruity and hoppy at the same time. It tantalises your tastebuds and defies you to order another. Dont be fooled though – At 8.4% this particular beer needs respect. The Order of Carmelites are well known for their fantastical visions, and I had one or two myself the next morning.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Tripel, Bosteels

#215 – Satan Red

#215 - Satan Red

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The de Block brewery in Peizegem is probably most noted for its two Satan beers. Certainly the bulk of the marketing around the brewery centres around the little red devil on the label, although it isn’t always positive as the below will attest.

Belgian beers sell very well across the world, and probably none more so than in the United States of America. The most logical place would be the Eastern and Western seaboards where craft breweries are growing in number every week. Distributors may though wish to exercise a little more caution in the Deep South following the extreme reactions from the local population which followed the launch of Satan beers there in 2008. The people of the Deep South tend to have something of a reputation for being somewhat ‘god-fearing’ and puritanical. I don’t particularly have an opinion on the matter but I certainly found the associated stories amusing and worth sharing on here. *

It all started with a distributor who unimaginatively called themselves Cask Distributers. They picked up on the lifting of the high-gravity beer ban in Charleston by adding a number of Belgian beers to their range. One of the companies main outlets was the chain of Piggly Wiggly stores until customer complaints saw the store manager ban the beer. Bill Trull, the General Manager commented “We’re in the Deep South. We have to be careful of what we put in front of families”. The shop also no longer stocks the ‘Best Damn Chili ever’ or Fat Bastard, Old Fart and Bitch wines. Another store in the area was making remarkable sales on Satan and a beer called Arrogant Bastard, but again following complaints these were hidden in the back of the shop and then made available on ‘special order’ only.

It isn’t just a localised issue though. In Houston, a church group staged a sit-down protest at a local grocery store and refused to leave until Satan was removed from the store. Further trouble flared when an underage and undercover person was sent by the state’s alcohol authority to purchase beer, and the little blighter selected Satan. An investigation followed, and the Noble Union Trading company who imported the beer was banned from Texas. They were particularly unimpressed and suggested that in the Deep South there seems to be a “Bible thumping crusader behind every tree”. The clamour of the launch of Satan caused such a stir that even the brewery de Block were forced to make a statement. They pointed out that the name emanated from the old brewing traditions of slaving over a hot fire rather than it being about any religious statement. They were also keen to point out the popularity of beers such as Duvel (#34), Lucifer (#169) and Duivels Bier (#179), and that even the Belgian national football team are called the Red Devils.

Despite the ban, sales have continued to be strong. In the case of Satan Red, this isn’t just a result of gimmicky labels – it’s a fantastic beer. It was even more satisfying as I really wasn’t expecting it, especially as the beer appeared a little thin on pouring. The aroma was keen and fruity though and the beer certainly packed a trifle-like punch. A wonderful mix of hoppiness, strong alcohol all served up with an unforgettably delicious tangy flavour. The newspaper originally covering this story had come up with a number of headlines for beer shops to accompany the beer. The one which most sums up the experience must be “It’s so good, it’ll have you speaking in forked tongues”.

* I will find out for myself next Easter as myself and a few pals are undertaking a baseball road trip from Chicago to Jacksonville.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Block

#208 – Oerbier

#208 - Oerbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Oerbier is the flagship beer of the de Dolle Brouwers, and was the first beer to be launched by the Mad Brothers. The name of the beer roughly translates as ‘primitive beer’, ‘original beer’, or ‘beer from the source’ – a title which reflects the evolutionary nature of both the beer and the brewery.

The de Dolle Brouwers story first began in 1980 following brothers Kris and Jo Herteleer’s attempts to make home brew from English supermarket kits. They were still at college at the time and making a shed load of experimental beers. Eventually they decided to enter a competition in Brussels, and they picked one of their 35 creations. Amazingly this Oerbier won, and the cash first prize was all the incentive they needed to begin their new business.

The success of the Oerbier was really down to a change of approach from the Mad Brothers. The initial efforts at brewing hadn’t really yielded anything worthwhile, so they opted to use the finest natural ingredients – spring water, fresh hops and yeast, only malt, and strictly no colouring, preservatives or filtering! This philosophy has continued to guide de Dolle Brouwers to cult success now across the world where their beers are revered. The Oerbier continues to be the flagship beer, and the small yellow man on the label continues to represent the brand. The cartoon figure is a sprouting yeast cell, who carries a mashing fork in one hand and the perfect glass of Oerbier in the other. The year Anno 1980 represents the date the brewery began, and the words Nat en Straf literally translate as ‘Wet and Strong’, which is a pretty decent analogy of the Oerbier, although it has been even stronger at times.

The real beauty of the Oerbier, which may frustrate those who seek consistency, is that each annual effort is brewed differently. I found this out later in my journey when I tried an older version at the Kulminator bar in Antwerp. When the beer was first made it used Rodenbach yeasts which left the beer at around 7%. Eventually in around 1988 once Palm had taken over Rodenbach, the de Dolle Brouwers started to evolve their own mad strains from the original yeast and the ABV rocketed. In around 2000 the beer was over 10%. Nat en Straf indeed!

The 9% version of the Oerbier I tried was simply immense. It poured a beautiful conker brown with an attractive mop of white head glistening like an oasis on the top. There was an adequate dosing of sediment which added to the experience, and the aromas were far too abundant to even begin trying to decipher. The first taste was divine, a sweet and complex meaty brew that scintillated every taste bud. Again, there were so many flavours that I couldn’t begin to tell the story. It’s not often I drool over beers, but this and the Boskeun (#82) are easily amongst my top five brews – so much so that on my last trip to Belgium I called in to the brewery to stock up on supplies and get my own flagship glass.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers

#184 – ‘T Smisje Dubbel

#184 - 'T Smisje Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

I continued my adventure in the Rake with another beer from ‘T Smisje. The Tripel (#183) had been so good that I opted for the darker double, and am therefore quickly able to continue the story of Johan Brandt following his move of premises to Mater in Oudenaarde.

Between 1995 and 2008 as De Regenboog, the brewery was famous for an extensive range of experimental beers in the traditional style, pulling on interesting and distinctive ingredients, fruits, herbs and spices. Brandt had tried beers made with mustard seeds (Wostyntje), valerian root and lemon balm (BBBourgondier), honey and raisins (Guido), and sloes (Sleedornbier). Brandt had also worked his magic on maturing an ale for six months in Calvados barrels (Calva Reserva), very much in the style of similar beers from de Struise, Alvinne and de Dolle breweries.

In 2010 however it was with regret that I heard that Brandt had decided to take a break from the wide range of beers, and to concentrate his efforts on one or two house beers. Only a new blond hoppy ale called Smiske survives, with a seasonal variant at Christmas to be produced. He hasn’t closed the door entirely though, and has given beer lovers the chance to still get their hands on one historic recipe per year if ten thousand people on Facebook will sign a petition for it. This has recently worked for the Duvel Tripel Hop, although I would hope in keeping with his fine traditions, Brandt doesn’t rip off his customers at 15 Euros a pop, as Moortgat did.

So it is with regret that this ‘T Smisje Dubbel was possibly the last one I would ever taste. In true Brandt fashion, this was no ordinary dubbel, having been made since 1997 with fresh dates and honey. At 9% strength it is also clearly no run of the mill double, abounding with plenty of guts and a sweetness that simply blows you away. I still probably reckon this is about the best beer I have ever had the pleasure of trying in a bar. My only regret was that I had taken the only one left in the overstocked refrigerators of The Rake. I will continue to look for it on my journeys into Belgium in the older and more eclectic beer stores, or else I may just have to hope a petition of like-minded souls can coerce Mr Brandt to somehow recreate this masterpiece.

 

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Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#167 – La Montagnarde

#167 - La Montagnarde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

You might expect a beer that is named after a mountaineer to be based somewhere alpine, but as we have already elicited from the Abbaye des Rocs Brune (#67), the area around the village of Montignies-sur-Rocs forms part of the High Lands National Park. It isn’t mountainous but you could argue it is a little bit hilly. It is for this reason that inhabitants of the village are called Montagnards. This beer is therefore somewhat of a tribute to the people from Montignies-sur-Rocs.

It is very much a village famous for its beer, thus the female brewer Natalie Eloir is something of a local heroine, although there have been other famous female Montagnards. One of these was the French Countess Jeanne de Belleville who laid her hat here at the end of the 19th Century – it is after all a pretty impressive and beautiful place for a Countess to settle. She lasted here until the Great War in 1914 where she did her bit as a nurse at the British military hospital of Audregnies. The nearby Battle of Mons which the allies were to lose however was to be a turning point for the Countess who had assisted getting stranded British soldiers to safety. She was subsequently arrested by the Germans in 1915 accused of “treason in time of war”.

Belleville was part of the underground network set up by Edith Cavell which worked against the Germans, and she was subsequently sentenced to death later that year. Cavell however was unfortunate enough to have been executed first, and such was the outcry from nations such as England, Spain and the USA, that the Germans agreed to commute the Countess and her compatriot’s sentences to life imprisonment. She would see out the rest of the war in the concentration camp at Sieberg until liberation came in 1918. It was Edith Cavell who would end up the martyr, but one should never forget the actions of this Montagnard.

The beer itself is an absolute delight, and almost certainly one of the best beers I have had to date. It was a delicious blend of strength, sweetness, viscosity and spice which tantalised the taste buds. It is a remarkable feat to engineer a beer that is at once sharp and bitter, and yet leaves you overwhelmingly with the addictive flavours of caramel and toffee. This was as close a beer as I had found to Boskeun (#82) which is still the pinnacle for me thus far on this journey, yet with the La Montagnarde, the Eloirs may have created a more stable and consistent contender. I get the impression the Boskeun might have an off day once in a while, but this little treat will always taste as good. A perfect tribute to a real local hero.

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Filed under 9, Abbaye des Rocs, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale

#151 – Straffe Hendrik

#151 - Straffe Hendrik

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Straffe Hendrik hasn’t always had things it’s own way. Life certainly hasn’t always been kind, and the fact that the beer is still alive and tastes so damn good is one of the great miracles of Belgian beer.

The original Straffe Hendrik beer was only launched in 1981, by the Brouwerij de Halve Maan. It weighed in at about 7.5% – 8%, and was only available in small kegs. It was named after the original brewer of the Die Maene (The Moon) brewery, as it was back then. His name was Leon Maes, but was affectionately known as Henri I. The beer was particularly potent, and thus it became known in Flemish as Heavy Henry (Straffe Hendrik). The beer is thus greatly symbolic of the brewery, as a succession of head brewers were all sequentially named Henri.

The symbolism of the beer was such, that in 1988, the Riva brewery took over the brand name. It continued to be brewed in Bruges though, until 2002 when the whole package moved to Riva in Dentergem. This was where things seriously began to go amiss for Hendrik. The quality of the beer began to mysteriously subside, and the ABV soon dropped as low as 6%. Hendrik was losing his weight fast, and like an aging prize fighter, he was hanging on to the ropes to retain what reputation he had left. The poor quality though soon had a devastating effect on the Liefmans Breweries (of which Riva was one), who went backrupt in 2007. Duvel Moortgat took them over, and immediately closed the plant. Heavy Henry was dead on his feet waiting for the count.

It was never to come though. In 2008, the nostalgic hands at De Halve Maan made an agreement with Duvel Moortgat to buy back the brand of Straffe Hendrik, and within months, Henry was back, this time as an utterly delicious 9% Tripel. I had spent the morning with the folks wandering the sights of the old town of Bruges, and while everyone else was happy to stop for a croque monsieur and a coffee, I was gagging for a beer. I had recently read about the revival of Henry, and where better to try it out than its’ spiritual home. It was absolutely perfect – creamy, sweet, bitter and potent and the perfect accompaniment to some local cuisine. An hour later, like a dazed boxer, I stumbled back into the afternoon sun, knowing full well I would be back for plenty more Henry this weekend.

(Post-Script) – In late 2010, Henry was re-united with his old brother. For a time while at Riva, a dark Straffe Hendrik beer was introduced, although of course it really wasn’t working for them at the time. The Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel is a dark complex beer weighing at 11% and is definitely on my hit-list for my next trip to Bruges.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Tripel, de Halve Maan

#149 – Westmalle Tripel

#149 - Westmalle Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5 %

Just as Westmalle symbolises the ultimate Dubbel (#16), then look no further than Westmalle for the archetypal Tripel. I often get asked by new recruits who I drag to London’s best pubs for a Belgian brainwash, what is a Tripel? This is best answered I think with an elegant glass of this in your hand.

The term Tripel is mainly used in Belgium and the Netherlands, and now commonly in the USA, to describe a strong pale ale, exemplified in the style of the Westmalle Tripel. The origin of the term is still argued about today, but it almost certainly was a measure of the brews’ strength in the early days. Casks used to be marked with a series of notches or crosses, usually X for the weakest, XX for a beer of medium strength or XXX for the strongest. This makes perfect sense, as does the theory that it was in reference to the original gravity of a beer, which tends to correspond with the 3%, 6% and 9% ABV of beers. You tend to find most Tripels are strong, around the 9% mark, although of course this is no definitive yardstick.

Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star) argued that the first real Tripel was born in the early 1930s in the Drie Linden (Three Lindens) brewery. The head brouwmeister Hendrik Verlinden had been looking to compete with the strong pale lagers and pilseners coming out of Czechoslovakia, and teamed up with the Trappists at Westmalle to share ideas. Westmalle released the strong blonde ale Superbier, which they labelled a Tripel, and Verlinden followed with the Witkap Pater. This would later become the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) brewed at Slagmuylder, and the Superbier was turned into the Westmalle Tripel in 1956 with the addition of plenty more hops. It has remained essentially unchanged ever since, and to this day is the paragon of virtue for all Tripels.

I had a number of these in my cellar at home, but chance had not thrown one my way as yet, and thus on my first night in Bruges on a boozy weekend, I couldn’t resist one or two of these over a sumptuous meal. Many modern day beer geeks suggest the Westmalle Tripel isn’t quite the beer it once was, but for me it’s a great beer. It always pours rich and golden, with a thick lemony head, and hits you with attitude on the first bite. By the time you have finished at least two of these off, you are definitely ready to go plonk yourself in the corner of a bar and drink yourself into oblivion.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Trappist Beer, Westmalle