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

#141 – Silly La Divine

 

#141 - Silly La Divine

 

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5 %

This beer has been going for quite a while, and is one of the flagship beers from the Silly brewery. It has survived a number of label changes, ending up with a rather small innocuous woodland chapel championing its marketing.

La Divine, most simply means sacred, or devoted to god, and it got me thinking about how apt the word devotion is when it comes to beer. Almost certainly the most peaceful and sacred place in my home is the cupboard which serves as my cellar, and which only in the past year has replaced my floordrobe. There aren’t many nights when I don’t stare inwards with my torch and mutter reverences at the dusty bottles. I decided to do some digging into the internets darker niches and feel I have every justification now for assigning my hoard a ‘shrine’ status, although bearing in mind that beer has been around for donkeys years, it shouldn’t really be surprising that many cultures around the world have a nominated God or deity dedicated to beer or brewing.

Dionysus is probably the most well known, the son of Zeus and Greek God of wine and beer. He was often known as the liberator due to the intoxicating power of the alcoholic drinks he would put away. In Ancient Sumeria, the Goddess of beer and brewing was Ninkasi, who was said to have provided the world with the secret to making beer. I wouldn’t argue with this one (#1), although the Egyptians might. They strongly believe that Osiris taught the world how to brew the potent beverage made with barley. The Norse people were never shy of a drink or two, and although Aegir is known primarily for being the God of the Sea, they also swear blind he is the chief God of beer also.

The Aztecs claim it was Tezcatzontecatl, the Zulus are adamant it was Mbaba Mwana Waresa, and in many African cultures, it is Yasigi who is revered. It is hard to argue with this when you consider her statue represents a large breasted female clinging to a beer ladle. The Czechs worship Radegast as the God of hospitality who created the first beer, and if you are ever in Latvia, you are lucky enough to have Raugupatis and Ragutiene – two lovers who look after the late night drinkers there.

Whatever you end up believing in, have a couple of Silly La Divines, and you probably wont care too much anymore. This is a truly delicious beer. Every now and then from the depths of nothing you find a gem that nobody else raves about but that really does it for you. The Silly La Divine makes drinking 1000 different beers all the more worthwhile. It was thick, strong and full of a sweetness that I have rarely found since Boskeun (#82). I have since bought many bottles of this, and although they have never been quite as sublime as that original taste, they have rarely let me down. Amen.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, Silly

#123 – St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

#123 - St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

We already know who St. Feuillien was (#29), and that beer was brewed in the Abbaye St-Feuillien du Roeulx in his honour. Production did stop here in 1796 though when the French Revolution did its worst, but the story and beers of St. Feuillien continue to live on, and that is largely due to Stephanie Friart who resurrected the St. Feuillien brewing tradition in 1873 in a new set of premises on the edge of Roeulx. The Brasserie Friart was born.

The brewery held on to this title for well over a century until in 2000 the fourth generation of Friarts decided to revert back to the monastic title of Brasserie St. Feuillien, to match the name of their popular signature beers. It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, with the brewery being shut for production between 1980 and 1988 when all brewing was undertaken on their behalf at Du Bocq. I can verify there is still a working relationship taking place between these two, as on a visit to the Du Bocq brewery recently the main beer in production was the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29).

The recent success of the brewery since re-opening has been clearly evident in sales, especially at a time when the powerhouses of beer production in Belgium are putting pressure on the independent brewers. Much of this success sits with the industry and application of the founders great-grand niece, Dominique Friart who in her role as Managing Director for the business has kept the home fires burning while travelling the world and marketing the beers. If ever there was an example of a successful family run business – this is it.

Anyway, I was thirsty, and on my third or fourth beer of the evening when chance led to the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel cooling nicely in the fridge. I had for some reason expected this to be a run of the mill addition to the evening, but I was completely mistaken. This was easily the best Christmas beer I had drunk yet. Dark, thick and warmly satisfying – the perfect addition to a winter’s night. It wasn’t perhaps as complex as a Trappistes Rochefort, yet was equally as nourishing. I will be seeking this out by the crate-load on my next Christmas jaunt to the continent.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, St. Feuillien

#82 – Boskeun

#82 - Boskeun

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

De Dolle Brouwers literally means ‘the mad brothers’, and if you have ever called in on the brewery premises and looked about you will probably understand why. There were originally three Herteleer brothers, Kris, Jo and Ward, who purchased the brewery premises in 1980 after they won a local beer brewing competition. Kris is the master brewer and can normally be spotted in a mad company jacket serving at the ramshackle bar. Ward is almost the silent partner, but has become more involved in recent years, and Jo is the brother for whom Boskeun is named. Boskeun literally translates as the Hare of the Wood, which is the image that can be seen on the label and all over my website for that matter. When the brothers were younger, Jo was injured in some kind of play fight, ending up with a scar above his lip. The other boys teased him about this ‘hare-lip’ (keun) and thus the name stuck.

Jo Herteleer was fairly active in the brewery, and tended to prefer brewing the blonder beers. Wanderlust eventually got the better of him however, and he found himself heading off to South America where again he continued to brew the odd beer. Boskeun would be the last beer however that he would brew in Belgium. Jo still lives and works in South America undertaking a variation of useful roles in governmental and non-governmental co-operations, and most recently working on a number of health projects in Quito, Ecuador.

The beer itself simply blew me away. It certainly wasn’t the most attractive 330 ml I would ever drink, with about an inch deep of rich meaty sediment – I almost had to repour it through a strainer but that would probably have ended up detracting from the experience. It was a pale brown colour, but rich in legs, and smelling remarkably like a warm caramel covered apple pie. This beer was a dessert in itself. As an Easter brew (the clue is the rabbit), it is brewed with Mauritian cane sugar, and Mexican honey in the mash, and you definitely knew it. It was extremely sweet, but also remarkably delicious. I have since tried to get hold of other bottles but with not much luck. As an Easter beer it is only really available the two months before Easter, and even then can be removed up to two weeks before. The brewery recommend calling them before to reserve it. Other distributors do stock it, but like I say nothing is guaranteed. If you see it BUY IT !

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers, Hare

#46 – St. Bernardus Abt 12

#46 - St. Bernardus Abt

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

St. Bernardus has a slightly different history to many others of the Trappist/Abbey ilk. For all intents and purposes you may pick up a bottle and consider this a Trappist beer, and if you open it and taste it you wouldn’t be far wrong – because it used to be.

The Refuge Notre-Dame de St. Bernard was established in Watou in the early 1900’s when the Catsberg Abbey Community from France fled anti-clerical policy into Belgium. They largely funded their existence through the production and sale of cheese. In 1934 they felt safer to move back across the border, and so sold the land and buildings to a gentleman named Everist Deconinck who expanded on, and improved the cheese making facilities.

Meanwhile, not far down the road, there sat the Trappist Monastery of St. Sixtus which shortly after World War II decided to stop the commericalisation of their beer and brew only for the monks. The head Abbot asked Mr Deconinck if he would continue to brew their Trappist beer,and Evarist was only too delighted, and thus until 1992 the St. Bernard facilities brewed and commercialised the St. Sixtus Trappist Ales under contract. Once this contract expired, the monks at St. Sixtus decided to end the relationship in order to preserve the true nature of the Trappist brand under the new definitions (#7).

The beers that had been made from the St. Sixtus yeast and recipes proved to be extremely popular, and the St. Bernard community did not want to give this up, and so changed their name, removed the Trappist identity and continued on under the name St. Bernardus. As far as we know though, it is still the same recipe, and of course the range of beers has increased beyond the usual capacity of a typical Trappist brewery. Meanwhile, St. Sixtus still brew their official Trappist beer, and you may know them better as the world-beating Westvleteren ales; ther Westvleteren 12 (#66) being often regarded as the best beer in the world !

So you can see how this beer has been confused over the years. I dare anyone to try it and say it doesn’t taste like one. It is immense. Dark and stoutlike in appearance with a frothy yeasty head typical of Trappist beers of this strength.  The aroma was possibly a little understated in comparison to the Trappistes Rochefort beers (#13, #31) yet the first taste equates to some of its more illustrious compatriots. Rolling the beer over the back of the throat evokes a multitude of spices; cloves, cinnamon and barbecue, and right to the end the flavour stays and when you finally put her down you feel like you have just been hit by a juggernaut. It’s not Trappist but who gives a shit. This was the perfect start to three weeks off work !

(Post-Script) – The St. Bernardus Tripel (#106) is also a stunner! Look out for the bright green bottle.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, St. Bernardus

#45 – Chimay Blue

#45 - Chimay Blue

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Chimay print the year of bottling on their ‘Blue’ labels. Many other beers do, but not prominently on the front of the bottle. One of the unique selling points of good Belgian beer is that it will age well if cellared, and Chimay Blue, or ‘Grand Reserve’ as it is known in the 75cl bottles, is probably the most renowned exponent. They put the year of bottling on the front, in the sense that it identifies the vintage.

We have already drunk a few beers that age well – notably the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) and Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), and they tend to be the heavier complex dark beers, which change, vary and usually improve when exposed to periods of time in the dark! This is known as cellaring. I don’t have a cellar, but I do have a large space on the floor in the bedroom (which my wife calls the Floordrobe) where my constant supply of beverages sit. There is however a darker place, deep in the real wardrobe, where I keep the darker, more appropriate beers, and there are one or two Chimay Blues among them ready for a tasting in a few years.

Cellaring works because the beer is bottle-conditioned. The yeast that is propagated at bottling will continue to work its magic if given the right environment, just as a plant will flourish if given the right feed, compost and climate. Two golden rules that many experts allude to is, a constant 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit if possible (normal room temperature), and little or no exposure to light. Any temperature higher than this can cause the lifespan of the beer to drastically shorten, and anything much lower will often induce a cloudiness which is referred to as ‘chill haze’. It is important to remember that the recommendation above is for beers of the Chimay Blue ilk – such as barley wines, triples and dark ales). Actual cellar temperature (normally 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit is normally recommended for standard ales – such as IPAs and Saisons, while even lower temperatures (ie 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit – refrigeration temperatures) are recommended for lighter beers such as wheat beers or pilseners/lagers.

I couldn’t get my hands on anything older than a 2008, and so my review is based on that. I guess it is important to note also that it is from the 330 ml bottle, as opposed to the ‘Grand Reserve’. It is often reported that the yeast weaves its magic better in the larger bottle. The beer, regardless of age is beautiful. It pours a dark brown that shimmers when held up to the light, with a yeasty froth of head. It smells mysterious, and the flavour is smoky, bordering on dry but with a distinctive flavour of malt. If this one is this good, I can’t wait for another one in 5 years !

(Post-Script) – I couldn’t wait five years and so on a heady night in the Kulminator bar in Antwerp I tried a vintage ‘Grand Reserve’. Believe the hype; it was remarkable !

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Chimay, Trappist Beer

#37 – Orval

#37 - Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Orval is the fourth of the six Trappist breweries we have come across thus far in Belgium, and it is almost certainly the most attractive, set in the grounds of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the deep south east of Belgium near the Luxembourg border.

There is definitely not enough space to document the rich history of the Abbey, however since around the 11th Century when the Benedictine monks of Calabria of Italy first settled, beer has been brewed here. Over time, other sets of monks have moved in, and fires and the French Revolution have put pay to the original buildings. The newest incarnation was constructed between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monk Marie-Albert van der Cruyssen, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey, four years after the first Orval beer was brewed.

None of these stories however are quite as interesting as the legend behind the name and beer label of the ‘Queen of Trappists’. Apparently, the recently widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was convalescing after the death of her husband and child in the area when tragically she lost her wedding ring in a spring that ran through the beautiful site. When she sat and prayed to the Virgin Mary for its return, a trout appeared from the depths of the spring, bearing the ring in its mouth. She immediately retook it and exclaimed that this place truly was ‘Val d’Or’ – the Valley of Gold, from which the name Orval is derived. Her immense gratitude was to fund the foundation of the original monastery, and the rest as they say is history, albeit a slightly fanciful one. Does nobody else agree this all sounds just a little bit fishy?

I have been drinking Orval as one of my favourite beers for quite some time, and it was a pleasure to officially record my thoughts on here. Served at the designated temperature as opposed to the chilled examples I have been enjoying over the last few months. At a warmer temperature the pour was still electric amber, carbonating and pffing with a yeasty head. The smell is stupefying and almost alive. The taste is sharp, and sour right to the end, with some orange citrus and a dryness that makes you beg for another. These beers are readily available in large Tesco supermarkets. Stock up, or head to Belgium !

(Post-Script) – the story of the Petit-Orval (#52) recollects a brief visit to the Abbey

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Fish, Orval, Trappist Beer

#31 – Trappistes Rochefort 8

#31 - Trappistes Rochefort 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.2 %

I have already outlined the history of the Trappistes Rochefort Abbey in my coverage of the Rochefort 10 (#13). Perhaps what I didn’t mention was that the success of the Trappistes Rochefort beers of today is mainly due to two of the other Trappist breweries of the modern age.

In 1887 with the monastery closed for nigh on 80 years, monks from the Trappist Abbey of Achel came to Rochefort and bought the ruined buildings. Over the next 10 years the Abbey was restored, and a new brewery founded which began to produce a reasonable range of beers over the next 40 years. The fact that they weren’t world beating beers caused a lull in sales in the late 1940’s after Chimay had signed a distribution agreement which authorised the national sale of their tasty beers, even in the town of Rochefort. The abbot of Rochefort complained bitterly to the fellow monks at Chimay who unable to undo the agreement, did agree to help to manufacture a much better beer for Rochefort, which was launched in 1953 as a stronger and more popular brew. Rochefort is probably now considered the pick of the trappist breweries and it is clearly thanks to Achel and Chimay for making this happen.

The Rochefort 8 – this time with the green cap – is for me the better of the Rochefort beers. I don’t think there is a great deal in it, but the 8 is just that bit more refined than the more complex 10. The beer is still dark, thick, malty and chocolatey, even with distant hits of coffee and Christmas fruit. It really is the perfect late night drink, or alternative to dessert after a heavy meal. It is fairly ironic, that Chimay helped to create this masterpiece and yet it is far superior to any of the Chimay beers I have tried over the years. As near to a 10 rating as I have come yet.

(Post-Script) – For a bit more detail on why the Trappistes beers are called 6, 8 and 10, check out the review of the Trappistes Rochefort 6 (#107).

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Rochefort, Trappist Beer

#28 – Bon Secours Brune

 

#28 - Bon Secours Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This website is beginning to feel like a trainspotters’ guide to monasteries. For that I must apologise, but I must admit my previous views of the behabited ones was that life can’t really have been much fun, but then on reflection – offer good beer and silence to any man, and it’s likely they will bite your arm off.

Bon Secours is another example of a brewery taking the name of a local monastic establishment and playing on its status to sell brews – although with one vital difference – this time its all about nuns !*

Peruwelz is both the home of Caulier the brewery, and a side-arm of the Bernadine Bon Secours monastery which was formed in 1904. This may seem rather late in the day given recent accounts, however the story of the nuns travel here shows how determined and passionate they were to find a home again. Typically during the French Revolution they found themselves leading a nomadic life – desperate to continue to live in the Cistercian tradition. Eventually, they made home at the monastery in the village of Esquermes near Lille, before dispersing further afield. There are actually orders of the nuns in England, Japan, and even the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso. Quite what association the nuns have with the beer is another question, but it serves once again as an excellent example of the selling power of the church when it comes to alcohol in Belgium.

I would surely hope that the Grolsch-style bottles were not around in the monastic days, as I would imagine there would be a few vows of silence ruined by a rogue bottle of brown beer exploding all over a monks freshly cleaned habit. This certainly happened to me, with once again, the sofa cover needing a thoroughly good dry clean. I am now banished to the kitchen to open my beers! In fact, the whole product was deeply malevolent – complex, herbal and extremely spicy, not unlike a beer equivalent of mulled wine. Possibly a little similar to the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), although essentially thinner. Totally enjoyed this beer, once I had learnt to get it in my mouth, and would definitely be perfect for a Christmas tipple.

* (Post-Script) – The nunnery is now sadly closed.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Caulier

#15 – Piraat 9

#15 - Piraat 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Feast your eyes on any shelf in a decent Belgian Beer store, and you will find a number of beers dedicated to life at sea. Van Steenberge brew Piraat which of course is Flemish for ‘Pirate’ – essentially defined as ‘one who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a sovereign nation’.

The age-old legend of piracy is one which conjures up images of drunk salty sea-dogs, cutlasses, eye-patches and of course the infamous Jolly Roger flag and is therefore a popular image for marketing beer. Pirates have been around since approximately the 13th Century, and still operate today, famously off the African waters of Somalia.

Beer is long associated with the sea, in particular strong beers like the Piraat 9, which kept well on long voyages. Historically, beer was always known to boost energy and certainly strengthen the morale of sailors stuck on boats for long periods of time – often noted to be at least a gallon a day !

This is actually a fine fine beer. It has a less than exciting aroma and the head is semi-frothy, but the warmth that resonates after every taste leaves you wanting more and more. Its fruity, deep and it stays with you like no other blonde has yet on this pilgrimage. A gallon of this however  would probably not strengthen my morale the next morning !

(Post-Script) – as an example of other sea-faring beers from Belgium please try the du Boucanier Red Ale (#27) or perhaps the Biere du Corsaire (#80).

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#13 – Trappistes Rochefort 10

#13 - Trappistes Rochefort 10

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.3 %

The story of the Trappistes Rochefort Beers starts on very much the same vein as that of the Grimbergen beers (#8, #9). Abbey makes beer – Abbey gets destroyed by plunderers – Abbey reforms several times – Abbey begins to make beer again. All this over a period of 400 years.

The Abbey in question is that of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Remy, near the town of Rochefort, and has been indulging in the making of beer since about 1595. This is the second of the six Belgian Trappist breweries we have come across, and of course follows all the traditions – probably even more strictly than any of the others. The brewery is not open to the public *, and the recipes which are extremely well respected by all connoisseurs are very much shrouded in mystery. The Cistercian Monks of Strict Observance lead an austere lifestyle, and are firm adherents of their motto ‘Curvato Resurgo’ – ‘Curved,  I straighten up’.

It is thought that about 15 monks still live within the walls of the Abbey, and since 1952 have invested heavily in equipment and facilities to produce a set of three quality beers, although they still remarkably draw their water from a well within the monastery walls.

The strongest is the Trappistes Rochefort 10 – the one with the blue cap – which weighs in at a hefty 11.3 ABV. Definitely one to sup on a cold winters night and pull the blanket up with. It is thick, rich and full of bite. Easily the best beer I have tried as yet on my own strict observance, although it would later be surpassed by its younger brother, the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31).

* (Post-Script) – although much later in my journey I did manage to sneak into the grounds and take a peek while construction work was being carried out

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Rochefort, Trappist Beer