Tag Archives: Abbey Beer

#61 – La Guillotine

#61 - La Guillotine

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

La Guillotine by Huyghe is a beer that was first brewed in 1989 as a celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Anyone who does a search on the French Revolution on this website or who has read all the reviews so far will know how influential the Revolution was on the entire history of monastic life in Belgium. The Abbeys and abbey life almost ceased to be, henceforth so did almost all the associated breweries.

The symbol of the Guillotine on the label is one that symbolises the immense loss of life suffered during the ‘Reign of Terror’. The names of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, and Maximilien Robespierre are all well known and were notable beheadees of the Revolution, but another estimated 40,000 people were executed in this manner, almost certainly without trial, and in many instances, without reason.

It would be impossible to sum up in such a small opportunity the entire history of the Revolution, but it would be worth taking the time to explain quite why this event had such a profound effect on the clergy in Belgium. Essentially at this time, there was increasing poverty across this area of Europe, and while the monarchy lived the life of riley, and the clergy held important powers while being exempt from taxes, a bubbling resentment began to boil up throughout the 18th Century. The riots which led to the eventual storming of the Bastille were a build up of years of hostility to the ever growing gulf in fortunes. Once this iconic moment in the Revolution had happened, it seemed to foster anarchy across the whole nation who soon gained the confidence to attack chateaux and monasteries as evidence of their displeasure. This became manifest in November 1789 when the National Assembly declared that the property of the Church was “at the disposal of the nation.”, and legislation abolished monastic vows. The nail in the coffin came in February 1790 when all religious orders were officially dissolved, and monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life. What religious buildings didn’t close were usually destroyed and under the Reign of Terror many priests were imprisoned and massacred.

Quite what possessed Huyghe to introduce a beer to celebrate these events is beyond me, but drink it I did, while in a Bed and Breakfast in Tivoli. Again, I had secured a room with a fridge and after a hot sweaty day toiling around Rome this beer was badly needed. It poured an immense head that took forever to clear, leaving a pale coloured liquid, beneath which was as super-carbonated as any beer I had tried yet. Just watching the legs fizzing down the side of the glass was mesmerising, leaving an intense lace. The flavour was nothing special but there was definitely pineapple and lemon somewhere within, and the overriding experience in drinking this was the profound strength. It was tart and rigged with an extremely powerful kick, and I hate to say this because others already have, but any more than two or three of these and you are guaranteed to lose your head!

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#60 – Abbaye d’Aulne Tripel Brune

#60 - Abbaye D'Aulne

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Another different Abbey beer brand – number 18 of the journey so far, but within the story of this one there is a nice ending which almost leaves this beer unique amongst Abbey beers.

The general history however is far from unique, other than that at some points in its history, the Abbaye d’Aulne has been Benedictine, Augustinian and Cistercian. It was founded in around 637 by St. Landelinus and remained Benedictine until around 1144, when secular clerics took over who adhered to the rules of St. Augustine. This was short-lived however, as in 1147 the Cistercian Abbot, Franco de Morveaux continued the religious traditions. The Abbey remained Cistercian until the French, no doubt jealous of such fine beers, used the backdrop of the French Revolution to once again destroy a wonderful building and brewing tradition. Though the buildings were destroyed in 1752, the monks did re-establish the brewery in 1796, although it petered out by 1850 as the number of monks eventually declined to the point of being unable to support the brewery.

As was typical in the 1950’s, a number of local breweries, including de Smedt, had latched onto the Abbey theme and associated their beers with the Abbey d’Aulne, but in 1998 something quite remarkable happened, in that the Val de Sambre brewery set up shop in the ruins of the Abbey. If we go back through our veritable trail of Abbey beers, very few can lay claim to still being brewed in the Abbey grounds. The actual current brewery is what used to be the stables in the Middle Ages.

So what could a microbrewery do in an old outbuilding? The answer was not great things. The Abbaye d’Aulne Tripel Brune poured a good frothy head atop a chestnut hued lake. The smell promised much with mysterious aromas emanating but this ended up tasting like most standard browns. There was the odd touch of caramel and liquorice which my uneducated palate picked up, but it ended up far too weak and watery for an 8% beer to warrant any further attention. A fairly stable beer if you will excuse the pun.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Val de Sambre

#53 – Villers Tripel

#53 - Villers Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5%

This is my 53rd beer on this trip so far, and if I am not mistaken this is the 17th individual account of an Abbey. I feel like a bloody historian with a fetish for medieval churches. This has almost inspired me to set up a map section on the website and start up a tourist section for monastery hoppers. My stats on the website have been improving rapidly over the past few weeks, and I was becoming fairly overwhelmed with the like-minded souls searching the world wide web for Belgiums finest ales. A recent trawl through the majority of my hits however seem to suggest there is an equivalent number of National Trusties looking for sedentary days out at cloisters and priories and leaving disappointedly on finding an inane historical account of a rarely drunk beer. Oh well – there is still hope I may turn a few to the dark side.

Abbey number 17 is that of Villers Abbey – now a brooding ruin south of Brussels of a once great Cistercian Abbey. The small village of Villers-la-Ville has been the home of this Abbey in three incarnations since its founding in 1146 by twelve Cistercian monks and three lay brothers from Clairvaux. Through the ages, the Abbey grew in importance to the point where at one stage over a hundred monks and three hundred lay brothers lived and worked, brewing and quaffing large measures of strong ale as was customary. Of course, the fortunes of the Abbey were to fluctuate under Spanish repression, where the monks were reported to have fled on nine separate occasions, and then of course during the French Revolution, when the Abbey was sold off for Gallic gains.

Considerable restoration has since been carried out at Villers, leaving the venue as a popular one for day visitors from Brussels, and much of the majestic remains of the Abbey can still be seen. Therefore it was a natural transition to tie a beer to the Abbey, and of course who else but Huyghe to jump on the bandwagon.

We had left Belgium for the time being, and were heading on the long road down to Italy. We decided to tarry a while in Luxembourg, and found a great cabin with cooking facilities, where at the end of a long day travelling we rustled up an immensely spicy red Thai curry. The Villers Tripel was a perfect accompaniment as it contained its own spices. It was crisp and blond and smelt and tasted of rustic orchards. It certainly had a kick at 8.5% and I was prepared to score highly, although after the food the beer failed to live up to its early hype. Like the light outside it soon faded. Shame really.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Huyghe

#52 – Petit-Orval

#52 - Petit-Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3.5 %

Petit-Orval can only supposedly be bought in the L’Auberge de L’Ange Gardien (The Guardian Angel Inn) – the tavern owned by the Orval Monastery, and so that was where I headed while I drove myself and the missus across the rural splendour of Luxembourg province. The beer is only 3.5% so it was probably perfect strength as I was the designated driver. We settled down on the cramped verandah by the rural roadside and peered in the dusty windows as a table of bloated locals set about some coronary-inducing cheese dishes. After our table had been Windowlened clean, and the grime from a previous dish crow-barred off, we were served.

Petit-Orval comes in a green embossed glass, and is served from a plain Orval bottle – the same skittle shape but with no label. I tried to buy one to take away but our grumpy hostess was having none of it. We sat back in the sunshine and took in the views down the lane to the picturesque monastery. The beer was as bitter as the original, and looked almost identical. There seemed to be a slight reduction in strength but it wasn’t massively noticeable until the final third. In fact, the Petit-Orval is essentially a watered down version of the queen beer (#37) at the stage of bottle-fermenting, with caramel added for the identical colouring.

I took a wander in to the tavern to check out the souvenirs and was soon given the evil eye and so shiftily purloined a small leaflet and wandered back out to the table. I had no intention of stealing the glass, although perhaps a guilty conscience from my student days made me sure there were eyes upon me. I flicked through the pamphlet and was surprised to learn that no monks now actually brew the beer, although they are under the supervision of a monastic gentleman which ensures the Trappist status is retained (#7). The locals inside ordered a platter piled high with trappist cheese, and I knew it was time to go. I was beginning to get hungry and the day was still long.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Orval, Trappist Beer

#51 – Abbaye de Forest

#51 - Abbaye de Forest

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The light had begun to fade at the campsite after our late start, and it had started to get a little chilly. I dug around for my army jumper, pulled myself up to the barbecue and decided to have one last beer for the night. I closed my eyes and randomly stuck my hand into one of the boxes I had filled from our Couvin stop. Abbaye de Forest from the Brasserie Silly, and I just assumed from the uninspiring label that it was one of those tawdry beers made by a supermarket with a made-up Abbey name to sell a few extra brews. I was wrong, not that I am going to apologise to anyone.

There is actually an Abbaye de Forest, and there is actually a place called Forest. Remarkable what a little research can do. Instead of contemplating the two strange campers with the worlds smallest tent who had set up a late night butterfly watching vigil in the woods, I might have sat there pondering the decline of yet another Benedictine Abbey.

The Abbaye de Forest was founded in 1106, and it grew in splendour and importance due to its location near Brussels on the main road from Paris. Often key dignitaries in olden times heading to Brussels, would stop here for food, shelter and entertainment. The community was thus able to grow in size as craftsmen, brewers, wine growers and farmers moved to be near the opportunities provided by the Abbey. The inevitable decline came however in 1764 when a massive fire razed the place, and it wasn’t until 1964 that the local commune were able to begin the restoration of this once majestic complex. The Abbaye is available for visitors now, and is apparently well worth the effort – sadly unlike the beer.

I didn’t expect much, and to be fair the Abbaye de Forest did its best not to disappoint. It looked pale and golden once the froth had decided to calm down, a little like a Duvel (#34), although clearly that is where all comparisons ended. It was watery and non-descript, and although clearly better than most premium lagers, it certainly won’t stay long in my memory. If I was throwing a barbecue in the summer, and this was on offer in the supermarket, I might consider it for the less discerning English drinkers, however I am not, and that’s what Stella Artois (#116) is for anyway.

(Post-Script) – having visited Brussels on my stag weekend, it is clear this is a staple beer of the city;  being freely available in many bars.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Silly

#50 – Super des Fagnes Brune

#50 - Super des Fagnes Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I have reached a milestone. Just like the first beer (#1) when I started this pilgrimage, there is no great celebration to commemorate my 50th Belgian beer. Lets face it, Super des Fagnes Brune is not the Real Madrid of the Belgian beer world. The fact I am in rural Belgium and picking up local regional beers is more than enough for me.

Tash and I had stopped in a local campsite in the Namur countryside, and what spare gaps we had left in the car had been filled up with a bottle stop at a wonderful beer warehouse in Couvin. If we had had the time we would have called in to the Brasserie des Fagnes, but we didn’t. So much later, on a warm balmy evening we settled down, cooked an amazingly fragrant Ardennaise sausage dish on our Skottel brai and cracked open a few local Belgians – one of which just happened to be from Fagnes.

The brewery, opened in 1998, is actually named for its geographical location. The Hautes-Fagnes is a highland situated in both Belgium and Germany, between the famous Ardennes and Eifel highlands, of which the highest point is Signal de Botrange near Eupen. It is a fairly wet area, and thus often very swampy and several rivers begin here – notably the Vesdre, Ambleve and Rur. The Hautes-Fagnes translates into English as the ‘High Fens’, and is probably well represented on the label – and to be honest, that’s about as exciting as it gets. The evening was perfect and the beer wasn’t at all bad but I would remember the evening more for the location and the cuisine, and of course the celebration of the half century.

The Super des Fagne Brune looked great as it bubbled away after the initial pour, with a deep burgundy appearance with hints of russet and orange when held up to the light. It smelt great, and was surprisingly malty and treacly on first taste, and as it continued there were some great aftertastes – particularly of liquorice. A good holiday feeling from a less than famous brewery.

(Post-Script) – Less impressive however is the Super des Fagnes Blonde (#56). One to Avoid.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, Deer, Duck, Fagnes

#49 – Chimay Doree

#49 - Chimay Doree

Size: on cask

ABV: 4.8 %

There are some beers that you can’t just buy from your local off-licence, or if you are lucky to live in or near Belgium, go pick up from your nearest Drankencentrum. Some you can’t even pick up in a good Belgian bar. No, there are some beers where you actually have to go to the brewery tap. As I was in Belgium, it seemed rude not to venture down to the Abbey of Scourmont, and check out the Chimay Doree. Chimays’ secret fourth and rarest beverage.

The place to get it is the Auberge de Poteaupre, a 3-star bar/hotel/restaurant on a quiet country lane a stones throw from the Abbey and brewery. It was just before midday and I had built up something of a hunger and a thirst. I was driving so the 4.8% Chimay Doree was almost perfect, washed down with a traditional Chimay Cheese sandwich served on a breadboard on the open air patio. It was warm, and the sun was out. Chimay Doree means Golden. I do so love Belgium.

My other half, who seems to have developed a healthy liking of brewery taps despite having the alcoholic tolerance of an eight year old, opted for the Chimay Triple (#165) – never a good idea before breakfast. She spent the rest of the afternoon either talking gibberish or nodding off into an alcoholic stupor, while I continued to bemoan the fact that nobody would sell me a take-away bottle of Chimay Doree. I was beginning to enjoy my 48 empties stacked up by the window and a gap would upset me! I suppose it was a little unreasonable to expect them to sell the vintages on show under the blankets of cobwebs in the window. Oh well, shit happens !

This is the brewery tap beer preserved previously for the monks of Chimay. This would only normally be available at the brewery for the working behabited, and thus just like the Het Kapittel Pater (#2) this is the Pater beer. To be fair, for 4.8% it was pretty splendid, tasting stronger than it actually was. There wasn’t a great head to talk of and it was very cloudy; and seemed more wheat-based than barley. It was dry, fruity and definitely akin to grapefruit – a kind of watered down Dendermonde Tripel (#47). I reckon the monks wouldn’t do too bad drinking this all day.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Chimay, Trappist Beer