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!

1 Comment

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.

1 Comment

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.

1 Comment

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.

2 Comments

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.

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

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.

2 Comments

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

#47 – Dendermonde Tripel

#47 - Dendermonde Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

If you take a good look at the label of the Dendermonde Tripel, you can see the stunningly gothic cathedral, but if you look closer you will make out the silhouette of a monk, with musical notes fluttering further in the background. This is actually the silhouette of a woman – Hildegard von Bingen, and the representation of the music highlights just one of her many skills. In fact her association with Dendermonde Abbey is that 58 of her liturgical symphonies from the 12th Century are preserved here.

Many of her other roles in her 81 year life are listed as mystic, author, counsellor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, channeller, visionary, composer, polymath, and Benedictine Abbess. I would imagine from our experiences thus far, that it is the latter that associates her most with beer. After all what monk, male or female, didn’t enjoy a drink to help them cope with the solitude?

This medieval Carol Vorderman was born in 1098 in what is now modern day Germany. She had many visions as a child (although modern day scientists suggest these may have been migraines – but who am I to ruin a good story?), and was thus tithed to the church by her parents in the belief that this was some kind of portent. Regardless of the authenticity of these claims, Hildegard became so embroiled in the clergy that she was eventually founding monasteries in Rupertsberg in 1150, and Eibingen in 1165. Her preaching tours were legendary and coupled with her musical talent and penchance for a good vision, she ended up being extremely popular, although not seemingly as much in modern days due to so many of her medieval works being readily available for scrutiny – a rare indulgence for modern day students of ancient music.

I am surprised Hildegard would have found much time for drinking, especially given her feministic tendencies and non-liberal approach to sexuality, however she found her way onto a beer label, and for that we assume the marketers of Dendermonde Tripel saw some worth in her. The beer itself was the first of two enjoyed on my sofa the night before going back to Belgium. She smelt fairly average, but poured impressively with a solid robust head. There was a good all-round pale colour with hints of oranges deeper in, and definite grapefruit and other citrus that stirred on the tongue. The taste was excellent though, making this a good all-round strong tripel. In fact, some more of the over-rated tripels I doubt could live with this on a blind taste-test. Just don’t drink too many – like Hildegard, it might just give you a migraine !

3 Comments

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, De Block

#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.

8 Comments

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

#44 – Maredsous Tripel 10

#44 - Maredsous 10

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

Maredsous is another example of a range of Abbey beers, whose monks still take the concept extremely seriously. The beers have long since been brewed outside the Abbey, now by Duvel Moortgat, but the Maredsous Abbey has a long tradition of making beer and cheese from its completion in 1892.

The Abbey itself is picturesquely sited in the Namur countryside just outside the village of Denee. It is a truly stunning piece of Neo-Gothic architecture as I can testify after a short visit there this summer. If you stand in front of the main towers and look up at the sheer splendour set against a radiant backdrop it really sends you dizzy with awe.

Maredsous Abbey was another example of a Benedictine Monastery. At the end of the 18th century there were about 50 examples of these dotted around the territory which corresponds to modern day Belgium, however within years there were literally none remaining! I have already touched on this a few times, but the desolation caused by the French Revolution was a major catastrophe for the monastic ways in these lands, as the abbeys and monasteries were sold, and if not sold, almost certainly destroyed. The monks did fight back however, but it was nothing less than a struggle. Some didn’t make it (Floreffe #40), but Maredsous did and the evidence is clear there today, where in excess of thirty monks still live, pray and work according to the strict rules of St Benedict. They still have a key role to play in the brewing of the beer, as the Maredsous recipes at Duvel Moortgat are still fastidiously observed through the supervision of the head Abbot himself.

I took this strong Tripel into the fading sunshine of my balcony. It was a splendid end to a tough day at the office. The pour was pert and amber with an average head, accompanied by a strong smell and even as ten-percenters go this one tasted stronger than usual. I’m a big fan of tripels but this seemed to lack some of the characters of others. It was hard to define any definite flavours other than the taste of spice, and I left unenthralled as I had heard great things about this beer. I am definitely more in awe of the building than the beer.

(Post-Script) – I have since had my faith restored by the beautiful Maredsous 8 (#111).



2 Comments

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Duvel Moortgat

#40 – Floreffe Double

#40 - Floreffe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Floreffe is a reasonably sized town in Namur, which is renowned probably only for its monastery, and then its range of colourful beers, now brewed by Lefebvre. As with most Abbey beers, these were once brewed on the premises, but of course the ravages of history took care of that.

Our old friend Norbert of Xanten (#8), the founder of the Premonstratensian order of monks was responsible for the founding of the Abbey – the second such one after Grimbergen. The Abbey was named Flos Mariae – The Flower of Mary, and soon became known for the legend of the altar stone. The Abbey chronicles reveal that while celebrating mass, St Norbert saw a drop of blood issuing from the sacred host (bread) onto the paten (offering plate). This sight was confirmed also by the deacon, and further miracles were said to have happened in 1204 and 1254 on the occasion of the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, where blood leaked from the remnant of the True Cross kept at the Abbey. This has since been relocated but remains within the rich history of Floreffe.

Following the French Revolution, the Abbots were expelled and although they did eventually return, they were never able to muster the numbers to continue the order,  and so the Bishop of Namur turned the buildings into a seminary in the early 1800’s. It is still a training school for priests to this day and I ended up here in the summer driving through the town. It’s a fairly attractive place to wander around, and there is a bar that sells the Floreffe range of beers. The tourist shop sells them but stupidly you can’t buy a pack with all the different beers and the price was ridiculous anyhow.

The beer was drunk after its best before date, but that doesn’t normally affect good Belgians that have been stored well. The beer really looked the part throughout the whole experience – dark and rich with a solid creamy head that barely flinched as I quaffed it. The aroma promised profound flavours but it really never delivered even from the off. Maybe there were some darker flavours somewhere in there but like the beginning of the second half of the England game I was watching I soon began to lose interest.

1 Comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Lefebvre

#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

6 Comments

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).

13 Comments

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

#30 – Tongerlo Tripel Blond

#30 - Tongerlo Tripel Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The date on the label of the Tongerlo beer says 1133. If I’m not mistaken that’s – er – 876 years of brewing beers? Apparently true.

The monastic community of the Norbertine Abbey of Tongerlo was founded in the same year, and like all good monks, they didn’t mess around in getting the beers brewed. We have Abbot Waltman and Bishop Burchard of Kamerijk to thank for this, and the subsequent rise of Tongerlo abbey as a powerful centre of religion and culture.

The usual history affected the abbey throughout the middle ages with secular powers and Calvinism haranguing the occupants, but it was only eventually World War I that put a final nail in the coffin of the brewing at the abbey, when the German occupying forces looted the abbey of the copper stills to make armaments. It was only in 1989 that the beer was re-launched by Haacht, and the Norbertine traditions (#137) were once more reignited in this beautiful area.

With a seriously blocked nose it probably wasn’t wise to waste a beer as I was unlikely to taste much, but I doubted it would be a classic. The beer poured golden with an initially thick head, with not much of a smell and to be honest not much of a taste (who knows?). This seemed a fairly routine blonde which definitely tastes of 8% but remains fairly anonymous. Pretty average fare in all with bit of a kick to it. I blame the Germans 😉

(Post-Script) – I have since learnt that this beer is now retired, to be replaced by the stronger and yet untested Tongerlo Prior Tripel.

4 Comments

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Haacht

#29 – St Feuillien Blonde

#29 - St Feuillien Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Another famous Saint? Yep. Another martyr? Yep. Another range of beers in honour of? But of course. Did he come from Ireland originally? How on earth did you know that? .. yawn

It’s a familiar story, Feuillien (or as often referred to in Ireland as Foillan) decided in the 7th Century to quit the Emerald Isle and chance his arm in Britain. He settled in East Anglia until viciously attacked and in one last fling at peace, he boarded a boat to the continent of Gaul, where he spread the word of God, setting up a monastery in Fosses-la-Ville in Namur. One night while on his way back from preaching in local Nivelles, he was set upon by bandits and brutally murdered, having his head cut off and thrown into a pigsty. Again rumour had it that the head continued to preach as it lay in the hay (reminiscent of St Livinus #18).

As a martyr he attracted many disciples who eventually in 1125 set up the Abbaye St-Feuillien du Roeulx in his honour. The abbey of course flourished until the decimation of the French Revolution, but the legend and name of St Feuillien live on in Belgium, especially with the self-named range of beers being fairly popular in present day Belgium.

I have to say however, that I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. This may be more personal taste than anything as everything else seemed to fit the bill. It smelt extremely fruity, had a big puffy head on a barley coloured beer. I couldn’t clear the taste of lemons, and it ended being very distinctive – just too distinctive in the end. I like beers that challenge me, and remain unique, but this just wasn’t my cup of tea.

(Post-Script) – Much better beers are the velvety St. Feuillien Brune (#119), and the sumptuous St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (#123).

10 Comments

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, St. Feuillien

#26 – Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

#26 - Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The beers of Steenbrugge are steeped in a rich beer-fuelled history – 925 years to be exact! It was then in 1084 that a certain Arnold of Tiegem – the dude kissing the potato waffle on the label – founded St Peter’s Abbey in Oudenburg in West Flanders, where he wished to escape a life of fighting. It was here that St Arnoldus started to brew some serious beer, as monks tended to do at this time as it was healthier than water. History suggests however that there was a certain magic to his brews and that those that drank his beers would be healed – and he eventually become the Patron Saint of Brewers. Yes, we do indeed have St Arnold of Tiegem to thank for this gift to life, and if you are ever in Brussels in July, you can join the throngs honouring him on the ‘day of beer’.

The item on the label is not actually a potato waffle, nor either a Belgian waffle – it is in fact a mashing rake, used while brewing to stir the mash. Anyway, long after our good friend Arnold had gone, the years took its toll on the monastery, but in 1898 a certain Abbot Amandus Mertens decided to recreate the beers to honour his St Peter’s Abbey. Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin is one of these.

I think its possibly one of the most attractive labels but quite under-drunk beers. The head was fine and lasted well, over a thin dark underbelly of beer. The smell was bright and hoppy, as was the taste. It continued to sparkle with thin warmth in the mouth and remained clean cut and distinguished but nothing of that remarkableness I was hoping for from a beer of St Arnold.

(Post-Script) – for something with a bit more bite you might want to try the Steenbrugge Tripel (#103)

1 Comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Palm

#25 – Leffe Brune

#25 - Leffe Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

Almost every UK supermarket now seems to stock Leffe, in both 330ml and 750ml varieties. Since being taken over, most recently by In-Bev, the saturated marketing ploy is clearly evident. It hasn’t always been this way however, as Leffe was first brewed almost 800 years ago by the monks of St. Norbert, at a small abbey on the Meuse river in Dinant, Namur. Things went well until the 1460s when the Abbey was first flooded and then invaded by Burgundian troops. It took until 1719 for a new church to be consecrated on the site, but the good days didn’t last long, as the French Revolution took its toll on the Abbey when it was continually vandalised and eventually abandoned under Republic Law.

The Abbey saw further immeasurable grief during World War I until once again the Norbertine monks took control of the Abbey in the 1950s and eventually made a deal with the brewer Albert Lootvoet to re-launch the production of Leffe beers, starting with Leffe Brune. It seemed to work wonders, and the rest of the Leffe brands followed. 1977 was a pivotal year in which the Artois brewery came in and took control, but I will leave that story for the next Leffe beer (#41).

Leffe Brune is readily available but shouldn’t be underestimated. It is a fine drink with a good solid chocolate coloured appearance and a sweet smell. The taste is cloved and malty and stays to the end. This beer won’t win prizes but is certainly value for money.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, InBev (Belgium)

#16 – Westmalle Dubbel

# 16 - Westmalle Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

The third Trappist brewery of my adventure already, although the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle (or Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) was only founded in 1794, and not conferred Trappist status until 1836. In the same year abbot Martinus Dom began the brewery, which is now the biggest of the Trappist sites with a brewing capacity of 45,000 bottles per hour !

It is often said that the terms ‘dubbel’ and ‘tripel’ hailed from the Westmalle Abbey, and the dubbel from the original recipe that was first brewed way back in 1926.

A trappist dubbel is usually dark in colour, and invariably sweet, with complex flavours comprising malt, caramel and sugar. It was said the original meaning of the term ‘dubbel’ was that it needed double the malt of a regular beer. Breweries often play with these recipes to add spices, and fruits to enhance the complexity. They are also usually pretty strong normally topping 7% ABV. I would be lying if I said a ‘dubbel’ couldn’t be blond, but it is unusual.

I still think that the bottle is better than the beer but it is still a fine brew, with a complex dark smell and extremely malty flavour with a long dry taste.  This is certainly not a guzzler but one to sip and enjoy early in the evening. Beware on opening though as it frothed a brown auburn ejaculation causing me to smash my favourite Orval (#37) glass as I frantically tried to avoid wasting the beer on my groin.

A better beer is by far the Westmalle Tripel (#149).

5 Comments

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Trappist Beer, Westmalle

#14 – Abbaye de Malonne Blonde

#14 - Abbaye de Malonne Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Malonne is a small village in Namur, where the Abbey Notre-Dame de Malonne once sat. The abbey was built in the 7th Century by an Anglo-Saxon monk named Saint Berthuin. The Abbey was the centre-piece of the heavily forested local area, and the village grew up around it. The Abbey has  long been dissolved, but the people of Malonne still celebrate the memory of the Irish monk.

Every year villagers carry a shrine throughout Malonne, which is offered to everybody to touch to bring good luck throughout the year. Inside this silver and gold shrine are the bones of St Berthuin. Nice !

The beer itself is elaborately brewed with natural ingredients according to monastery traditions including Bavarian hops. It all started well with a good typical blonde smell, and a buoyant head, but it fast faded – ending watery and distinctly unmemorable. There is little substance to the beer and even if this was to bring me good luck for a year I definitely wouldn’t touch it again!

(Post-Script) – I did later touch the Abbaye de Malonne Brune (#92) and to be fair it did little to lift the reputation.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Lefebvre

#8 – Grimbergen Blond

#8 - Grimbergen Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

In 1128 St Norbert of Xanten built a majestic abbey for the eponymously named Norbertine canons of the time in a quiet place called Grimbergen. It is very unusual for an Abbey to have actually been established by the founding of an order, and these religious fellows were famously reknowned for their hospitality and especially their homebrew.  The Norbertines, or the Praemonstratensians started life near Reims in French Champagne country and moved northwards. The original building, like many other abbeys, has been knocked down and rebuilt many times throughout history, including 1796 when Napoleon decided to shut up shop, however a beautiful church remains left in the town as a reminder of former glories. Much of this is due to the rebuild which happened in the 1830s after the Abbey had been secularised, and further restorations continued in the 1920s to ensure it is now among one of Belgium’s prettiest churches.

Brewing probably started at the Grimbergen Abbey in the 1600s and only stopped due to the French Revolution. The rich brewing traditions however passed to Maes brewery in 1958 at the monks own request, and this alliance has continued even despite Maes merging with the Alken brewery in 1978 to form Alken-Maes – who now comprise part of the larger Heineken chain. Confusing, but at least the Grimbergen range with its immense brewing history is still going strong today.

This beer smacks of gold; with its vivid colour and smooth texture. There were few bubbles and barely any head to report, and the first taste was fairly lagery but going down it hinted at more. On a session night in beautiful rural Cornwall, this beer proved very drinkable, perhaps too so at the 6.7% strength. It needs perhaps to do more though to impress and really was just a bit too sweet in the end.

(Post-Script) – A better beer, which I often use in cooking, is the Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), which strangely was up next on my list, although the pick of the range is probably the Optimo Bruno (#194). Not that that is a ringing endorsement for what is essentially a pretty average bunch of beers.

1 Comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Alken-Maes, Belgian Ale, Phoenix