Tag Archives: ale

#72 – Gordon’s Highland Scotch Ale

#72 - Gordon's Highland Scotch Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

I was fairly uneasy talking about this beer as part of the Belgian Beer Odyssey. The commercial description says everything about how un-Belgian this beer is – “Gordon Scotch Ale was born in the limpid highlands among isolated lochs and haunting Scottish castles”. Then if you consider the tartan and thistle on the label and bottle, and the fact the glass is shaped like a thistle you quite wonder how this can possibly be continental? There isn’t even the faintest hint of its intended market in the title, and yet the brewers John Martin (an equally non Belgian appellation) started to brew this beer in Belgium as early as 1924 in Antwerp. Maybe it is here that I should stop a while and consider the term ‘Scotch Ale’, which might help to begin easing my discomfort.

A Scotch Ale is one of many types of Pale Ale, which is a bit of a convenient catch-all for a variety of beers of low to medium strength which utilise ale yeast and pale malts. These could include IPA (India Pale Ale), Red Ale, American Pale Ale and good old English bitter on which I was raised. Some of these pale ales are made stronger (normally above 7%), and Scotch Ale is an example of this. There are a couple of convincing reasons why the term ‘Scotch Ale’ came about. Some say it is due to the fact that it originated in Edinburgh in the 1700’s which seems a reasonable claim – others suggest it is due to the fact that the Scots tended to use smoked malts while brewing which gave the beer the flavour of whisky or scotch.

None of this explains however why this is a Belgian Beer by designation, or why a brewer in Antwerp wanted to create this beer outside of its obvious surroundings. Well, sadly the answer is probably that Belgians (and Americans where this beer is also very popular) have a particularly sweet tooth. The beer in question was known in the UK as McEwans Special Export, a drink normally associated with the unkempt who frequent railway arches at night. Because the Belgians enjoy this kind of drink and have learnt the art of drinking in moderation, an even stronger version of this beer was introduced to the market where it has remained remarkably popular as a heavy aperitif or nightcap on winter nights. The fact that you are unlikely to find it in Scotland amidst the wispy lochs and limpid highlands satisfies my concerns for now.

The beer itself was on the menu of the Lowlander at Creechurch Street (now sadly closed), and ended up on my table only due to the fact that about another four beers were apologetically not available. It was dark, very dark, with a surreal red glow permeating through it when any light source caught it. The flavour was heavy and sweet, and not distinctly unpleasant, but at the same time not a drink that I would eagerly seek out again, unless of course they surrounded it in a label of the Belgian flag or stuck TinTin eating a waffle on the front.

7 Comments

Filed under 6, Brewers, John Martin, Scotch Ale

#48 – Barbar Winter Bok

#48 - Barbar Winter Bok

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This was the last chance for a Barbar beer to redeem itself in my eyes – the darker version which is marketed as a brown ale that also contains 2.5% honey. The label suggests that the warrior needs to rest in winter as well, and that Lefebvre has produced a beer available in the dark months from October to February. How thoughtful of them!

At least this gives us an insight into the naming of the beer, and it is clear that Barbar refers to the warrior, or the barbarian. The general definition of a barbarian is that of an uncivilised person or a cruel savage person with a penchance for warmongering. Whatever the final definition it would seem the etymology originally came from the Greek for ‘not-Greek’, and the structure of ‘bar-bar’ as an onomatopoeic representation of a language not clearly understood ie ‘blah blah’, may hint at how the saying “well, its all Greek to me?” came about.

The label clearly defines Lefebvre’s view of what a barbarian warrior might look like, but it is fair to look back in the history of the Middle Ages and associate beer with what could loosely be termed as barbarians. Once wine became imported from the Mediterranean, beer took something of a back seat, as a cheap and readily available drink. This is no different probably now if one considers the comparison between a wine bar/bistro and a pub. I would argue that Belgian beers are definitely bridging the gap for those that want something just that little bit classier or tastier, although I would suggest that Barbar Winter Bok isn’t there yet.

This was the latter beer to celebrate the start of my prolonged period of annual leave . Relaxation of this nature however deserved a better beer. The final Barbar for me, and really can’t see what all the fuss is about. The pour promised much with an ebony gush and a thickset head that looked too good to be true. There were certainly deep and dark flavours in this beer, and it was better than the honey blonde (#19), but it just lacked authenticity – being largely synthetic in its genetics. I could have scored it higher but felt let down by Lefebvre on the brand. There are plenty of dark beers around with plenty more bite than this. More Librarian than Barbarian !

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Filed under 6, Dunkler Bock, Lefebvre

#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

#42 – Bacchus

#42 - Bacchus

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

We have already come across a Bacchus (#38) whereby raspberries were added to brown ale – well this is the brown ale in question – Bacchus Vlaams Oud Bruin. ‘Oud Bruin’ is Flemish for Old Brown, distinguishing the colour from other local sour ales like Rodenbach, which tend to be red, and ‘Vlaams’ is Flemish for … well ‘Flemish’ – Flemish Brown Ale.

When we drunk and purred over the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), we learnt that the sour ale is made by oak-aging the beers in order to mature them. It is this process which gives the beers of East and West Flanders their unique acidity. The oak-aged conditioning introduces a similar lactate fermentation to the lambic beers (#12) except that there are less natural yeasts around thus the product isn’t quite so extreme. The brewers also add a dab of acetic acid at this stage to get the flavour going – something taboo for lambics.

The best sour ales of this kind are made in oak-vats and usually kept for two years, although some breweries might resort to using steel casks, or even trying to get the oaky effect by suspending particles of wood in their brews. Van Honsebrouck are reliant on a ‘koelschip’, which is essentially a large vat in the roof where the wort is left to attract natural yeasts just as lambic beers do. It all adds to the breweries attempts to recreate the good old days – even the new paper label of the old bloke with the beer is a typical Flemish old-time image.

The label also reflects the aging process used with the quotation ‘met wijnsmaak’ – meaning ‘with wine taste’, and its fair to say this brew is a little similar. My over-riding impression was that this was like a fruit beer without the fruit – a frambozenbier without the frambozen. It’s certainly sour on opening, and it rightly pongs but it isn’t overpowering on drinking. It looks the part, is pleasant to drink, but it doesn’t really set any standards – unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru.

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Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck

#38 – Bacchus Frambozenbier

#38 - Bacchus Frambozenbier

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5%

Raspberry beer – it might sound odd but historically raspberries have often been added to beers after initial fermentation. Lambic beers in particular, where the term ‘steeping’ is used to describe the process of adding bucketfuls of fruit into beer and then leaving to further ferment for about six months. Bacchus Frambozenbier isn’t really a traditional lambic fruit beer, but the lauded quality of these has led to many different brewery experiments over the years. Bacchus (#42) is actually a sour brown ale, and the raspberries have been added for a secondary fermentation. It tends to work pretty well, and Van Honsebrouck and Verhaeghe are good exponents of the fruity sour ale style, with the Echt Kriekenbier (#102) being a perfect example.

The popularity of raspberries in the history of fruit beer is that they are a particularly pungent and aromatic fruit, and it doesn’t take too many to make an impact on the flavour, even in a sour ale. Raspberries and cherries have for this reason been largely used, however in recent times a number of other different fruits such as peaches, apricots and blueberries have been utilised. Largely they aren’t as pungent, but sadly they are much cheaper. As we have already mentioned in other posts (notably #24) syrups and cordials have largely replaced the real fruit to the detriment of the fruit beer, but real fruit lambics and sour ales are a treasure, and often only found in Belgium of course.

I wasnt expecting great things but was happily surprised by this. Where Fruli is bright and radioactive, the Bacchus Frambozenbier was dark and brooding in colour. The smell and flavour was clearly aromatic raspberries but it really didnt overpower me. I could still taste beer in the aftertaste and although it faded and tasted a bit artificial in the end, I really did enjoy drinking this. The stock of fruit beers has risen; albeit a sour ale. Arise the raspberry!

3 Comments

Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck

#34 – Duvel

#34 - Duvel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

I have been drinking Duvel fairly steadily for the past 6 or 7 years. Fed up with weak tasteless lagers that permeate the world these days, I have always sought out something with a darker streak of menace. Many a night has gone woefully astray after a couple of Duvels, and I probably have the devil to thank for my passion for all things wet and Belgian.

It could have been oh so different however, as when Moortgat launched the beer in the 1920s, it was to celebrate the end of World War I. Moortgat Victory Ale found its way onto the streets, and half of Belgium probably drunk a few and forgot what on earth they went to war for. One of these Belgians, a shoemaker, and friend of Albert Moortgat sat in a bar one night, and commented that the beer was ‘nen echten Duvel’ – a real devil. Even then it was 8.5%, and a new name was born for the Moortgat Flagship beer.

You may also notice, when you drink Duvel that it seems more lively when served in its own glass – well, there is some logic in this. Not only is the traditional tulip glass designed to release flavour, but also as it narrows towards the top, it helps preserve the carbon-dioxide and therefore the head. Not content with that however, a couple of years ago, the manufacturers of the glass also engraved a ‘D’ into the inner circle of the bottom of the glass which also scientifically enables further levels of carbonation.

So it was time to put Duvel to the test. Was it as good as it always was, and did the glass really have these magical properties? It didn’t disappoint. The appearance was as golden and heady as ever, and the smell evoked some form of inebriated nostalgia. The taste is warm and definitely gets stronger as the beer gets downed. It’s fairly complex and behind the fruitiness is a sourish taste that encourages you sensibly to drink slowly, which when messing about with the devil is probably good advice.

(Post-Script) – Did you know that there is also a Duvel Groen (#162)….?

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Duvel Moortgat

#27 – du Boucanier Red Ale

#27 - Boucanier Red Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

Only 27 beers into the journey and another sea-faring beer already. Buccaneers are often mistaken for pirates, but there is a subtle difference – in that buccaneers were generally located in the Caribbean during the 17th Century, whereas pirates (#15) tended to roam much further afield.

The term comes from the French word ‘boucanier’ which referred to a person on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga who would hunt for meat and then smoke it on a barbecued frame called a ‘boucan’. These French locals were soon driven from their lands by the Spanish, and they reacted with acts of piracy, which fairly often were backed by the British Government with letters of marque, which essentially legalised the act. This was useful for the British as it entitled them to shares of the collected spoils and the subsequent weakening of the Spanish with whom they were at war.

The letters of marque were however of little concern to the Spanish who made examples of every captured buccaneer by hanging and garrotting them. The age of buccaneering however was soon to die out once the French and British grew tired of their presence, seeing their activities begin to hinder their attempts at commerce and trade in the area.

Buccaneers, just like pirates were famed for their drinking and there remain plenty of stories to be told in later beers like the du Boucanier Dark Ale (#174). The du Boucanier Red though was actually a rose pink colour with excellent carbonation, and a real bouquet of vanilla ice-cream. The taste was crisp, with overtures of orange and other citrus whiffs. It held up well for the entire half hour it took me to negotiate it, and was ultimately really quite pleasant.

(Post-Script) – another type of seadog was a corsaire (#80)

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge