Tag Archives: Ardennes

#168 – La Chouffe

#168 - La Chouffe

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8 %

Any range of beers that is world famous for a little gnome deserves to have a fairy tale written about it. Please permit me the opportunity to be Hans Christian Belgianshrimper just for today.

Once upon a time in the beautifully forested swathes of the Ardennes, there lived an industrious colony of gnomes. Hidden away in the secluded hills, these small creatures were rarely seen but were able to brew enough beer to keep the entire Realm of Belgium suitably merry all year round. This golden nectar flowed directly from the sacred spring in the woods of Cedrogne where a thousand years before the Knights Templar of the Crusades had convened secretly to plan their wars. This magical place, once the highest point in the Realm, served as the font of life to its people.

Fate however was to befall this fertile place when a great plague brought devastation to the region. All the local villages rotted away through the ravages of time and neglect, while a great natural disaster caused the hillsides to implode burying alive the gnomes of Achouffe. Almost at once the magical font in Cedrogne slowed to a tiny drip as the thirsty locals queued in despair. Years later water began to seep back through the hole in the rock, and the surviving inhabitants who by now were forced to brew their own beers, began to use this sacred water in honour of the legendary gnomes.

A remarkable event happened many years after the disaster when the last remaining gnome ever seen in the Realm of Belgium had managed to escape from the rockfall under the forest. He would only get as far as the small house owned by two brothers-in-law from the village of Houffalize though. Before he drew his final breath he whispered the legendary recipe of the La Chouffe beer to the gentlemen in question. Those two gentlemen were Pierre Gobron and Christian Bauweraerts and they have remained in Achouffe ever since, drawing the water from the magical spring. That is the fable, and the rest is history.

The beer itself is a completely unfiltered golden beer which is extremely good. I had guests round to dinner and was delighted to share out the 750 ml bottle. Friends who are normally satisfied with lagers in tins were amazed that a beer could be this strong and as tasty. La Chouffe is a fruity delight, with hints of coriander, vanilla and other legendary gnome ingredients. It remains smooth and strong to the very end, and my guests were crying out for more.

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Filed under 8, Achouffe, Belgian Strong Ale

#158 – Vedett Extra White

#158 - Vedett Extra White

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

Just one look at the Vedett website and you know exactly what you are up against. Here is a company which seemingly has recently employed a brand new marketing manager whose illustrious career history has probably been broken up by various stints in rehab from wild hallucinogenic narcotics. By the time I had worked out how to navigate the website, my eyes had begun to cross, and I was feeling somewhat disorientated. That this is the same brewery as the understated Duvel and Maredsous, I felt some serious trepidation for what might become of De Koninck since their recent arrival under the Duvel Moortgat umbrella.

I don’t intend to pull any punches on this one, in that I really didn’t think the Vedett Extra White was any good. I’ve drunk the Vedett regular blonde on various nights out in the UK prior to my Odyssey, and that is pretty average fare also. My point is that somebody smart in the company must have realised that this beer isn’t going to sell without a lot of fancy gimmickry. The fact that it is selling, I guess somewhat vindicates that decision, and maybe frees up capital to invest in better beers.

Once I had started to follow the cement mixer truck around the country on it’s Vedett tour, I went on to enter the competition to estimate the amount of miles that the cement mixer truck will travel. I wont share that with anybody at this stage as I am fairly confident that the Vedett Cement Mixer truck will be mine at the end of this, and I will be able to sell it at a novelty truck auction and thus fund my Belgian beer bar dream in the Ardennes.

It has also been a dream of mine since starting my Odyssey to commission my own beer. Why not make the 1000th beer my own creation? Vedett give you the opportunity to personalise your own case of Vedett beer at a not so unaffordable cost, which is a step in the right direction I suppose, and I decided to play ball and give my own label a go. Bearing in mind my overall view of the beer was a pungent, over-wheaty bottle of garbage, I thought we would go with this design. Let me know what you think? I wouldn’t mind betting I’ve ruined my chances with the cement mixer truck now. Oh well.

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Filed under 4, Belgian White (Witbier), Duvel Moortgat, Polar Bear

#110 – Sara Brune

#110 - Sara Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

Silenrieux is a rare breed among breweries in Belgium, promoting a range of traditional beers that are made from the most natural of ingredients. Eric Bedoret started the brewery in 1995 while living on his parent’s farm in the Ardennes countryside. Eric had spent a fair amount of time in the local library and had begun to discover that the area in which he lived was once rife with two rarer types of grain – namely buckwheat and spelt. He also discovered a history of local brewers long since out of business who had used these grains to produce beer. His mission was now to recreate them; firstly by growing the grains, and then turning the harvest into a range of drinks.

With the help of a number of local authorities including the Director of Agriculture he was able to glean the farming know-how, and through liaising closely with the professors at the University of Louvain was able to rework ancient recipes into a modern day solution. Eric then set about the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of getting a loan to fund the whole enterprise.

The money soon began to trickle in though, as the quality of the beer became known, and the switch started to trigger in customers that here was a very natural beer. The story reached even greater success with the Sara and Joseph (#115) launching as truly organic beers in 2000. This meant following stricter guidance on the production of the ingredients, but this move towards producing ‘superbeers’ has really paid off. What used to be a rustic farmyard is now a modern brewery which is reeling off 70,000 gallons of excellent beer each year, and exporting as far and wide as much of Western Europe and the United States. You can even drive by and drink the beers on the premises at the bar-restaurant should you wish.

This Sara Brune was picked up in a local beer store in Couvin and drunk in the safety of my own home. I was very interested to discover what a buckwheat beer tastes like, but like most 25cl beers it was all over so soon. It was though pleasantly crisp and light for a dark beer, and fairly spicy on the tongue. I wouldn’t be in a rush to drink another but felt strangely liberated to be drinking an organic beer !

(Post-Script) – Silenrieux also make a Sara Blonde (#114), and this report highlights how the beer got its name.

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#75 – Hercule Stout

#75 - Hercule Stout

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Stout. It doesn’t sound quintessentially Belgian, although the Brasserie Ellezelloise actually define the beer as ‘Belgian Stout’, and there certainly aren’t many of them. I’ll save these discussions for later as there are plenty of stouts around in the low countries these days, but clearly I can’t leave this beer without talking about its namesake – Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie was not much of a beer lover by all accounts, but Philippe Gerard, the Master Brewer at Ellezelloise has cleverly picked up on the fact that Monsieur Poirot was most likely born just down the road. There isn’t a great deal of evidence in the actual books themselves as to the heritage of Hercule, and it has been left to fans to pick up and solve the case. In 33 novels and 51 short stories between 1920 and 1975 only one book, the watery ‘Taken in the Flood’ pays reference to his family, suggesting he was born as an orphan and raised by nuns. How very Belgian. ‘The Big Four’ goes on to refer to the town of Spa in the Ardennes as a setting for his life, and Christie has since revealed that nearby Ellezelloise was the small village she imagined her famous character living and working.

The ageless detective is one of Belgium’s most well known individuals, which is slightly damning when you consider that both TinTin and Poirot aren’t even real, however what the Belgians may lack in superstars, they clearly make up for in their beer and beer culture. Here a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere has not only created a beer based on a legend, but nurtured a stout that many conclude to be one of the best in the world. It is this which makes Belgium special, and unless you begin to get out there and find out for yourself you can easily miss the pulse which throbs beneath this wonderful country.

The Hercule Stout is not my ideal drink, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the experience. From the swing-top bottle with the porcelain stopper, to the taste of spruce (well according to the brewers it does. Our long deceased family dog was the only living thing I knew who devoured Christmas trees!). My clothes and soft furnishings have had some bad experiences with swing-top bottles (#28, #54) and I was prepared for this one over the kitchen sink. It merely popped and just a wisp of smoky vapour escaped. It could almost have contained a genie. The smell was genuinely mysterious just like its benefactor, and the flavour dark, sweet, bitter and very malty. I had always known stout as Guinness, and it’s fair to say this was nothing like it really. Drink this and grow your little grey cells !

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Filed under 7, Ellezelloise, Imperial Stout

#73 – Pater Lieven Blonde

#73 - Pater Lieven Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

We have already met the Father of Lieven back in the late teens (#18), and this beer is the second toe dipped in the same range from the Van den Bossche stable. It is worth spending some time introducing the family who for over a hundred years have made quite a name for this brewery.

It started back in 1897 when Arthur Van den Bossche purchased a small plot of land in the picturesque village of Sint-Lievens-Esse in the wonderful Ardennes region of East Flanders. Arthur cannot have imagined the legacy he would leave on the village and in many respects we can see how he almost has come to be revered as the Pater Lieven himself. Arthur had married into a family from Wieze Callebaut who had something of a reputation for making fine chocolates. Between himself and his wife, they began to make quite a business for themselves in the village. It was clear though that Arthur had more of a passion for beer, and set about building a large estate around the brewery for his family. The passion had clearly rubbed off as in 1925 when Arthur sadly passed away, his wife and two sons, Willy and Mark, picked up the reins and really began to turn the legacy into a thriving business. During this tenure in 1957, the highly popular Pater Lieven beers were introduced to critical acclaim.

The baton was further handed down in 1975 when Marks’ son Ignace was made a partner, who then became manager in 1981. The brewery was massively modernised to cope with the modern day brewing requirements, which then takes us bang up to date, where Bruno, the fourth generation Van den Bossche, and eldest son of Ignace now runs the commercial functions of the brewery. Even Ignaces youngest son, Emmanuel, has a functioning role in the day to day work.

This family history is particularly prominent in the many craft breweries in Belgium, and stories such as these permeate the history of beer in the low countries. In many ways it is a testimony to how good Belgian beers are, that so much love goes into the making of them.

I wouldn’t say the Pater Lieven range is anything special, and to be honest I felt this one let down the darker one I tried previously. The pour was golden and carbonated with barely any head, and the first flavours accompanied dinner well. There was plenty of citrus and a slight tartness, however this dissipated into a stereotypical blonde beer after just ten minutes of opening. Certainly not unpleasant but more lagery than craft beer !

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Van den Bossche

#58 – Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

#58 - Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

My final blonde of the night was Cuvee li Crochon Blonde – a little beer with a funky label, and another one from Couvin. The website which gives some information on the heritage of the beers identifies the Couvin warehouse as one of only a few in the area that actually stock this beer, thus this and its sister brown beer may be one of the rarer ones tried so far.

It is worth starting with the regionality mentioned above and the Onhaye municipality which has a population of only about 5000 inhabitants. It may be a tiny place, but it is proud of its beautiful Ardennes location (only 5km west of Dinant); so much so that in 1982 the ‘La Confrerie Li Crochon’ was founded. This Brotherhood of Li Crochon, as it translates, was set up to promote tourism in this area mainly based around local cuisine. Li Crochon is not the heron on the label, which I immediately assumed on drinking, but actually a symbolic dish of the region, which refers to the end slices of a loaf of bread, which are spread with local cheese and then roasted over a wood fire. By god that sounds delicious!

A modernised version of this dish tends to refer to a hollowed out bun, which is topped with cheese, ham and cream and baked in the oven. It must be good if they set up a brotherhood to look after it and then brewed a beer to accompany it. The brewing is now carried out by Du Bocq, but previously a couple of local brasseries began the tradition of finding a perfect beer for the dish. I must confess I am not sure they did a particularly good job. I found this blonde easily the most disappointing of the night. It neither fizzed or popped on opening, and once poured looked almost green in the light, and anaemic. It smelt of nothing in particular and tasted watery and weak. I had only reserved scores of below 5 for poor fruit beers and the truly disgusting but this moribund effort sadly didn’t make the grade. I just hope the dish Li Crochon is better or they may as well sack the Brotherhood.

(Post-Script) – At least the Cuvee li Crochon Brune was a lot better (#136).

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Du Bocq, Heron

#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