Tag Archives: Belgian beer

#250 – Les Brasseurs Tripel

 

Les Brasseurs Tripel

Size: cask

ABV:  5.5 %

Stag parties tend to drink quicker than average; which in Belgium can be pretty dangerous. The poor Best Man will tend to hold the pocketful of age-weathered bank-notes and begrudgingly have to order a round of drinks every time the quickest drinker finishes his; and everybody else is too embarrassed to decline a drink so will continue to drink apace. In this case our quickest drinker was one of those more mature gentlemen who spends the majority of his time at the bar in England quaffing three or four pints of real ale every hour and never ever getting even slightly tipsy. This was very bad news.

We had only been in Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place for about eight minutes and we were already on to round two, which included the time it took to order from the bar. Table service seemed to have dried up at the moment the proprietors clocked it was a stag party, although from what I have heard about this place it could just as likely have been their customary incalcitrance. This brewpub is quickly having its reputation tarnished as an unfriendly tourist trap, which of course my party were not helping in any way with.

The location though is damned impressive; set literally just an inch off the Grand Place in Brussels. On a warmer day one can sit outside with a fag and a beer and watch one of Europes finest city squares go about its business. Today though it was cold, and we were all firmly indoors, which is also something of a pleasure. As soon as you enter Les Brasseurs you are immediately faced with the copper brew kettles on your left, from which seemingly miles of steel tubing wends away around the bar, upstairs, and into various atmospheric niches, nooks and crannies. The brewpub is set on three levels and the owners have done well to cram it all in so snugly. If you get bored tried to follow the maze of tubes with your eyes, then there is plenty of breweriana to explore.

Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place opened in the summer of 2001, and occupies a splendid looking building in the corner of the square. It was once a grocers, hardware store and even a concert hall, before finally ending up a famous coffee house in the 14th Century. It was only after a terrible fire in more recent times that the premises changed to one of Belgium’s most famous microbreweries. They continue to serve Brussels tourist fraternity by everyday drinking hours, and only somehow find the time to brew overnight when the public have finally been shoe-horned out the premises. It’s an expensive place to drink as you would expect, and they clearly make a lot of money given the daily throughput.

I recently read a comment about Les Brasseurs along the lines of “it could and should be so much more”, which is really quite painfully true. Here sits a microbrewery set in the very beating heart of a beer drinking capital which doesn’t seem to really take care of its customer. Les Brasseurs seem to have targeted their market at the average tourist, as opposed to any particular beer aficionado, and I feel their beer portfolio probably reflects this well. The Tripel was distinctive in its flavour but not particularly memorable. It was quite pale and a little flat, and I had hardly time to dwell on anything else before somebody was lining up my next one. Sigh

7 Comments

Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Brasseurs de la Grand Place

#248 – Achel Blond 8

#248 - Achel Blond 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It wasn’t that long ago that I had first tried the Achel Bruin (#200), and up next was the highly rated Blond. The previous tale I spun was around the history of the brewery, but one shouldn’t leave these beers without a good look at the Abbey itself.

The real origins of the Achelse Kluis began way back in the mid 17th Century, out in the isolated countryside of Achel, which was then a small Princedom belonging to Liege. Here was built a small chapel which served the community as a worshipping place for the Catholic people of the nearby Protestant Netherlands who were not allowed to worship there under the current regime. The roots of the Abbey itself stem from Petrus van Eynatten heading here fromEindhoven in 1686 and setting up a priory of hermits which soon began to lead a life of prayer and contemplation. This quiet remote area would have drifted on and on but for the French Revolution in 1789 which tore the heart and soul out of the place.

The priory was then sold into the private hands of Jan Diederik van Tuyll van Serooskerken, but monastic life would eventually return thanks to the Trappist monks from the Abbey of Westmalle who founded the Abbey of St. Benedict in 1846. They put all their energies into ramping up the agricultural infrastructure; largely by developing livestock farming and by replacing wasteland with arable soil. Achel was granted Abbey status in 1871 and from here on really began to prosper, and sister projects would eventually spring up at Echt, Diepenveen, Rochefort (#31) and even at Kasanza in Congo.

Life would remain pretty unchanged at Achel until 1917 when the invading Germans dismantled the brewery for copper – 750kg of the stuff. The monks left, and a new Abbey was eventually built between 1946 and 1952, although in 1989, just after brewing had recommenced on the premises, most of the land attached was sold to the Dutch National Forest Administration and the Flemish Government. What remains at the Abbey now is the final Trappist brewery, and a number of tertiary services which also include a small shop selling various paraphernalia, and a guesthouse.

Achel is often the most overlooked of the Trappist breweries, and I have to admit I haven’t been completely convinced up to now as to what all the fuss is about. I sat down to drink the Achel Blond the night before my stag weekend expecting something a little more grand. It was an enjoyably strong tripel which had a clean and crisp flavour but it certainly lacked any of the fire that you associate with the monastic brewers of Belgium. I began to wonder what this might have tasted like prior to World War I and ended up drifting off to sleep on the sofa.

2 Comments

Filed under 7, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#247 – Tongerlo Christmas

#247 - Tongerlo Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I have slowly been working my way through the Tongerlo collection; a fact made more noticeable by the recent re-marketing of the beers and adaptation of styles. I first tried the very average Tripel Blonde (#30) where I was able to introduce the brewing at the Abbey. I then followed up with the slightly better Dubbel Bruin (#137); and a look at the Norbertine monks. The latest offering is the Tongerlo Christmas beer, and now a closer look at the history of the Abbey.

The religious community at Tongerlo was formed in 1133 by a group of monks from the Norbertine Abbey of St Michael of Antwerp, who had been invited by the wealthy landowner Giselbert Castelre to settle on his Tongerlo estate. The monks were characterised by the Norbertine traditions which was a popular and modern movement at the time. The Abbey grew in power through the 13th Century as a papal bull placed Tongerlo at the centre of a number of parish churches in the region. Numbers soon grew on the estate and the community began to spread itself wider. The remit of the Abbey steadily became more powerful, and the buildings grew in size with the best local architects enhancing the beauty of the place.

The rise to prominence was only checked in the 16th Century when the Abbey fell under the strongly Catholic stronghold of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.Rome began to increase taxes and salaries from Tongerlo considerably, and it was only in 1629 under the Calvinist revolt that Tongerlo was spared. It was probably a case of ‘better the devil you know’ however as the Calvinists banned all Catholic worship and many monks were exiled away from their parishes. Things became even worse in 1796 when the French Revolution swept into town and the Abbey came under private ownership. It was as late as 1838 when the Belgian state came into being, that a religious community found its way back to Tongerlo. The brothers have largely remained ever since; with just a brief sojourn at the Abbey of Leffe when a huge fire swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in 1929.

The Tongerlo Christmas is not your traditional dark Christmas fayre. It pours a rusty copper colour with a small and unassuming head. The hint of vanilla on the nose wasn’t completely lost on me, although I struggled to reach the same conclusion once it hit my tastebuds. It was a fairly fruity and enjoyable beer which just lacked any unique characteristics which might have led me to recommend it any further. Essentially if Father Christmas was buying you a sack full of Christmas beers this yuletide you might be a bit disappointed with too many of these.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, Haacht

#246 – Mystic Limoen

#246 - Mystic Limoen

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3.8 %

I often feel small pangs of guilt when having to write the odd bad thing about a beer; I mean at the end of the day it’s just my opinion right? There is however, a moment every so often, when you come across a beer which is crying out to be slam-dunked in the public forum. I have therefore absolutely no compunction whatsoever in advising every discerning and non-discerning beer drinker to steer well clear of the Mystic Limoen.

Any self-respecting beer aficionado of course wouldn’t need me to tell them this but there is clearly a market for the Mystic beers otherwise the brewers Haacht, and the number of other similar purveyors of these alcopops wouldn’t pollute the market with them. I would though like to bring to the attention of those who might fancy a brief dalliance with these beers, exactly what goes into them, because it certainly aint just barley, water, hops and yeast. According to the official ingredients you will also find the sinister sounding Acesulfame K among other dubiously unnatural additives.

I remember having a long conversation once with a homeopath about diet drinks and artificial sweeteners. The general view was that chemical additives such as aspartame end up pickling your internal organs if drunk in excess, and I’ve been cautious ever since. I decided therefore to have a quick look at Ace-K, or Acesulfame Potassium, or Sunett or Sweet-One as it is also more familiarly marketed as in the US. It has been an officially approved sweetener since 1988; approved that is by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA. Remarkably Ace-K is two hundred times sweeter than table sugar and therefore has been widely used in carbonated drinks alongside other high street sweeteners, whereby a combination of both can often reduce the natural bitterness. That is about all the good news.

The bad news is that this is an additive which has barely been properly tested. Although the FDA in the USA and similar bodies in Europe will deny any concerns, Ace-K contains methylene chloride which is generally held to have carcinogenic properties. Aside from cancer, long term exposure to this compound can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver and kidney dysfunction, and visual disturbances. Tests conducted on rats over three months showed that an administration of acetoacetamide (a breakdown product) caused benign tumours. The FDA argue that further tests have proved inconclusive, in particular a study by the  National Toxicology Program where 60 rats were exposed to massively high does of Ace-K and did not contract tumours. Either way, there is clearly some concern over these additives, and it is generally accepted that Ace-K is one of the most under-tested and potentially most dangerous of the artifical sweetener family.

I’m not stating a case either way but one thing is for sure; that sweeteners such as Ace-K have no place in the world of beer, or certainly not the beer world which I want to live in. The Mystic Limoen was a dreadful experience in its own right, but when you consider the potential implications on your health of drinking beverages like this it just further adds to your woe. The irony of potentially poisoning the very punters that keep them in business at least raised something of a smirk; which is at least more than the beer or this story did.

1 Comment

Filed under 4, Fruit Beer, Haacht

#245 – Chapeau Gueuze

#245 - Chapeau Gueuze

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

The Chapeau is the fifth gueuze of my journey thus far. I had started with the fairly unimpressive Timmermans (#12), and Belle-Vue (#62), and had then moved onto the much more respected Boon (#89) and Girardin White Label (#178). My recent lambic enlightenment however took a bit of a step back with this sweetened offering from de Troch.

The Chapeau portfolio of beers is largely dominated by an extensive selection of lambic fruit beers, topped off with a Gueuze, Winter Gueuze and a Faro. They tend to take a bit of a hammering in the company of other such purveyors as Hanssens, Cantillon and Boon but de Troch are a bona fide lambic brewery, who lovingly tend to their beers in the age old traditions. Pauwel Raes is the latest in a long line of family who have headed up the brewery, and he strongly believes in keeping to the old traditions.

The buildings at the de Troch brewery date from 1795 and are steeped in history. Even the equipment still used at de Troch is ancient; an example being the coal-fire kettle which is still used to brew the beer. The buildings are protected by an archaeological order, and while using older equipment in more dated confines does slow down the brewing process, Pauwel Raes argues that it has been instrumental in maintaining the quality of the beer. While many lambic breweries leave the wort to cool in koelschips in the open roof, Pauwel suggests the bacteria have long since just chosen to reside in the open air, but have impregnated every nook and cranny of his premises. It is for this reason that de Troch will resist any movement to bring their technology fully up to date. Pauwel explained that when a recent food safety inspection was carried out, the brewery were ordered to disinfect all the buildings and to stop using wooden barrels. This would have essentially ended the whole possibility of brewing lambic beer and thankfully pressure from local beer groups were able to ensure that less stringent measures are needed to be in place to ensure lambic breweries and blenders can continue to produce this unique brew.

The Chapeau Gueuze is made to the traditional lambic style, and follows a menu of 70% barley, and 30% wheat which is boiled to form the wort ready for spontaneous fermentation. Quite what happens thereafter is unclear but the end result is really quite blindingly sweet. This gueuze was much more akin to the Timmermans and the Belle-Vue than the drier gueuzes and for me tasted much more like a sweetened Faro. Pauwel Raes argues that because of the use of coalfires there is less overall control of the heat, and that this causes a heightened flavour of caramel in the final beer. Having quickly guzzled the contents of my glass I can kind of relate to that. I admit to being a bit of a stickler for sweet beers but having tried now a few of the more respected gueuze on the market I would certainly seek the latter out on a warm sunny afternoon to quench my thirst.

2 Comments

Filed under 6, de Troch, Lambic - Gueuze

#244 – Dulle Griet

#244 - Dulle Griet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

I first came across the Dulle Griet when drinking the Kastaar (#96), a review retelling the story of the Biervliet festivities which have regularly culminated in acts of mass kleptomania. One of the items once purloined was the 12 ton cannon named the Dulle Griet. This medieval supergun sits in Ghent (no doubt now superglued to the pavement) and was built in the early part of the 15th Century. It was then fully utilised on behalf of the City of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, which didn’t completely end happily as the retreating fighters were overrun and the gun taken. It was only finally returned to its true home in 1578, and tourists regularly come across it on their way through the Friday market square in the old town.

The gun was one of a number of 15th Century superguns which were used in battles of the age, and all were cutely personalised in a similar style. (Faule Mette, Faule Grete, Grose Bochse). While the examples in parentheses were titled for either their cumbersome nature (Lazy Mette, Lazy Grete), or their sheer size (Big Gun), the Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) paid its homage to the female figure of Flemish folklore who was famously the subject of a 1562 painting by our old friend Peter Brueghel the Elder (#175). The painting which can be viewed in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp depicts the peasant woman Meg leading an army of women to plunder and pillage Hell.

Brueghel’s paintings are often uncomfortable on the eye when you start to pore over the detail, but equally the vivid nature of the detail is engrossing once you give it your attention. The female protagonist is caught in a moment in time as she sprints across a desolate landscape; armour covering her modest dress with her weapon drawn in one hand and all her worldly possessions in the other. All around her the world is in turmoil, as her reality drifts into a perverse freakshow of fire and brimstone, which leaks from the scarlet sky above. Hell and Earth are uncomfortably uniting before us and you wonder just what future Brueghel thought Europe faced at this time. Little could he have known that 450 years later the land painted on his canvas would be an idyllic paradise of fine beer and gourmet cuisine?

The Dulle Griet which found itself into my glass this evening was a 7% dark beer which didn’t quite match the drama of the previous incumbents of the title. She poured a chestnut hue with an off-white head which quickly receded to nothing. The nose was alluring, and was matched by a spicy malt flavour which was definitely enjoyable. There was no standout moment for me though, and while I enjoyed the beer I couldn’t see myself going out my way to either overly recommend it or buy any more. Longer in the memory though will remain the painting.

Dulle Griet, by Peter Brueghel the Elder

Leave a comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Schelde

#243 – Den Drupneuze

#243 - Den Drupneuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Den Drupneuze beer is the first offering on my journey from the brewery Tseut. It is their Christmas brew and the label festively depicts the friendly pig who typically adorns each of their beers. The oinker in this case is the one wearing a seasonal hat and scarf and who is clearly suffering as a result of the wintry weather – a nice drop of blue snot falling from his snuffly snout. Den Drupneuze of course means runny nose in local dialect.

Beer and alcohol has often been cited as the perfect cure for a cold, and as winter sets in all around us I thought I would put this theory to the test. While the younger of us might head straight for the Lemsip or Night Nurse, ask anyone old enough and they will tell you that a warm cup of booze will cure your ills. It is more likely if you get ill at your Grandmothers house that you will end up with a brandy or a glass of hot toddy (whiskey, hot water and lemon juice) than a nice strong Belgian beer however this viewpoint is so universal there has to be some truth in it. Surely.

The hypothesis here is that alcohol can kill a cold, through the fact that it produces an environment where a virus is unable to survive. Essentially if you were able to get enough alcohol in your blood supply you could in fact create a hostile enough environment to decimate the virus completely. The one downside however is that the levels of alcohol required to support this would also completely kill off your liver. Back to the drawing board. So the next hypothesis asks the question whether regular consumption of alcohol can make the average drinker less susceptible to colds and flu?

There have been a number of studies conducted around this suggestion and one in particular in the USA looked at almost 400 adults and noted that resistance to colds did in fact increase in moderate drinkers, although interestingly not those who smoked. A study in Spain also suggested that a certain amount of units of alcohol per week did indeed correlate with an increased resistance to colds, although they couldn’t prove this in terms of spirits or beer; only red wine, which supports the theories that it is the anti-oxidants present which keep the virals at bay. Now the last thing I want is to shift anyone onto drinking wine so what about a final suggestion – will alcohol and beer in particular help to mediate the side-effects of a cold?

The answer is almost certainly a resounding yes, but it comes with a few caveats. In fact a number of studies have suggested that a good strong beer can temporarily alleviate painful symptoms such as a sore throat or nasal congestion. I’m sure I am not the only one who would prefer a couple of Westmalle Tripels (#149) to taking an ibuprofen or paracetamol? The benefits of drinking beer over pills is self-evident but needs to be balanced against the pain of the evil hangover and of course the fact that drinking alcohol will dehydrate your body – which in actual fact will scientifically prolong the effects of your virus. The moral of the story is drink, drink, and drink, but if you specifically want to help yourself cure a cold, then a little of what you fancy is perfect but any more than one or two is probably only going to make matters worse in the long run.

The Den Drupneuze itself is a rare amber festive beer, a choice based on the brewers natural preference. It is brewed from November to March and the current beer at 8.5% is a more watered down version of the original much stronger brew. I am a big fan of strong amber beers but this one didn’t quite reach my growing expectations. It certainly looked the part but the taste never really went anywhere past a faint malty and fruity bitterness. For the extra ABV this was in the end a very average beer, and certainly not the sort of ale I would entrust in getting me through a severe bout of manflu.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Pig, Tseut

#242 – St Idesbald Blond

#242 - St Idesbald Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

One of the highlights of drinking a thousand Belgian beers is the opportunity to tell a good story. I’ve already come across a number of Saints on my venerable journey thus far and I’m expecting plenty more to come. This time it’s the turn of St Idesbald to distract us from our guzzling, although to be fair during his actual lifetime there wasn’t a great deal to set the pulse racing.

The chief protagonist of the tale was born in approximately 1090 in West Flanders. He was of good solid stock, belonging to the noble family of van der Gracht who were lords of Moorsel. He continued to ingratiate himself with the more esteemed end of the community as a courtier and page to the Count of Flanders and followed a life of piety as a Cistercian monk. He became a canon priest in the beautiful town of Veurne in 1135, and by 1150 shortly after being widowed he joined the Abbey of our Lady of the Dunes (ten Duinen). He would eventually serve as Abbot until his death in 1167, where he was buried in a lead coffin shrine within the Abbey.

The Abbey was an important pillar of the society, and as the beer label will attest, in 1138 it was taken by the Order of Citeaux as an adopted daughter of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux. The St Idesbald beers in many ways celebrate this milestone as much as they do the man – who for centuries lay dormant in his final resting place. It was only in 1577 that things started to hot up a little, when the Gueuzen (essentially the Flemish uprising) plundered the Abbey and razed it to the ground. St Idesbald had been a key figure in the history of the Abbey and the locals were keen to ensure his remains were left untarnished and so transported his shrine to a farmhouse in Bogaerde. It remained here until 1623 where a macabre local survey was carried out which involved opening up the coffin. Amazingly the body of St Idesbald was found to be fully intact and uncorrupted.

The relics of St Idesbald were to become extremely important to the local populace and while the Abbey no longer existed, the farm in Bogaerde housed the coffin. He remained here until the French Revolutionary troops plundered the area whence his holy remains were whisked off to the relative safety of Bruges, eventually ending up in the hospital chapel at the Abbey of our Lady of the Potteries. Amazingly St Idesbald was not venerated as a Saint until 1894, and you can still visit his untarnished remains at the chapel in Bruges to this day, although unlike in 1623 you cannot actually view his lifeless body any longer.

You can though have a beer to celebrate his life, although the St Idesbald Blond is also hardly a brew to get your pulse racing. It is a typical standard Belgian blonde beer which pours a pale gold with a quite ferocious head. The nose is nothing to write home about and the flavour offers little distinguishable above a light fruity twang. This would be a pleasant enough summer barbecue beer for friends who perhaps don’t quite have the urge to explore anything too interesting on the tongue but want something a little stronger than supermarket lager.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Huyghe

#235 – Avec les Bons Voeux

#235 - Avec les Bons Voeux

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 9.5%

There are numerous reasons why brewers make Christmas beers which I touched upon when I celebrated the Bush de Noel (#83), and one of those key reasons was by way of a thank you present from the brewery to its regular customers. It had certainly been an issue in Germany in the past that due to higher levies of tax placed upon higher strength beers, brewers would make less financial return on the sale of seasonal beverages. It was therefore the customer that was seen as benefiting most, although I’m less convinced on a wider level with this somewhat altruistic view. If there was ever a story thought that really merited the claims that brewers gave presents to their loyal customers, then the Avec les Bons Voeux must be the perfect example.

The clue is in the ridiculously long full title – Avec les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont – which translates towith the best wishes of the brewery Dupont’. In 1970, the then head brewer and owner, Sylva Rosier wanted to reward the loyal customers of Dupont for their continued custom and decided to brew a one-off extremely limited higher strength beer. The beer was so limited that customers needed to be on a very select reservation list. The more and more I get to know about the Brasserie Dupont, the more I know that this was no marketing gimmick. They valued their customers immensely and this was their New Year present back to them. Such was the clamour for the beer, that Rosier once again brewed another very exclusive batch the following year. Unbelievably it would be another twenty-six years before the beer would finally be brewed on a regular basis where production levels were increased to be available to both the local and international markets.

There is no doubt that this was a great result for the beer drinking public of the world. The Avec les Bons Voeux is a fantastic beer which many claim to be the best beer made at Dupont; which given the reputation of many of the other beers in their portfolio is high praise indeed. It is a high strength saison, which pours a delightful copperish blonde, with an almost perfect head. It is both fruity and dry, and yet wonderfully bitter – a by-product of dry-hopping as the final act of good will. It has a complex flavour which is fairly hard to pin down and yet it leaves you knowing you are drinking a seriously high quality beer. At 9.5% ABV it is also deceptively strong. Saisons began life as beers which could be drunk by workers in the sun while they toiled in the fields. This certainly isn’t one of them. It only comes in large bottles, and while the 750ml bottle should be manageable on your own, you might want to ask for assistance in polishing off the Magnum sized bottle. I was stupid enough to share this one with my dad who naturally moaned that it wasnt real ale – what a waste of good beer!

 

3 Comments

Filed under 8, Dupont, Saison

#234 – Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel

#234 - Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel, is the official beer of the town of Aalst. De Glazen Toren are the brewery who make this interesting beer, and are based in the hamlet of Erpe Mere which sits just outside the town. Oilsjtersen Tripel essentially translates into the Tripel from Aalst.

De Glazen Toren have chosen the spindly female character Ondineke to represent the beer, and who depending on the vintage of the beer, you can find gracing the beautifully decorated red and yellow paper labels. She is the main character from a famous book by the Flemish author Louis Paul Boon. The book is called De Kapellekensbaan, and is largely considered to be the authors literary masterpiece – so much so that it was widely touted as a potential winner of the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Ondineke clearly means something to the people of Aalst, despite the main subplot of the book being her continued fruitless efforts to rid herself of the place. Born as a feisty working class girl, she attempts to use her all the charms she has available to her to influence a better life for herself elsewhere. Ondineke’s labours are set in the industrial 1900s however the critique and author commentary style of the book is largely set much later in the century.  It is a somewhat chaotic book which reflects the personality of the author at the time who was wrestling with his inner Marxist demons. Gone it would seem were the idealistic aspirations which had shaped much of his early work, and what was left was a gritty taste of small town realism. It seems to suit the Belgium I know quite well, unless of course you like beer.

I have yet to visit Aalst, but I’m told if you visit you will probably come across Ondineke in some capacity. The local beer shops will no doubt stock plenty of the beer, there is a café of the same name, and if you visit the City Hall there is a cute copy of a sculpture of Ondineke which was recently moved there to protect it from vandalism. The original can be found at the Stedelijk Museum in the old fish market.

The beer itself was particularly enjoyable. I was frequenting one of those classic Pakistani kebab restaurants in the East End of London where they encourage you to bring your own booze, and although it probably could have benefited from being a bit cooler; it was the perfect accompaniment to a great meal. Ondineke Oilsjtersen Tripel is a classic Tripel which has a unique taste of its own; probably from the addition of a good dose of liquid candi sugar. The beer is double hopped with local produce, and no further spice is added, and the result is an aromatically pungent thick orange brew which stands out from the usual mainstream Tripel. It certainly got the seal of approval from my fellow diners who felt they were missing out on something with their cheap wine and tins of Aussie lager.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Glazen Toren

#229 – Tripel Karmeliet

#229 - Tripel Karmeliet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.4 %

I am surprised as anyone that it has taken this long to try this beer. After the Dulle Teve (#228) and some wonderful aged Chimay Blue (#45) from the depths of the Kulminator cellar it was time to try this highly rated Tripel.

In many ways the Tripel Karmeliet is a new beer; launched by the quirky Bosteels brewery in 1996, however the original recipe is said to hail from the former Carmelite monastery in Dendermonde. It was there in 1679 that friars made a beer brewed not only with barley, but also wheat and oats – proof that multi-grain isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. It is now heavily spiced and flavoured with Styrian hops which may have been beyond the friars, as was the bottle refermentation, but the idea was the same.

The Karmeliet, or Carmelites, were an influential bunch in Europe in the late 17th Century when this beer was first conceptualised. The Order is said to have originated on Mount Carmel near Haifa in Israel. The mountain has significant Biblical relevance in its connections to the prophet Elijah, and has long been a refuge for hermits laying down their lives to God – long before a 12th Century chapel was built in honour of Mary by the hermetical Brothers of St Mary of Mount Carmel. It was here that the typical characteristics of the Carmelite Order were formed; notably the importance of poverty and manual labour, and latterly the devotion to silent prayer.

Around 1235 the Carmelites were forced to flee Israel under threat of the Saracen invaders and Europe was the obvious destination for many. Over the next two hundred years the Carmelite Orders grew in importance and power, and monasteries blossomed in this new spiritual and intellectual age. Relying on their own labour and alms it was a natural inclination to begin to brew beer for the local population and save them from the evils of disease-ridden water. Of course the Carmelites would have met their match during the French Revolution and they have been virtually wiped off the map apart from small areas of the Netherlands and Belgium.

In the Tripel Karmeliet however the Ordo Carmelitarum lives on, and lives on in style. This is a robustly delicious brew which is instantly recognisable on first looks, and then taste. Its appearance, most notably served in the ostentatious and slightly tacky fleur-de-lys glass, is a light blond carbonated brew, which once put to the nose offers up a miasma of citrus and spice. The mix of wheat and oats into the grist gives the beer a uniquely dry, crisp and refreshing flavour which is bitter and sweet, and yet fruity and hoppy at the same time. It tantalises your tastebuds and defies you to order another. Dont be fooled though – At 8.4% this particular beer needs respect. The Order of Carmelites are well known for their fantastical visions, and I had one or two myself the next morning.

11 Comments

Filed under 9, Abbey Tripel, Bosteels

#228 – Dulle Teve

#228 - Dulle Teve

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

This beer found me in Antwerp, and when in Antwerp there really is only one place to be – the Kulminator bar. We found a cosy couple of seats at the bar and eventually a dog-eared menu. It would be a long night, and a very long hangover, and it all started with a Mad Bitch.

Kris Herteleer, the enigmatic head brewer at de Dolle, would have people believe that this beer is named after his mother Moes, who in her mid nineties has been known to conduct tours around the Esen-based brewery. While there may be some truth behind this, there is actually another very good reason for the presence of this beer in the de Dolle range, which all stems from the history of the brewery here in the heart of West Flanders.

As the date etched onto one of the buildings in the main yard will testify there has been a building here since as far back as 1835. At that time a local doctor by the name of Louis Nevejan had set up a small brewery and distillery on the premises. Nevejan would eventually pass on in the year 1882, and the property and its trade was sold to Louis Costenoble whose family for three generations ran the brewery and distillery. In 1980 the Costenoble family ran out of interested parties to take on the business and so again the premises were put up for sale. It was at this point that the de Dolle brothers were messing about with home brews fairly seriously and were unhappy to see the loss of another local brewery. They stumped up the cash and decided to take a chance on improving their recipes in more professional surroundings.

The brewery had been inactive for a little while and so there was plenty of clearing up to be done which brothers Jo and Kris began promptly. As they began to prepare the premises for fresh brewing they discovered many old reminders from the Costenoble days – a number of which were old 250 ml bottles with labels still glued on. Costenoble had been brewing a 6% beer called de Dulle Teve for the local Het Niew Museum pub, and here were the only reminders of that time. The de Dolle Brouwers decided to recreate this beer, albeit somewhat more potently, and kept the same labels – a drawing by a local artist from Bruges.

The brewers were very keen to make a strong tripel and de Dulle Teve certainly lives up to the billing. The name, which essentially translates as Mad Bitch in English certainly conjures up how you might feel if you have had a few of these. It poured a murky golden hue, and sat menacingly looking at me from the glass. I wasn’t sure at first but as it started to warm up in the heady atmosphere of the bar all the typical de Dolle flavours began to swim with me. Made with pure malt, and candi sugar it was solid, strong and full of dark undertones which I couldn’t quite define but to be honest I didn’t really care. I wouldn’t label it a classic but I would certainly drink it again given another chance just to see if it was able to recreate the moment. I understand this beer has been rebranded simply as Tripel in the US as the name was deemed inappropriate. After writing about Satan Red (#215) that fact doesn’t really surprise me.

2 Comments

Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, De Dolle Brouwers

#227 – Kerst Pater Special

#227 - Kerst Pater Special

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Christmas beers largely exist for a number of perfectly good reasons, which if you want to revisit please feel free to check out the Bush de Noel (#83) – the first Christmas beer of my journey. For me, the best reason to have a Christmas beer is to snugly sink into the traditions of yuletide, and a strong, dark, rich and wholesomely fruity beer is simply perfect on a cold winters night.

The idea of these kind of drinks is nothing new, especially in the UK, where mulled wine is a particular favourite at Christmas. I began to look back historically at the types of drinks served at this time of year and one of the earliest forms of Christmas beer turned out to be a drink known as Lambswool, which seems to have been fairly common as far back as the late 15th Century. The brew consists of spiced ale (or in later years cider) and baked apples. There are various explanations for the name; although the most likely is that the light colour and frothy appearance on the surface looks remarkably like the sheared wool of a lamb.

The odd looking drink was traditionally associated with the act of ‘wassailing’ – which basically amounts to a procession of merry persons (usually inebriated on lambswool) who wander their locality toasting either a) their neighbours or b) the environment. The first custom of ‘house visiting’ usually requires the females to dress up in bows and ribbons and offer their bowls of lambswool to owners. The second custom is slightly more bizarre, in that usually the males wander fields and orchards ladling their lambswool over crops and trees, and singing ancient rhymes. The idea in Pagan times was that this would guarantee the crop for the following year. It is largely now just a fading tradition of folklore which tends to occur in country villages around Somerset and Gloucester on Twelfth Night (January 5th) or thereabouts.

I normally make some kind of mulled wine over Christmas, however as we approach this festive break I am going to break from tradition and supplement my Belgian beers with some lambswool. Essentially a good half a gallon of real ale, combined with some apples, nutmeg, ginger and brown sugar should suffice. I will be the new boy in the street so will decline the dressing up as a morris dancer part though. Anyway, enough of this frivolity – what about the Kerst Pater Special? This is a much better beer than the other Pater Lieven brews (#18, #73) that I had tried thus far. It was punchy on the nose, and continued to work on my tastebuds. It had all the attributes you associate with a good Christmas beer – rustic fruit, spice, cloves, and cinnamon. This beer doesn’t get a lot of press but is certainly too good to waste pouring over your neighbours perennials.

 

Thanks to Bernt Rostad for the photograph

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Van den Bossche

#226 – Floris Honey

#226 - Floris Honey

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3 %

I haven’t thus far had the most positive experiences with honey beers. The Barbar (#19) was remarkably average and didn’t even taste of honey, and the Le Pave de l’Ours (#117) was more akin to bears piss than anything else. Despite being a pretty naff excuse for a beer, at least the Floris Honey did actually taste of honey.

There are generally two ways in which honey can be added to a beer, and a simple comparison of the Barbar to the Floris Honey may well explain the taste phenomenon. The Barbar method, and the one which I have slightly more respect for, is to add the honey during the kettle boil. This process usually means that the honey will become part of the original gravity of the wort. As the honey tends to be a single sugar profile, then it will tend to ferment out completely and any sweetness may only remain aromatic. Brewers can attract widely varying flavours at this stage by trying different types of honey. Wildflower strains of honey tend to ensure a floral streak, whereas Buckwheat strains lead to a more roasted flavour. This likely though will be at the expense of the sweetness of the honey which is particularly true of the Barbar.

The Huyghe brewers of the Floris Honey however unashamedly add the honey post-fermentation, and so it doesn’t have the opportunity to lose its flavour and of course is added in such amounts that it will likely disguise the lack of flavour of a low strength wheat beer – a low strength wheat beer brewed with the sole intention of being butchered with flavourings. I have no idea what Silenrieux did with the Le Pave de l’Ours, but it may well have been a result of somebody leaving the door open at night!

Unlike the Le Pave de l’Ours, at least the Floris Honey is at least reasonably pleasant. I had popped into the Dovetail pub (#119) for a quick lunchtime beer, ahead of a reasonably important external meeting, and so anything too meaty could render me asleep by the first tea-break. The barmaid filled up a cloudy pale tumbler which had a wonderfully thick bubbly head. I was thirsty and it didn’t take too long to polish off half the glass. I can’t really say much more than it tasted of honey and was particularly refreshing. It wasn’t going to win any prizes but I knew what I expected when I ordered it.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Belgian White (Witbier), Huyghe

#225 – Santa Bee

#225 - Santa Bee

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Kris Boelens family run brewery from Belsele essentially started brewing in 1993 at a time when the mini revival of Belgian beer was in full swing. Towns and villages were tired of standing by and watching the conglomerates like Heineken and InBev pick off their historic family run businesses. The Boelens story though wasn’t a particularly new one – Kris Boelens can trace his brewing family tree right back to his great grandfather!

The Boelens brewery actually began its life in Lokeren in the 19th Century, a dozen miles away from the town of Belsele, where the family opened another brewery called De Meester. The owner would eventually pass away leaving his wife with a business she was ill-equipped to run. As she was also the sister of the brewer of the Boelens brewery she sought help from the family. It would be Henri Boelens, (her nephew, and Kris Boelens grandfather) who had trained as a brewer who joined his aunt in Belsele to take the business venture on. Henri eventually decided to rename the Belsele brewery Boelens; and it was in this very building that the current Boelens brewery is still based.

At that time the brewery was providing for seventeen pubs and inns in the town, which considering it only had a population of just under two thousand was pretty impressive, however fortune was to turn sour for the family run business in the shape of the German invasion during World War I. The systematic removal of all copper from Belgian breweries meant that the Boelens family had to choose another means of survival. They gained agreement from the German army to change the nature of their business into the distribution of existing beer, and thus brewing stopped, and wouldn’t start again until 1993 where we begun our little tale.

The Santa Bee, or the Kerstbier as it is more often known is unsurprisingly the Boelens Christmas offering. It is a dark tasty brew, very much in the typical Christmas beer genre. It poured a heavy chocolate brown with a thick rich head and reminded me somewhat of the Sainte-Monon Brune (#55). I’m definitely growing to like this little brewery who have yet to disappoint me on my journey.  There’s also plenty more in the cellar to come.

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Boelens

#224 – Affligem Dubbel

#224 - Affligem Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Affligem Dubbel is what I like to call a proper Abbey beer. There are some breweries which might use the name of a defunct Abbey to help sell their beers, such as the St. Feuillien range or the Floreffe (#40) beers made by Lefebvre, but then there are those breweries which work under the licence from an existing functioning Abbey. The Affligem beers are very much in the latter category, and lets face it when it comes to Abbey’s, you don’t get much more ‘proper’ than the one in Affligem.

It all started not far short of a thousand years ago, when monk Wedericus from St. Peter’s Abbey in Ghent coerced six errant knights to repent their violent lifestyles and seek a new direction in life.  St. Anno, the Archbishop of Cologne at the time provided the guidance, and Count Palatine of Lotharingia provided his land, and essentially the spirit of the Abbey of Affligem had been founded. In 1085 the new monks had adopted the teachings of St Benedict, and by the next year the first church had been consecrated. That same year the Count of Leuven offered around 200 hectares of his domain to Affligem, and the land began to grow at a remarkable rate (over 8000 hectares at its pomp). The Abbey of Affligem was easily one of the richest domains in the Low Countries.

Affligem was also one of the most influential with many monasteries being founded by the Abbey – these included Bornem (1120) and St. Andrews of Bruges (1100). It became known as the ‘Primaria Brabantiae’ which essentially regarded it as the most important in the Duchy of Brabant. The banner of Brabant was stored there during peace time, and at least five Dukes are still buried there. The power grew through the 14th and 15th Centuries following consecration as an Abbey, and then the granting of Primate in the Brabantian states. Monasteries and religious institutions all over Europe wanted a piece of Affligem.

It wasn’t always good news though. The Abbey was twice plundered during the 14th Century wars between Brabant and Flanders, and monks were often exiled for periods of time. This happened again in 1580 when followers of William of Orange looted the place, leaving it empty for up to 27 years, and then of course there was the French Revolution which took the Abbey out of play for another 76 years until it could be reformed. The Abbey has existed in more placid circumstances ever since and still contains 22 working monks to this day.

The famous Affligem beers have been brewed at the Abbey in some form since 1574, which would have included the brown Dubbel. This is a highly rated mid-strength brew which is fairly standard in appearance and aroma, but is ultimately a pleasurable beer to drink. It has a fair degree of carbonation which was something of a surprise, and leaves a particularly fruity after-effect on the tongue. The whole package is particularly professional and although the beer is not exactly a world beater there is certainly a deep satisfaction felt sitting down drinking a beer which has such a worldly history.

Leave a comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, de Smedt

#223 – Guldenberg

#223 - Guldenberg

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Guldenberg was the very first commercial beer brewed at De Ranke. It was so named because of the ancient Guldenberg Abbey which once stood in the town of Wevelgem, and brewed the local beer. It was in this town that Nino Bacelle, the founder of De Ranke was born.

It all started in 1994 when our man Nino started brewing under his own name. His family had been in the industry since the 1930s, and Nino himself started to tinker with recipes and homebrews from about 1981. He studied brewing (now why didn’t I get that career advice at school?) in Ghent during the mid-Eighties and continued to practice his art. Eventually in the early 90s he had begun to really perfect his passion and friends and family were urging him to launch to the public. He decided to go for it and took the less risky route of using another brewery’s equipment. This meant less initial investment, and so a relationship was formed with Deca Services in Woesten.

In that first year Nino managed to produce nine thousand litres of Guldenberg, which was received to much acclaim. Demand continued to increase and Nino began to once again survey his options. It was then in the mid-Nineties that Nino decided to join forces with a friend and fellow beer lover Guido de Vos, who was a founder member of the HOP beer tasting association, and who had also been tinkering with homebrew for much of his life. The Nino Bacelle brewery suddenly became a 50/50 venture and with that in mind they chose to rename the brewery. De Ranke was officially formed in 1996 and has rarely looked back since. They continued to brew at Deca until 2005 but I will save that story for another brew.

So what about the Guldenberg beer? Well, I would say it certainly lives up to the hype. It’s a strong crisp blonde ale weighing in at 8.5% and is particularly hoppy. This is derived from the use of high quality Hallertau hops, and of course a good measure of dry-hopping. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s in the same league as the XX Bitter (#131) on that front but it certainly matches it in overall presence, with the extra ABV perhaps giving it a leading edge. It’s a particularly delicious beer and one that essentially launched one of Belgium’s most impressive breweries.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, De Ranke

#222 – Slaapmutske Bruin

#222 - Slaapmutske Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

When I started this Odyssey I wasn’t entirely sure what it would bring. To be honest I wasn’t sure that writing about beer was really that interesting but I had fallen in love with the beer. I’m not turned on by beer rating websites – they don’t do it for me. I started to plot my journey on ratebeer but I soon got fed up of that. I’m not sure the swigging and swilling, and the sniffing and swishing were what I wanted to be a part of. What I have found though is that I really love the stories that every beer seems to be screaming to tell. I’d almost go as far as to say that in some cases the stories are just as good as that first taste of a new beer, and the Slaapmutske Bruin is the perfectest example.

The protagonists of this wonderful tale are Dany de Smet, the one-time brewmaster at Huyghe, and Marleen Vercaigne, his partner and beer lover extraordinaire. They shared a passion, and that passion led them to creating their own homebrews with the dream of one day setting up their own brewery. This unadulterated passion would eventually lead to marriage, and inevitably a baby boy called Jonas was born to both in 1999. As is surprisingly common amongst brewers, the happy couple celebrated the birth by making a new batch of homebrew which they christened Jonasbier. As a new dad I can testify to the fact that newborn babies have a natural tendency to cry just as you are trying to sleep off the sneaky few Tripels you had left in the cellar, and Jonas was no exception. In fact it got so bad during one particular night that Dany and Marleen decided as a last resort to try dipping his pacifier in the latest incarnation of their Jonasbier.

It’s certainly not in the baby raising textbooks, but the result was that Jonas immediately stopped fussing and almost slept for the whole night, which allowed Dany and Marleen to return to the sitting room to continue working out a name for this latest brew. Marleen had commented that “This beer is a real Slaapmutske”, which in East Flanders literally means ‘sleeping hat’, or what we in the UK might call ‘a cheeky little nightcap’. Suddenly the beer had a name, and as it was the middle of winter, this latest incarnation of the Jonasbier became the Slaapmutske Winterbier (later to be also known as the Slaapmutske Bruin). So impressive was this latest batch, that later the following the year the beer was released to the Belgian market. The couple were now living their dream.

It’s no surprise that the Slaapmutske Bruin was the catalyst for their mainstream movement into brewing. For a 6% beer it is remarkably tasty, mainly due to the blending of colour malts, aromatic hops and coriander. It is sweet, rich and spicy, yet velvety smooth on the tongue. Rarely have I been so impressed with a beer of this strength. I have often recommended friends and colleagues to pick some of these beers up in Belgium, and rarely has anyone been disappointed. I only wish this particular nightcap was just that little bit stronger.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Proef

#221 – Leffe 9

#221 - Leffe 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

This was my first deviation from the standard Leffe Blonde (#41) and Leffe Brune (#25), and I was reliably informed that the Leffe 9 was the pick of the bunch. It was time to find out. I’ve tended to drift my conversations around Leffe to the politics and machinations of the rise of Interbrew, so I will take a break from that today. I’m going to concentrate on the beer, and according to the website, the Leffe 9 is a perfect Aperitif beer. It all sounded a little bit poncey and thus I deemed it worth the briefest of investigations.

Aperitif is a French term for a starter drink which opens the formalities of a meal. Not only is it a starter but it also serves as the welcome to your guests and is designed to stimulate the appetite. It is usually alcoholic in nature, and comes served with some kind of nibbles. The general suggestion is that the Leffe 9 has ‘spicy, bitter and fruity aromas with a slightly smoky aftertaste’. This would therefore be ‘delightful with charcuterie, cheese or tapas’. I didn’t find this particularly helpful due to tapas normally constituting

a) anything approaching its sell by date which is traditionally given to customers to accompany their drinks (in Spain), or

b) anything approaching its sell by date which is routinely served up in the smallest of portions and charged at excruciatingly exorbitant prices to customers who think that sharing a few meatballs is truly liberating (in the UK).

Why not try making a ‘brioche waffle with fried foie gras and raspberry and spice sauce’ – apparently the power and smoothness of the Leffe 9 will marry well with the baked fois in the apples causing a ‘feast for the senses’. Alternatively why not try ‘mini-sandwiches of smoked trout, Ardennes ham and fromage frais with black pepper’ or ‘mini-skewers of red pepper preserves, chorizo and small sweet potatoes’. I’m trying to take the nonsense out of beer drinking and then Leffe start writing rubbish like this. Whilst there is nothing wrong with admitting that Belgian beer is somewhat more classier than your average lager, any man that cracks open a Leffe 9 and then pops on a pinny to immediately rustle up some vol-au-vents is probably missing the point.

The Leffe 9 is so named because it is 9%. It isn’t therefore a beer to be trifled with. Apparently it is not correct etiquette to lubricate guests beyond the point of not being able to sit up straight or to spend each course staggering to the lavatory so I wonder whether this is the ideal aperitif beer; although again it is common practice to usually only just serve the one. I began to consider the above in terms of my hosting etiquette and realised perhaps that I still had some way to go. One beer just never seems to be enough, and although I very much enjoy a good Belgian beer with good food, the thought of entertaining my friends with a food pairing exhibition fills me with abject horror. I did therefore drink the Leffe 9 alone, and did deem it to be fairly decent but it was far from perfect. It started very strongly with plenty of bite but lost much of its oomph in the middle, thus I promised myself next time I would try it with a terrine of caramelised pheasant offal.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, InBev (Belgium)

#220 – Kossaat

#220 - Kossaat

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

The Kossaat beer is brewed by the unremarkable Lefebvre, but on behalf of the Brouwerij Vercauteren. There is a genealogical link for the name of this beer which takes us way back through history. It will explain the rustic looking gentleman on the label of the beer.

The Vercauteren story starts in the late 18th Century with Cornelius Cuyckens who was a farmer and occasional brewer by trade. He tended a small plot of land on the edge of the village at Malderen, and when he died he left behind seven children. It was one of his sons Peter who would take over the reins of this small-holding, and when he too eventually died, again the reins were passed on. Eventually after a couple more generations one of the granddaughters of Peter married an Alfons Vercauteren who took up the challenge and inspired the eventual modernisation of their practices. The journey continued through son Maurice and then grandson Andre before the brewing finally stopped with the latest in this long line – another Alfons Vercauteren.

The gentleman celebrated on the label of the Kossaat beer is the original farmer and brewer of this long chain – Cornelius. A Kossaat is/was a term largely used in Prussia during the 18th Century for a farmer who lived on the edge of the community and who largely eked out a living from their small plot of land. This was often impossible, and so they might have worked extra manual work for the richer farmers and landholders. Neither though were the Kossaaten the poorest around – at least they had some land, and the odd bit of livestock. The etymology of Kossaat derives from the Kotta, which was the Germanic name for the small cottages in which they would live. The term Kossaat literally means ‘those who sit in the cottages’.

It is likely that the Kossaten were of Slavic origin, and that this spread through to Prussia and into this Western corner of Europe. Cornelius Cuyckens certainly lived this simple lifestyle, as did his ancestors, and he was the one who essentially kickstarted the Brouwerij Vercauteren all those years ago. The beer, as you would expect from Lefebvre was distinctly average with very little to get excited about. It was a standard pleasant blonde with a light fruity flavour that was laced with some faintly impressive hopping. The history of the Kossaat may be semi interesting but the beer certainly isn’t.

Leave a comment

Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Lefebvre