Tag Archives: Benedictine

#236 – Witkap Pater Dubbel

#236 - Witkap Pater Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It’s difficult to drink beer in Belgium and not be touched by the hand of God somewhere along the way. I have lost track over the past couple of hundred brews how many times I have come across abbeys, monks and monasteries. The beer from the Witkap range which I previously tried was the Tripel (#94) which led me to investigate the Cistercian monk from the label. I have already met Benedictines, Carmelites (#229), and Trappists and so I thought I’d use the Witkap Pater Dubbel to try and make some sense of some of these monastic classifications.

There are essentially two main categories of order; Contemplative, and Non-Contemplative. I will deal with the former first, which contain the bulk of the orders you will come across while drinking Belgian beers ie the Trappists, Carmelites, Carthusians and Cistercians. Contemplative orders are those who have given their lives to God but with minimal interaction with the outside world. Although they seek not to talk to the world, by praying they hope to save those very souls they shy away from. There are three main types who can all be traced back to their founders – the Benedictines from St Benedict (525), the Carmelites who formed at Mount Carmel (circa 14th Century), and the Carthusians from St Bruno (11th Century).

Benedictine orders typically reside in communities but have limited interaction, although they do interact with each other. This in contrast to the austere Carthusians whose monks isolate themselves even from their fellow brothers. Carmelites tend to be somewhere in the middle, although of course it is impossible to simplify these orders too much. To confuse matters even more it is worth pointing out that in fact the Cistercians formed as a splinter group from the Benedictines and that the Trappists have over time diverged from the Cistercians. Both groups sought a more literal interpretation of the Benedictine doctrine and both choose their vocation with subtle differences. Trappists tend to make a living from the production of goods for the public and have thrived whereas the insulated lives of the Benedictines and Cistercians haven’t.

The other Order, those Non-Contemplatives, are also known as Active Orders. These are the communities of monks who tend to have more direct interaction with the outside world. They are less bound by the walls of the monastery and rather than being self-supportive often tend to live off the charity of others. The two main types are the Franciscans, formed by St Francis (13th Century), and the Dominicans, hailing from St Dominic (also 13th Century). The former live a simple life with the main aim of giving aid to the poor through prayer and good works, whereas the latter have taken a more educational stance towards engaging and training society to look after itself.

It would be insulting to those involved to suggest it is in anyway as simplistic as this. Each monastic community across Belgium and the world will act and live to its own particular custom, but it does give the beer drinker a perspective on the colourful background which accompanies each brew. In the case of the Witkap Pater Dubbel, the history is probably a little more interesting than the actual beer, which was a standard malty double, with a fair level of carbonation and a sharp spicy finish. Fairly enjoyable but hardly worth writing about – unless of course you try to disseminate thousands of years of monastic life into a few paragraphs!

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Slagmuylder

#193 – Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

#193 - Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

It had been a while since my last grapple with a St. Martin beer (#69), and I tried the Cuvee de Noel with next to no anticipation whatsoever. It was better but really only marginally. So who was this St. Martin whose reputation seems relatively under threat now due to this recurring crap beer association?

He was born in Italy of all places in the 4th Century, the son of a Roman military officer and tribune. He would join the army himself at the plucky age of fifteen having recently discovered Christianity, and ended up serving in a garrison in what is now Amiens in France. He clearly wasn’t the fighting type though, and he was jailed for cowardice at a young age for refusing to join a battle; citing his faith as the catalyst for this change of heart. He chose instead to help the sick and needy, and is famously represented in modern day imagery giving half of his officer’s cloak to a beggar who entreated him. It’s difficult to make out but this also seems to be the illustration on the beer’s label.

A lull in the war saved Martin, who was released from all military details. He promptly took up service as a spiritual student at Poitiers, and sought to convert all those he came into contact with; from the thief who once robbed him in the mountains to his own mother back in Lombardy. He was eventually chased out by heretics to the island of Gallinaria (now Isola d’Albenga) where he settled as a hermit for ten years, eventually forming a Benedictine Abbey in Liguge with a bevy of likeminded monks. He gained great success in building churches and converting the unconvertible, and his reputation soared culminating in his eventual consecration as the Bishop of Tours in 372.

St. Martin continued to live as a hermit after becoming a Bishop becoming clearly a much revered figure who gave almost everything he had to help the needy and the poor.  I’m sure though that he would have also liked a good beer in those days – after all what monk didn’t? although I don’t really think he would have approved of this particular beer. An instantly forgettable, thin and uninspiring ruby red beer which started spicy enough but ended up losing all its strength;  just as St. Martin did in 397 before dying amongst his brethren.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brunehaut, Christmas Beer, Horse

#70 – Adelardus Trudoabdijbier Bruin

#70 - Adelardus Trudoadbdijbier Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

The Adelardus Trudoabdijbier Bruin is a bit of a mouthful, and is yet another example of a beer linked to an abbey – this time the remainder of what is left of the Abbey of St. Trudo in Sint-Truiden, in the quiet province of Limburg. There isn’t much left of the old buildings thanks to the pillaging that accompanied the French Revolution, but what does remain is fairly clearly evidenced on the label of the beer – the famous tower – and there is of course as ever a story behind it.

The Abbey itself was founded way back in the 7th Century by a Frankish nobleman by the name of St. Trudo, on the farmland of his wealthy parents. It never really became a major player in the monastic history of Belgium until the middle of the 9th Century when it was taken over by the Bishop of Metz and placed under Benedictine stewardship. The place soon became a popular place of pilgrimage and it made the town rich.

St. Trudo was one of Belgium’s more modest examples of a grand abbey until a certain Adelardus rode into town in the 11th Century. During his tenancy as Abbot of St. Trudo between 1055 and 1082, he oversaw the rebuilding of an extension of the main church, and a number of other ecclesiastical buildings in the town. The church was enormous – measuring 100 x 27 metres, with the famous Romanesque tower pictured on the label, looming high above the town. Adelardus has become famous for this achievement, and it is testimony to him that this beer was made, and indeed his architectural skills that the thing is still standing after all these years. In fact little evidence remains of the magnificence of the church, although if you visit the Abbey there is a bronze replica to feast your eyes upon, and remember what might have been if it hadn’t been for the Revolution.

The beer was actually fairly pleasant, with a thin sepia head on a dark brown fizzy lake of flavour. The flavour was spicy and ardent thanks to a local mixture of herbs called ‘sweet gale’, with the dark fruits and brown sugar that offset well the slight weirdness of the gale. It worked well but did fade somewhat, and ended just a little bit too thin. This beer is good but will never tower above other browns.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Kerkom

#60 – Abbaye d’Aulne Tripel Brune

#60 - Abbaye D'Aulne

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

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

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

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

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

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

#51 – Abbaye de Forest

#51 - Abbaye de Forest

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Silly

#44 – Maredsous Tripel 10

#44 - Maredsous 10

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

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

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

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

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

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



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

#37 – Orval

#37 - Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Orval is the fourth of the six Trappist breweries we have come across thus far in Belgium, and it is almost certainly the most attractive, set in the grounds of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the deep south east of Belgium near the Luxembourg border.

There is definitely not enough space to document the rich history of the Abbey, however since around the 11th Century when the Benedictine monks of Calabria of Italy first settled, beer has been brewed here. Over time, other sets of monks have moved in, and fires and the French Revolution have put pay to the original buildings. The newest incarnation was constructed between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monk Marie-Albert van der Cruyssen, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey, four years after the first Orval beer was brewed.

None of these stories however are quite as interesting as the legend behind the name and beer label of the ‘Queen of Trappists’. Apparently, the recently widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was convalescing after the death of her husband and child in the area when tragically she lost her wedding ring in a spring that ran through the beautiful site. When she sat and prayed to the Virgin Mary for its return, a trout appeared from the depths of the spring, bearing the ring in its mouth. She immediately retook it and exclaimed that this place truly was ‘Val d’Or’ – the Valley of Gold, from which the name Orval is derived. Her immense gratitude was to fund the foundation of the original monastery, and the rest as they say is history, albeit a slightly fanciful one. Does nobody else agree this all sounds just a little bit fishy?

I have been drinking Orval as one of my favourite beers for quite some time, and it was a pleasure to officially record my thoughts on here. Served at the designated temperature as opposed to the chilled examples I have been enjoying over the last few months. At a warmer temperature the pour was still electric amber, carbonating and pffing with a yeasty head. The smell is stupefying and almost alive. The taste is sharp, and sour right to the end, with some orange citrus and a dryness that makes you beg for another. These beers are readily available in large Tesco supermarkets. Stock up, or head to Belgium !

(Post-Script) – the story of the Petit-Orval (#52) recollects a brief visit to the Abbey

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Fish, Orval, Trappist Beer