Tag Archives: blonde

#211 – La Binchoise Blonde

#211 - La Binchoise Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

La Binchoise Blonde is another beer which is dominated by the Gilles on the label. For more information on these strange characters then please feel free to divert your attention to the La Binchoise Brune (#121). Today though I want to concentrate on the modern day history of the brewery, and in particular Andre Graux.

The modern day brewery in Binche was only founded in 1986, which is fairly young by Belgian standards. It was set up by Andre Graux and his wife Francoise Jauson who were both unemployed at the time and shared a passion for beer. The business first began at home, but eventually they bought an old malthouse and the reputation of their early beers led to moderate success. At the time the brewery was particularly well known for making their beer in a cauldron which they procured from the Belgian National Guard which added to the intrigue.

The two beers which really launched the commercialisation of the brewery were the Fakir, and Reserve Marie de Hongrie. Strangely, having just literally written about label beers in my last review (#210), both these beers developed alter egos for the linguistically distinct areas of Wallonia and Flanders. The Reserve Marie de Hongrie would double up as La Binchoise Brune in Wallonia, while the La Binchoise Blonde took on the Fakir mandate. Fakir just happened to be the childhood nickname of our chief protagonist Andre Graux. I have added the label of the beer for posterity which is now retired and I am therefore unlikely to run across it again on my travels.

Fakir

The La Binchoise Blonde and La Binchoise Brune remain the flagship beers of the brewery and these two are often relabelled for local shops, carnivals and fetes; in particular the Blonde which accounts for about half of the entire breweries current output. You can also find it locally known as La Molagnarde Blonde.

In my humble opinion the La Binchoise Blonde is a particularly average blonde beer. You can’t dislike it but equally I’d find it unlikely that with the breadth of good solid blonde mid-range beers available that you would continue to drink this one. It looks the part though, with a thick rich amber pour, and the aroma is sweet and fruity. There is a good helping of yeast in the flavour and some basic citric fruits which isn’t that surprising given it is brewed with orange peel – this addition reflective of the orange blossom regularly thrown at the carnival. I may decide to drink this again if a) I ever actually make it to the carnival, or b) if I am lucky enough to get my hands on a Fakir, or a La Molagnarde Blonde.

3 Comments

Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, La Binchoise

#207 – Silly Enghien Noel Tripel Blonde

#207 - Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Silly brewery acquired the Enghien range of beers in 1975, when they took over the Tennstedt Decroes family brewery in the town of Enghien. The staple beer at the time was the Speciale Double Enghien, which is now more commonly known as the Double Enghien Brune. Over the years the Silly Enghien Blonde, and the Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde have been added to their range.

The Brasserie du Pot d’Etain as it was known was founded way back in 1880 and only just fell short of its centenary celebrations, when the Van der Haegen-Mynsbrughen family did the business deal with the local Tennstedt-Decroes family. This ensured the continuation of the Enghien beers with an already well established brewery in the locality. It seems a shame though not to dwell on some of these now defunct breweries, and so I would like to concentrate for the rest of this review on the original name of the brewery.

Pot d’Etain is actually a common title in France or Belgium and is often used in the names of breweries, hotels or bars. It actually translates into English as The Pewter Pot – a type of lidded drinking vessel often used in bygone days. Pewter is a metal alloy, mostly made of tin but mixed with other metals such as copper, bismuth, antimony and lead. Before the widespread manufacture of glass, most items of tableware throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries were made of pewter. Although not widely used anymore there is almost a deferential nostalgia for beer steins made of pewter and it is widely held by scientists that the pewter ensures the consistent temperature of the beer, protecting it from the warm hands of human beings. As a boy I remember my dad having a pewter beer pot sitting in the sideboard in the lounge gathering dust for a special occasion. I must ask him what he did with it.

I’m not sure how the Silly Enghien Noel Triple Blonde might have tasted in a Pot d’Etain, but at least in the glass I had chosen I could apply the routine inspection of the full beer before tasting, which was a medium bodied darker blonde. It had a real essence of farmyard to the aroma, and I was surprised how hoppy it was on the tongue. It certainly started out not unlike the XX Bitter (#131), or the Buffalo Belgian Bitter (#196) although at 9% ABV I expected it to retain its flavour a bit more which did fade a little as I supped. It didn’t particularly strike me as a typical Christmas beer, but I guess it was an excuse for Silly to raise the stakes on the 7.5% Silly Enghien Double Blond, which I would argue is a success. There aren’t that many strong bitter triple blondes out there worth a try, but I would recommend a solitary bottle of this for the cellar. Why not even go one better and try it in a pot d’etain?

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Christmas Beer, Silly

#205 – Grimbergen Cuvee de l’Ermitage

#205 - Grimbergen Cuvee de l'Ermitage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Another beer from the surprisingly extensive Grimbergen range, and following the recent review of the Optimo Bruno (#194), here follows another with a bold claim of greatness. One would fully expect that with the appellation Cuvee de l’Ermitage this would be some kind of serious brew – Cuvee de l’Ermitage translates crudely as the monks best beer from the most select vats, or something along those lines.

This claim is more likely to have been true in the past, as Alken-Maes (who took over the old Union brewery in 1978) inherited this then highly regarded beer. The original beer was a full 1% stronger in ABV weighing in at 8.5%, and was brewed largely as a Christmas beer. At one time it even bore the name Cuvee de l’Ermitage Christmas. It was largely brewed as a kind of seasonal beer using a selection of three kinds of hops and a variation of special malts. After fermentation it was left to rest for three months in carefully designed tanks which would allow the beer to develop its characteristic flavour – often referred to as bitter, and not unlike Armagnac brandy.

The term ‘Cuvee’ as it is most often used these days in relation to wine seems to apply fairly reasonably to this old beer, in that it reflects a batch of beer blended in a distinctly different way to the rest. The term Hermitage refers most generically to a place where groups of people would live in seclusion in order to devote themselves fully to religious or monastic purposes. This was almost always ascetic in nature, and some of the finest beers known to humanity have been made in this way – the Trappist way.

I never tried the original beer, so I can only comment on the latest incarnation of the recipe, but this is certainly no Cuvee, and it certainly isn’t made in a Hermitage. For me the Cuvee de l’Ermitage is just another average beer that isn’t even as good as the two staple Grimbergen beers (#8, #9) on which it is trying to clearly discern itself from. It was firstly far too thin, with a weak insipid head, which ended up resembling a faded pale amber. It didn’t smell of a great deal but had a fairly unique flavour – quite hoppy with plenty of citrus. This was once a seemingly great beer, but is now little more than a marketable addition to an extremely average range of brews. What else would you expect though from Alken-Maes?

Leave a comment

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

#202 – La Trappe Blond

#202 - La Trappe Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

When I tried the La Trappe Dubbel (#159) I introduced the history of the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven across the border in the Netherlands. I promised then that I would continue the story, and so the La Trappe Blond gives me that opportunity.

We left the story just where the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart in 1884 decided that the Abbey needed a brewery, and effectively its been there ever since. Many breweries suffered at the hands of the copper-hungry Germans in World War I, however the Netherlands remained neutral at this time and so the Abbey of Koningshoeven remained untouched. In fact in the 1920s the production at the brewery began to increase, and the brewery was modernised considerably in order that it could cope with the demand.

The brewery continued to brew lighter blonde beers, including a first prototype of the La Trappe Blond, and it continued to flourish until World War II when resources were scarce. The 1950s and 1960s saw further developments including a lemonade factory and laboratory being built, and more recipes were established including dark beers, Pilseners, Dortmunders and Bocks. A number of collaborations were made with other brewers to enable the monks to find time to pray, however by 1980 the monks regained full control and established the La Trappe brand, which has remained true to this day.

In 1987 a brand new brewery was reconstructed on the premises moving the production firmly into the 21st Century, and more La Trappe beers were to follow until another partnership was formed with the Bavaria brewery in Lieshout. A new bottling plant followed shortly after, and the Koningshoeven story ambles to a unremarkable conclusion – the brewery now living well off it’s claim as the 7th Trappist brewery, and attracting Belgian beer hunters the short distance across the border.

The La Trappe Blond recipe has altered a fair bit since the 1920s, and is now a solid golden blonde which was the perfect accompaniment to a spicy tandoori chicken curry. This was a really thick fruity brew which for its relatively low strength by Belgian standards was very impressive. It faded a little in the final death throes, which may have something to do with being completely stuffed with curry, but I’d definitely seek this beer out again; even though it isn’t strictly Belgian*

* I have argued my case for inclusion somewhere before – I think it was #101

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Koningshoeven

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix

#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.

Leave a comment

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

#191 – Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

#191 - Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

While guzzling on the Bon Secours Brune (#28), I introduced the Bernadine nunnery that was formed in Peruwelz in 1904, and then much later while drinking the Bon Secours Blonde (#159) we got to explore the history of the St. Bernard dogs who bedeck the Bon Secours labels. This latest beer brings these two stories to a nice neat conclusion.

Prior to the formation of the nunnery, a monastery had been founded by monks in 1628 in the rural town of Peruwelz. There are legendary tales of the first brewmaster and unsurprisingly this chap, Father Baudelot was something of a habitual drinker. Sundays were the days where the monks would travel between the monastery and the village of Bonsecours to celebrate at the local church, and the journey back for Father Baudelot was always something of a pub crawl. He would spend long convivial evenings hopping between taverns listening to the stories of the locals. Most nights he would stagger home late, although there were times when he might only make it intact, with the help of his St. Bernard dog who would lead him back in a straight line in the early hours of the morning. Bon Secours does after all translate as ‘good help’ in French.

The brewery Caulier later honoured this story of Father Baudelot through the addition of the St. Bernard dog to the label of their Bon Secours beers. The monastery is long gone, as is now sadly the nunnery which recently shut down in Peruwelz, but through the local beers the legend still remains at large. I might have chosen a better beer however to regale this story. The Bon Secours Blonde de Noel was not an entirely pleasant experience. It was somewhat doughy with a flat overpowering hint of rotten fruit, and although I like strong beers, this one completely overpowered any quality the beer might have had. I definitely needed rescuing from this one, and there was not a helpful dog in sight.

3 Comments

Filed under 4, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Caulier, Christmas Beer, Dog

#164 – Bush Blonde

#164 - Bush Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

The Bush Blonde is a relatively new creation, being only first brewed in 1998 on the 65th anniversary of the launch of the Bush Ambree (#3). It was the first blonde beer produced by this very traditional brewery, who are proud of their roots and values. Dubuisson only have a small selection of beers considering their status and size, and steadfastly refuse to produce label beers for anybody else. In fact, prior to the launch of the blonde, the brewery only offered the Ambree and the Bush de Noel (#83).

The key to the traditional outlook may lie in the history of the brewery, which was first formed in 1769, by Joseph Leroy (a direct descendant of eight generations of the current manager Hughues Dubuisson). It is the oldest brewery in Wallonia, which is a source of some local pride, and is still situated on the very same spot it was first built. Even before then, Joseph Leroy was brewing beer across the road on the Ghissegnies land, which was a seigniorial estate – these breweries were then exempt from tax and particularly lucrative. The Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria who at the time ruled the region had picked up on this quite quickly and decided in 1769 to order their unconditional destruction. Joseph Leroy quietly packed up his kettles and tuns, crossed the road, and set up his own independent farm brewery. This quiet determination has been a strong family trend ever since.

It had been quite a while since I first drunk the Bush Ambree, and to be honest I certainly didn’t have great hopes for this one. My drinking pal Andrew had gleefully passed me his last bottle of this, with the view that it was one of the most revolting drinks he had ever tasted. I would add it to my 1000 and let myself be the judge of that. It was certainly very strong, with the ethanol very evident in the flavour, but with just 250ml of the stuff, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I actually preferred this to the Ambree, and certainly couldn’t see what was so dislikeable about it. The Blonde definitely wasn’t a classic, but neither was it worthy of a sub-average score. I will enter it into my pantheon of beers defined as a ‘workmanlike strong Belgian blonde – nothing else’.

2 Comments

Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Dubuisson

#159 – Bon Secours Blonde

#159 - Bon Secours Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Bon Secours translates into English as “good help”, and this message is reinforced on the new and improved Bon Secours labels, by the image of a St. Bernard dog – possibly the most symbolic of animals associated with the rescuing of people. It might not necessarily be truly beer related but it’s a nice little story, with references to monasteries and booze.

There was actually a monastery of St. Bernard, which was situated high in the Swiss Alps, and founded unsurprisingly by St. Bernard of Montjou in around 1050. In the valley below sat a majestic pass which was a popular route for travellers, traders and pilgrims for around the next 75 years, who often brought a variety of dogs to the monastery. It was then that the route became difficult to pass and for almost 400 years barely a soul came through. When the St. Bernard pass did once again open up for travel, the monastery was suddenly guarded by this new huge breed of dog.

Dogs were always so much smaller, and thus it was quite something to suddenly see beasts of this nature. It is thought that during the prolonged period of quiet at the monastery, a number of breeds of dog were mated, which including several larger breeds such as the Tibetan Mastiff. The St. Bernard dogs were an obvious choice for the monks to help lead travellers through the snow and dangerous conditions and were also used wisely as rescuers, with their keen sense of direction and strength and size. Quite whether the dogs really did carry barrels of alcohol on their collars is disputable, but there may have been a small chance they might have contained beer.

As for the Bon Secours Blonde, this was actually fairly reminiscent of a Duvel in flavour (#34). The pour was aggressive, and a hazy golden blonde threatened to burst over the sides over the glass. Once it had died down I was left with a very pleasant mildly hopped beer that perhaps slightly overdid the yeast, but countered it with a citrus twang that kept right till the end. I certainly didn’t need rescuing from this one.

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Caulier, Dog

#139 – Moinette Blonde

#139 - Moinette Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

There could be a handful of reasons why Dupont chose to name their popular beer Moinette Blonde. I’m happy to run through a number of hypotheses and let you play detective (#75).

1. Well its obvious really. The word monk in French is moine. The success of Abbey beers led to the association. The little monk beer.

2. The original name of the beer created in 1955 was the Abbaye de la Moinette. It was the showpiece beer from Dupont, and again was paying lip service to the sellability of Abbey Tripel style beers on the market. The name was changed to Moinette in 1980 due to the fact there is no Abbaye de la Moinette.

3. The Dupont brewery is situated in a swampy area renowned for its marshland. The modern French term for swamp is marais, whilst the ancient French term was moene. The beer was therefore named Moinette, as it was from the Moene region.

4. In the tiny village of Tourpes, which is the home of Dupont, there used to be an old mill, and a farmstead which belonged to the long line of Dupont ancestors. This farmstead was known as the Cense de la Moinette. The name of the flagship beer was chosen as a sentimental reference to the good old days.

It’s safe to say that all the above are pretty much a minor variation on a common set of truths. The one common factor that is beyond doubt however is the general appreciation of this beer. Aside from qualifying in the Top 100 Belgian Beers to try before you die book, the label and style of this beer reeks of professionalism. The beer itself was similar with a classy velvet finish. The flavour was smooth without being stunning, and yet had all the hoppiness I have come to expect from Dupont. It’s a great beer, but isn’t necessarily the kind of style that I get overly excited about.

Leave a comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Dupont

#125 – Campus

#125 - Campus

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

Campus is an orphan beer. This is a term I tend to use for those beers who have survived on in the new world despite losing their parental home. The foster parents in this case are Huyghe who rescued a number of small local breweries through acquisition in the 1990’s.  Biertoren from the town of Kampenhout, were the unfortunate original mother and father.

Biertoren translates fairly easily into English as the Beer Tower, and was a title used when the Smedts family first began brewing in a property previously owned by the Duke of Arenburg around Rotselaar. The place was already loosely titled ‘the tower’ after the local castles main keep, and so it didn’t take much imagination to finally agree on ‘beer tower’. The Smedts at the time were very much leading a collective of locals in producing the beer, and eventually common ground was lost, with a number of other partners choosing to set up other breweries.

In the 1930’s the Smedts family were forced to move due to the high rents placed upon them, and they found the empty brewery buildings in Kampenhout which in 1939 would begin to serve as the home of Biertoren. These buildings already had a rich brewing history since around 1840, and a range of Campus beers were added to the menu. The beer gets its name from the town of Kampenhout, and the label bedecked with the university mortar board is an apt one, in that it reflects the student spirit which is centred around Leuven.

If I ever get the dubious honour of drinking another beer from this orphan stable then I will detail a little more of the recent history at Kampenhout, although to be fair it’s fairly uninteresting, just as was the Campus beer itself. It’s important to discern this amber brew from the Campus Premium (lager), and the Campus Gold (blonde) which by all accounts are even worse. This beer should have come with a sheet of muslin, to enable the pour – never have I seen so much crap in a beer! After three attempts at some strategic decanting, in which I lost about a quarter of the volume I was able to start drinking. Amber, fizzy and decidedly herbal were the best descriptors I could use. It did improve as I neared the canal sediment, but by that stage I had definitely decided to give this one up for adoption.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#114 – Sara Blonde

#114 - Sara Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6 %

I have only just drunk the Sara Brune (#110), and so quickly onto the Sara Blonde, and a rare foray into the world of farming. It would be extremely churlish to drink another buckwheat beer and not know anything about its key ingredient.

The most important point to make is that buckwheat is not actually a cereal or a grass, and therefore not a member of the wheat family, although it does share many similar properties. It is for this reason it is said to belong to the Pseudocereal family, and is much rarer than wheat or barley. Other examples of Pseudocereals include amaranth and quinoa.

These pseudocereals are mostly used nowadays as they still produce a malt that can produce the mash in brewing, but it does not contain gliadin or hordein, which combine to form gluten. People who are sensitve to glycoproteins or who might be coeliacs are able to drink this beer and avoid the common symptoms which wheat, barley and rye can bring about.

It is important to mention that not all Silenrieux beers are made with buckwheat, and therefore not all will be suitable for gluten-free diets, although the Sara beers do hit that spot. Sarasin is the french word for buckwheat, which is how Silenrieux came up with the name, although the name in English originally derives from the word ‘beech wheat’ as the triangular seeds closely resemble those of the beech nut.

Disappointingly I had picked this beer up out of date again, and unlike the darker Belgian beers you need to be a bit more vigilant with lighter beers as they don’t keep as well. The Sara Blonde was extremely pale, petite and very crisp which was welcome after the disaster that was the last beer! (#113). She was very wheaty and ended up just like the farmers girl I had expected to her be – plenty of substance, but otherwise plain. This is though a pretty decent beer for anyone who needs to control or avoid gluten in their diet.

2 Comments

Filed under 6, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#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. The brewery formed in 1995 in the Ardennes countryside after the locals 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. They also discovered a history of local brewers long since out of business who had used these grains to produce beer. The 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 the brewers were 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. They 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.

2 Comments

Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#92 – Abbaye de Malonne Brune

#92 - Abbaye de Malonne Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3 %

There isn’t much more to be said about the Abbaye de Malonne which I feel I amply covered when introducing the blonde (#14). There is going to come a time when I run out of things to talk about a beer that is as indistinguished as this, but rather than rush off it would be worth taking some time to look at the range of brown beers, and in particular those from Belgium.

It would be easy to look down any supermarket aisle these days and see brown ales as the minority; beer made for the discerning gentlemen only, however historically beer has almost always been brown. This was until the 20th Century when technology started to improve. In fact in Belgium in the 1930s, 80% of beer was brown. I would hazard a guess that these days the variety of brown beer in Belgium would be as low as 25%.

Belgium was world famous for its early brown beers, with varieties such as oak aged browns from Oudenaarde, and Trappist dubbels (#16). As we have already seen in other tales though, the rise of blonde beers and lagers began as these were cheap and simple to make, and the brown beer began to fall in popularity. In fact, one might even argue that was it not commonplace these days for breweries to make a range of beers to satisfy all their customers then there may have been even less around. The quality though of course can be up for question in many of these, where brewers have found simple ways to turn blonde beers to brown with the simple switch of a button.

The above issue does illustrate a pertinent point however; that of brown beers being generally made from similar ingredients. Darker forms of malt, or a higher concentration of caramelised sugars can turn any beer brown, and these are often used as a replacement for hops to attain the preferred degree of bitterness. I have always been a massive fan of the Belgian brown ale, although have been quickly learning on my Odyssey that just because it is brown it does not guarantee quality. I would advocate that the Abbaye de Malonne Brune is a decent example of this.

It was a particularly dark beer, almost stout-like in appearance, although my final impression was that of prune juice. It was silky and soft on the palate, but the flavour never really got going and was particularly limited. Compare this to something like the complexity of a St. Bernardus Abt (#46), and you can understand where this beer sits in the pantheon of brown beers in Belgium – inherently pleasant but distinctly average – although better than the blonde of course.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht

#90 – Westvleteren Blonde

#90 - Westvleteren Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.8 %

Back on the last day of my summer jaunt around Belgium I stopped at the Westvleteren brewery in the heart of hop country for a last beer (#66). As I reported I was able to pick up a six pack of their blonde beer. Now was the time to try one of them.

I spent the last report discussing how the media had built up a frenzy over the quality of the beers here, but I didn’t really get a chance to dip into the history. The brewery was founded inside the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren back in 1838, just seven years after the monastery had been formed by Trappist monks from Catsberg in France. It is interesting to note that some of these same monks moved down to the Notre-Dame de Scourmont monastery where of course Chimay is brewed.

The beers at St. Sixtus were sold commercially until World War II, when Evarist Deconinck took over the mantle of many of the recipes at St. Bernardus down the road (#46). The brewery was the only Trappist monastery to continue to brew during both World Wars as it was the only one not plundered for copper by the German forces. It was in actual fact used as a sanitarium for caring for wounded allied forces. In 1989 the Abbey was able to open its newer brewery just off-site where it replaced all the old equipment, and then in 1992 the monks terminated their agreement with St. Bernardus with the sole intention of following the purist Trappist rules of brewing beers (#7). They have ever since maintained a strict policy of only monks doing all the brewing, although in recent years they have used one or two secular workers for much of the manual labour needed.

The green capped Westvleteren Blonde was added to the range of beers in 1999 and was designed to replace the 6.2% ABV dark beer and a lighter 4% table beer. Clearly the monks wanted a pater with a bit more bite, to support their stronger and world famous 8 and 12 (#66). It poured an impeccable cloudy blonde, thick and yet crisp, and was noticeably hoppy, with a fine head and some brown guts of sediment. It had been listed as a pale ale and I can probably imagine old men enjoying this beer. Of course from a brewery with as much international repute as Westvleteren you would expect to enjoy it, but I wasn’t expecting to immediately open another straight after! A very good beer.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Westvleteren

#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 !

5 Comments

Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Van den Bossche

#66 – Westvleteren 12

#66 - Westvleteren 12

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.2 %

My last beer in Belgium on this trip was always going to be a bit special. In 2005 there was something of a media frenzy whipped up when the Westvleteren 12 was again voted the best beer in the world. It seemed preposterous to the journalists of the world that a beer made by monks in a tiny monastery in the middle of nowhere could lay claim to this, and they decided to investigate. The inevitable happened and the eyes of the world turned to the Trappist Abbey of St Sixtus (#46). Suddenly, and rather uncomfortably for both the monks of Westvleteren, and indeed the local population, hoards of beer lovers and profiteers alike from all over the world descended on the quaint country lanes north of Poperinge. For anyone who has driven up to the Abbey, they will testify that this must have been pure carnage. It is hard enough finding the place, let alone considering 3km queues of angry punters not being able to get anywhere near the Abbey doors.

The monks remained unrepentant and refused to up the sales of the beer. In true Trappist tradition (#7) they remained vigilant in only producing enough beer to provide for themselves and the community. On the opening of the new brewery premises, the head abbot stated “We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.” – a wonderful sentiment, but not one to appease the outside world who misread this statement as an indication of the beers becoming even rarer, and thus the queues grew and the media frenzy intensified further.

The monks have been true to their word, and even now only brew 4750 hectolitres per annum. To put this into perspective Chimay probably turn over 135,000 hectolitres per annum, which is almost thirty times the amount of beer! They are able to manage this by advertising sales by appointment only from the website, and by restricting public sales to a very limited amount on visiting. In fact I was only able to buy six Westvleteren Blondes (#90) to take away at the ‘In de Vrede’ café/brewery tap, and as many as I wanted of any of their three beers as long as I was on the premises. Time was short and I had a car to drive, so Tash and I shared what is still, according to the ‘Rate Beer’ website, the best beer in the world.

It was over four Euros which is fairly excessive but probably not really when you consider the location and how I paid nearly double that for a bottle of Westvleteren 8 in the UK (I wont tell you where in case I get anyone into trouble). It was elegantly poured and served at our cafeteria style table, and looked superb glistening under the lights. It was dark, but just enough light was able to radiate through. The overriding aroma was of liquorice and christmas pudding, followed by fruit and malt and many many more winter treats. On the palate it was solid, thick and venomous, as if the best mince pies had been liquidised with good beer. In a way it was more like dessert than a beer, and therefore I still vouch that the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) is a tidier beer for its subtlety and style. The Westy was trying just that bit too hard, although I think maybe this might have tasted better had I the opportunity to savour my own by the fireside on a winters evening, as opposed to sharing a quick sip in a heaving tourist-ridden cafeteria in the middle of the day. We will meet again I am sure.

5 Comments

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#56 – Super des Fagnes Blonde

#56 - Super des Fagnes Blonde

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Beer #52 in Belgium, beers #53 and #54 in Luxembourg, beer #55 in Germany, and now beer #56 in Italy. We were clearly covering a fair bit of ground (or maybe I was drinking too slowly). We had been aiming for Lake Garda by evening but the driving was beginning to do me in, and so after we saw the beautiful view of Lake d’Iseo from the hill, something drew us down. Within an hour we had secured a modern cabin on the edge of the lake. The views were fantastic, the weather was stunning, and I had a fridge! Happiness is clearly putting ones feet up by the lake as the sun begins to set with one gorgeous brunette and three chilled-out blondes. Although the blondes in question turned out to be all surface no feeling. So often the way.

The first was another from the Fagnes school, that I had picked up in the Couvin warehouse. I had recently learnt that the warehouse has a close association with the Brasserie des Fagnes, and I feel I must briefly talk about this place as for anyone on their first real Belgian beer stock-up, there really is no finer feeling. OK, I had wandered around Beers of Europe up in Norfolk which makes you feel like a kid in a candy shop, but its like you are too young to be able to afford everything you want. Being in the ‘Comptoir des Fagnes’ with all the time in the world, was like being like a kid in the candy store you loved as a kid, but with a pocket full of cash. Most beers were about a Euro each on average, and my only limitation seemed to be the amount of room in the car. I was reliably informed that this store had over 600 Belgian beers, and so choosing a hundred or so proved particularly difficult for me. I grabbed a trolley, got my Belgian Beer Guide out and spent the next hour in an orgasmic trance.

These warehouses are often known as Drankencentrales, or Drankenhandels in Flemish speaking areas, or negociants or depositaires in the more French areas. They exist primarily for local cafes and stores, although thanks to the world opening up, its not unusual to see other people like me wandering through, and contributing to the store-keepers nightmare – 100+ singly purchased bottles – each to be hand entered on to the till,  and each with a ten cent deposit to be rung through. I’d even managed to get into the wrong queue and so had irritated a number of rushed locals behind me looking for a quick few crates on the way home. They didn’t seem to care though, and even helped me carry the boxes to the car. I had decided to stock up on a few rarer beers and it became evident that to get to a thousand beers I was clearly going to have to kiss a few frogs.

The Super des Fagnes Blonde was clearly not as refined as her darker sister (#50). She certainly wasn’t unpleasant and certainly didn’t taste sticky or cloying as some stronger beers can. She gave me a good head, with a grapefruity aroma but it just went nowhere after that. She promised me so much and delivered so little. I was just thankful I had another blonde lined up straight after (#57).

1 Comment

Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Brewers, Deer, Duck, Fagnes

#41 – Leffe Blonde

#41 - Leffe Blonde

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 6.6 %

I already started the story of Leffe (#25), and predictably it didn’t take too long to be able to continue the tale of how she ended up as part of the world’s largest brewery, although I may (dependent on space) leave the rest for the next Leffe beer. Lets see how far we get. Ok, on with the tedious global bullshit.

We left the story on the Artois takeover of 1977. Artois themselves were the second largest brewer in Belgium at the time, and also had a rich history – having been set up in 1366 as Den Horen of Leuven. Sebastien Artois purchased the brewery in 1717 and decided to name it after himself. Meanwhile, back in 1977, and now run by the Spoelberch family, Artois were in direct competition with the largest Belgian brewer Piedboeuf, and the Van Damme family. Piedboeuf themselves had a rich history, having brewed since 1853, and neither wanted to give up the power. The end result was that to avoid the detrimental effects of intense competition, the two families merged in 1987 to form Interbrew, who eventually went on to acquire almost three quarters of the Belgian beer market. Interbrew used the brands of Stella Artois, Leffe, Hoegaarden and Jupiler to spearhead this assault, and went on to acquire numerous other brands and brewers across Europe, including Belle-Vue in 1991.

Interbrew were by now the 4th largest brewer in Europe, although real global ambition soon took hold of them, and they sought to break into the North American market. This was always going to be a tough ask, as Anheuser-Busch and Miller dominated two thirds of the market, but craft beers from Europe were becoming more popular, and Interbrew were in a position to buy out Labatts in 1995 which really put them on the North American map. This was soon followed up by takeovers of Bass and Whitbread in the UK, Becks in Germany, Oranjeboom in the Netherlands, and Peroni in Italy among many many others. Interbrew were suddenly a major force in the world, and the company then set its sights on the very top. But surely that’s another story.

Anyway, Leffe Blonde had begun to grow on me. I was always previously a bigger fan of the brown, but was beginning to appreciate the blonde. I decided to try the 750 ml bottle. The colour was pure golden, with a lacy thin head that sat on a fizzy soup of bubbles. The taste was striking and typical of many abbey blondes but still with that recognisable Leffe taste that despite its availability is annoyingly good. I ended up finishing the whole bottle without sharing, unlike some breweries we have recently mentioned.

1 Comment

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

#39 – Keizer Karel Blonde

#39 - Keizer Karel Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

If you studied 16th century history you may know Keizer Karel or Charles Quint by a different name – Emperor Charles V. His realm was so large at one point that it was popularly described as one in which the sun never sets – in actual fact it spanned almost four million square kilometres. He was notably the most powerful man in the world during the mid 1600s as both the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, and all her foreign lands. Why then was this leading figure of world history so associated with Belgian beer?

The answer lies in his heritage. He was born in 1500 in Ghent and was brought up in Mechelen, Brussels and Leuven – all fiercely proud Flemish cities, and at the age of just six, he inherited his father’s territories of the lowlands and Franche-Comte. His Aunt Margaret acted as regent until he was 15 years old, and Charles then took over in full force, adding a number of new territories to a new unified lowlands of which he was the ruler – this included his birthplace of Flanders, levered away from the French. Although he spent the majority of his time in Spain and her outlying lands, his heart was always in the place of his birth, and he ensured a unified nation for his heirs when he eventually abdicated in 1556 and then passed away in 1558.

The brewers Haacht have celebrated the reign of Charles Quint through two beers which symbolise the power of his Empire. This Keizer Karel Blonde symbolises the pure morning light of the rising of the sun on one side of his realm, while the Keizer Karel Rouge (#134) represents the ruby red of the warm evening shimmer as the sun sets on the other. There are other stories about good old Charles Quint, and I will save them for later as it isn’t just Haacht who celebrate this man on a beer label – some go much much further.

Good little beer this. Actually drunk a couple of months after the best before date but still tasted remarkably fresh. A great strong fruity aroma on opening, and a very clear pale golden pour with barely any head. What looked slightly insipid initially was eventually very pleasant on the tastebuds with the 8.5% clearly evident. Fruity and sweet with undertones of vanilla ice-cream, this went down far too well. I Just wish I’d had another waiting in the fridge.

3 Comments

Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, Haacht