Tag Archives: brewery

#108 – Het Kapittel Dubbel

#108 - Het Kapittel Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I started to outline the Het Kapittel beers right at the beginning of this journey when I tried the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). That seems like an age ago now, but I would like to revisit the history of the Van Eecke brewery.

Although the Van Eecke family only started to brew in Watou from 1862, the actual premises date back as far as 1629 where the small farm brewery sat adjacent to a local castle owned by the Earls of Watou. This flourished in the local community until the French Revolution, when of course the buildings were first plundered, looted and then burnt to the ground. The Earls of Watou escaped by fleeing to England, and thus it was left to a local farmer to revive not the castle, but the brewery. The motto at the time in the village was “Revolt all you want, but we still need beer here!” – wise words indeed.

The brewery became the ‘Gouden Leeuw’ (the Golden Lion), and despite the proximity of Watou to the French border, the locals were very keen to keep the Flemish name. In France, as in England, the Golden Lion was a very popular inn name, translating as ‘Au Lion d’Or’, which is pronounced exactly the same as ‘au lit on dort’ –which means ‘in the bed one sleeps’. This would have been a much more apt title if they had kept the French translation as the local farmer turned the brewery into a proper inn with rooms for travellers. The inn stayed true to the village motto and continued to quench the thirst of its locals until 1862 when the Van Eecke family took over the brewing and began to push the boundaries on improving the stock of top fermenting ales. The range of beers, especially the Het Kapittel beers remain amongst Belgium’s finest.

The Het Kapittel Dubbel however was about the seventh beer of the evening and therefore I couldn’t tell you in great detail exactly what made this beer so nice. It was about 4am, and we were on somthing like our fifth game of Scrabble, which was naturally held up while we talked utter rubbish and fawned over this beer. I recall it was dark, delicious and definitely one I would try again sober – definitely much better than the Pater.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Van Eecke

#101 – Urthel Samaranth

#101 - Urthel Samaranth

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.5 %

Two very special people are behind the range of Urthel beers – Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden. Hildegard is the brewmaster and Bas manages the affairs and illustrates the beers, including the impressive website. Proving that even I can be a sexist male at times, I was surprised to find that Hildegard was the lady of the house.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Hildegard actually began studying industrial engineering in Leuven, specialising in all things ‘brewery’. After about four years teaching young engineers and leading them around various breweries, she let her entrepreneurial nature lead her to create a range of high quality Flemish beers with her partner Bas. Since the spring of 2000 the Urthel beers have been going strong, surprising people with their quality, and introducing the world to a myriad of strange stories and characters. These are predominantly the domain of artist, illustrator and storyteller Bas, who still romanticizes over a world of miniature gnomes.

The Urthel beers were originally brewed for Hildegard and Bas by the Van Steenberge brewery, however they have since moved these north of the border into the Netherlands at the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven, where our intrepid couple both worked and met. The spiritual home of the beers though is in Ruiselede in Belgium under the company name de Leyerth. Certainly by the time I had started my adventure these beers were brewed in Belgium, and if anyone cares to argue I will just drink extra at the end!

Hildegard and Bas, though based in Ruiselede, can often be found showcasing their beers in North America where the Urthel range is extremely popular. There are also plenty more Urthel beers to come and thus I will eventually get round to detailing the adventures of the Erthels from the Valley of the Ley, behind the mountains of Rooverth.

As for the Urthel Samaranth, this was actually a beer created and brewed specifically to celebrate the wedding of Hildegard and Bas in September 2002, and is because of its strength known as a Quadrium in the folklore of the Erthels. Whatever possesses anyone to drink beer this strong at a wedding certainly defies belief as my tasting will testify one quiet night indoors, miles away from the land of the Erthels.

Samaranth clearly is an Erthel with a reputation; an elder, just like the mate of your dad who can stand at the bar and drink eight pints in the last two hours like its water. He is most definitely somebody to look up to. I had already supped the St. Bernardus Wit (#100), and uncapped the Samaranth as I reclined on the sofa, eyes fixated on a Frank Capra movie. It was to be a critical error of judgment as twenty minutes later I was still on my hands and knees scrubbing Vanish into the sofa and carpet. This truly was a badboy!

Once I finally got down to drinking it, I can honestly say it blew me away. In no word of an exaggeration for every mouthful (or should I say sipful) a plume of fumes would emanate from my nose. I am not a big fan of brandy which this reminded me of, and while tasting a little medicinal and lacking the finer qualities of say the St. Bernardus Abt (#46), it certainly outshone the similar strength Bush Ambree (#3). I would definitely get this again, as any beer that has the temerity to bully me in my own house is something to be treasured.

(Post-Script) – the fumes that emanated from my nose was an interesting was of semi-interest, as I later discovered that the character Samaranth was a dragon in a fantasy novel by James A Owen.

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Filed under 8, Abt/Quadrupel, Brewers, de Koningshoeven

#98 – Caracole Ambree

#98 - Caracole Ambree

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Caracole is a proper brewery. You need to consider that the water is uniquely warmed with a wood-fired oven, that the bottling and labelling is done by hand, and even more amazingly that the malt is milled on a grinder dating back to 1913 – a process that takes about eight hours. The fact that the final output is so damned good is a testimony to concentrating on quality rather than quantity.

The brewery in Falmignoul, not far from Dinant, is owned by Francois Tonglet and Jean-Pierre Debras in what used to be the old Moussoux brewery premises constructed in 1766. The brewery may have changed hands a few times, but the atmosphere hasn’t really changed. The lighting flickers, spiders guard the alcoves in thick cotton-wool havens, and the equipment has been begged, stolen and borrowed from halcyon days.

Caracole took over here in 1992 and now manage to run off about 39,000 gallons of beer each year which is no mean feat when you consider that the labour is intensive. Often a days brewing can spill into the next, and the brewers tend to brew one week on and one week off, thus if you want to get out here and visit the place, then you need to time it well – something I plan to do this summer to kill time between World Cup matches.

The Caracole Ambree was chosen for selection in the ‘Top 100 Belgian beers to try before you die’ and for good reason. A rich golden amber with a real plethora of inner flavours which made for perfect late evening sipping. It was both complex and yet consistent – equally suitable I would imagine for a cold winters evening or dare I say a warm summers day (not sure they exist in the UK anymore). The satisfaction one can take drinking this, while considering the love that went into making it, only further enhances the experience.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, Caracole, Snail

#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

#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.

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