Tag Archives: Brown

#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.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht

#48 – Barbar Winter Bok

#48 - Barbar Winter Bok

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This was the last chance for a Barbar beer to redeem itself in my eyes – the darker version which is marketed as a brown ale that also contains 2.5% honey. The label suggests that the warrior needs to rest in winter as well, and that Lefebvre has produced a beer available in the dark months from October to February. How thoughtful of them!

At least this gives us an insight into the naming of the beer, and it is clear that Barbar refers to the warrior, or the barbarian. The general definition of a barbarian is that of an uncivilised person or a cruel savage person with a penchance for warmongering. Whatever the final definition it would seem the etymology originally came from the Greek for ‘not-Greek’, and the structure of ‘bar-bar’ as an onomatopoeic representation of a language not clearly understood ie ‘blah blah’, may hint at how the saying “well, its all Greek to me?” came about.

The label clearly defines Lefebvre’s view of what a barbarian warrior might look like, but it is fair to look back in the history of the Middle Ages and associate beer with what could loosely be termed as barbarians. Once wine became imported from the Mediterranean, beer took something of a back seat, as a cheap and readily available drink. This is no different probably now if one considers the comparison between a wine bar/bistro and a pub. I would argue that Belgian beers are definitely bridging the gap for those that want something just that little bit classier or tastier, although I would suggest that Barbar Winter Bok isn’t there yet.

This was the latter beer to celebrate the start of my prolonged period of annual leave . Relaxation of this nature however deserved a better beer. The final Barbar for me, and really can’t see what all the fuss is about. The pour promised much with an ebony gush and a thickset head that looked too good to be true. There were certainly deep and dark flavours in this beer, and it was better than the honey blonde (#19), but it just lacked authenticity – being largely synthetic in its genetics. I could have scored it higher but felt let down by Lefebvre on the brand. There are plenty of dark beers around with plenty more bite than this. More Librarian than Barbarian !

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Filed under 6, Dunkler Bock, Lefebvre

#42 – Bacchus

#42 - Bacchus

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

We have already come across a Bacchus (#38) whereby raspberries were added to brown ale – well this is the brown ale in question – Bacchus Vlaams Oud Bruin. ‘Oud Bruin’ is Flemish for Old Brown, distinguishing the colour from other local sour ales like Rodenbach, which tend to be red, and ‘Vlaams’ is Flemish for … well ‘Flemish’ – Flemish Brown Ale.

When we drunk and purred over the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), we learnt that the sour ale is made by oak-aging the beers in order to mature them. It is this process which gives the beers of East and West Flanders their unique acidity. The oak-aged conditioning introduces a similar lactate fermentation to the lambic beers (#12) except that there are less natural yeasts around thus the product isn’t quite so extreme. The brewers also add a dab of acetic acid at this stage to get the flavour going – something taboo for lambics.

The best sour ales of this kind are made in oak-vats and usually kept for two years, although some breweries might resort to using steel casks, or even trying to get the oaky effect by suspending particles of wood in their brews. Van Honsebrouck are reliant on a ‘koelschip’, which is essentially a large vat in the roof where the wort is left to attract natural yeasts just as lambic beers do. It all adds to the breweries attempts to recreate the good old days – even the new paper label of the old bloke with the beer is a typical Flemish old-time image.

The label also reflects the aging process used with the quotation ‘met wijnsmaak’ – meaning ‘with wine taste’, and its fair to say this brew is a little similar. My over-riding impression was that this was like a fruit beer without the fruit – a frambozenbier without the frambozen. It’s certainly sour on opening, and it rightly pongs but it isn’t overpowering on drinking. It looks the part, is pleasant to drink, but it doesn’t really set any standards – unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru.

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Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck