Tag Archives: Bruges

#186 – Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

#186 - Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

There are two beers which make up the Bourgogne des Flandres range. Most punters would likely have first tasted the brune, which is a famous sour ale from this area of West Flanders. I however first managed to get my hands on the golden Bourgogne des Flandres Blonde, the stronger but less auspicious sister beer.

The most striking quality about these beers is perhaps the bottles. Both come packaged without traditional labels but with beautifully crafted and embossed images of the Bruges skyline, complete with the famous Belfry, or Belfort. It was here about seven generations ago that the artisanal brewers of the Van Houtryve family first got their hands dirty with the fine sour brown ale. A further clue to this strong family tradition is the shield of the Van Houtryve family which bedecks the neck of the bottle itself.

The family stopped brewing the beer themselves in the 1950’s, whereupon distant relatives at Verhaeghe took over the production; themselves well renowned for their sour ales of Vichtenaar (#146) and Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105). Time ran out on this partnership however in 1985 when Timmermans offered to become chief custodians. The 25 year relationship has been successful for the Bourgogne des Flandres beers, which have been marketed under the Anthony Martin’s “Finest Beer selection since 1993.

To be fair most of the marketing around the beers is about the famous sour ale which continues to gather dust in my cellar, however the blonde accompaniment is no trite addition. It is a lively little beer which mixes a spicy bitterness with a dry hoppy nature. It doesn’t exactly blow you away, but I’d recommend anybody buying at least one and keeping the bottle on a dusty shelf somewhere for friends and family to admire at their leisure.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Timmermans

#183 – ‘T Smisje Tripel

#183 - 'T Smisje Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The brewery Smisje has been around since 1995, but began life as the Brouwerij De Regenboog. In fact it was known under this name right up until 2008 when the owner Johan Brandt moved his premises to Oudenaarde.

Brandt was born in 1963, and had trained in the graphics world for most of his tender years. He married Christine de Schepper in 1998 and soon had two sons called Stijn and Joris. The couple set up their own printing business which was fairly successful, and everything in the Brandt garden was rosy – yet the call of beer would eventually become too much. Johan was already brewing beer as a hobby, and thus the kit that was beginning to take over his home was the start of something special. Eventually, the beer did take over his life and he gradually reduced his work in printing, although continuing to use the name of his existing business, De Regenboog, which translates as ‘The Rainbow’.

The first beer produced at De Regenboog was simply known as ‘T Smisje, and was largely experimental in its nature. Brandt was also a bee-keeper and thus plenty of honey was used in this brew. The name ’T Smisje means ‘little blacksmith’, the connotation coming from a local blacksmith’s forge which was adjacent to the location of the Brandt house in Assebroek, a suburb of Bruges. This name was apt in that it in many ways sums up the hand-crafted artisanal nature of this first beer – although to be honest little has changed since. The range of beers from De Regenboog over the years have used a myriad of natural fruits, herbs and spices.

I had heard a fair bit about the beers from De Regenboog, and so when I saw a couple of bottles from the range in The Rake pub in Borough Market, there was never going to be any other choice. I started with the ‘T Smisje Tripel which was absolutely delicious, and bombarded me with the heady sweetness of vanilla and banana, coupled with the seriousness of a Westmalle Tripel (#149). The company was excellent also, bumping into inadvertently another beer blogger by the name of Impy Malting who is considerably further ahead in her writing than my good self. Anybody who travels half way across London to seek out beers of fancy is worth a read in my book.

 

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Dog, Smisje

#161 – Achilles Serafijn Tripel

#161 - Achilles Serafijn Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The Achilles brewery was once just a hobby for Achiel van de Moer, who spent seven long years trialling a number of different efforts before finally deciding to open this great little microbrewery in 1999.

Achiel, after whom the brewery is named, now sustains his full income from brewing beers, having retired from his previous job as a music teacher. Having said that though the operations are still tiny – just three truck loads of beer are brewed every year! Despite the professional look of the bottles on the range of Serafijn beers, it is even more remarkable that this microbrewery is wedged into a crowded garage in the placid and unremarkable town of Itegem. Even if you manage to locate the town, it’s even less likely you will find the brewery without the latest state-of-the-art GPS system – there are no signposts.

At home, Achiel has, like many microbrewers in Belgium, converted his living quarters into his office and factory. Squeezed into every nook and cranny lie the kettles and tuns, and even a bottling line just waiting for the next batch. Achiel has even made room for a small beer bar/café in what used to be the family’s front room. It is extremely popular with the neighbours and local populace, and the extra revenue generated helps to support this great venture.

I caught up with Achiel on his stand at the Bruges Beer festival, and was happy to oblige in taking almost the whole range of his beers away for future drinkage. It wasn’t long until the Achilles Serafijn Tripel passed my lips though, and what a fine beer to start off with. It is generally heralded as the pinnacle of the series – a typical golden honeyed tripel, complete with a hoppy backbite which leaves you desperate for more. I am very much looking forward to finishing off the collection, and perhaps a trip out to the Serafijn Cafe.

(Post-Script) – The brewery is sadly currently up for sale, although there don’t appear to be many takers !

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Achilles

#154 – La Trappe Quadrupel

#154 - La Trappe Quadrupel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

It was a fleeting visit to Bruges this weekend, and the drive back on the Sunday afternoon was made particularly difficult due to the debilitating hangover which surfaced as I did. As I grimacingly pulled the duvet back over my head I tried to recount our steps from last night. Everything was on track from the Staminee de Garre (#153), whereupon we found a small regional restaurant with a poor beer selection. It was only polite to polish off a few carafes of red wine, and we were then heading for a decent bar to finish off the nights proceedings. I vaguely recall a couple of St. Bernardus 12’s crossing my lips, but the final nail in the coffin came from the deadly La Trappe Quadrupel.

I started to try and sum the amount of ABV I had drunk the previous night, and there was a common thread emerging – every beer was over 10%. The Quadrupel that I finished with was almost symbolic of a night of super-strength Belgian beer. The term Quadrupel isn’t a definitive one, but follows in the footsteps of our introductions to the Dubbel (#16), and the Tripel (#149), in that it is conversely related to the strength of the beer. It is itself a much rarer proposition, and the Beer Advocate website only lists about 90 individual examples, including the Westvleteren 12 (#66), and the St. Bernardus Abt (#46). I must admit, I try not to get too caught up in the whole beer definition thing, but it does make life a little easier sometimes when talking beer. As may be apparent by now, I am not a big fan of recreating the beer sampling websites on here.

Many definitions of a Quadrupel, historically have centred on the link to Trappist style, or Abt (Abbot) style beers. This was kind of fine until the strict designations were made as to what could or couldn’t be officially called a Trappist beer (#7). The Quadrupel terminology now exists really to fit in nicely with the innate desire to pigeon hole beers into categories. Beer Advocate and Ratebeer will have their views, but for me a Quadrupel is simply over 10%, full bodied and of the darker variety. What else do you need to know?

My only recollection of this particular Quadrupel was that it was a deep reddy brown colour, very strong and as I recall particularly delicious. Well, apparently that’s what I kept saying. It turns out I may also have had more than one! I was led home before I could go clubbing (something I normally despise), stopping at random strategic intersections to release the pressure on my saturated bladder. I apologise to the people of Bruges now, and hope I can make it up to you on my next visit.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#153 – Tripel de Garre

#153 - Tripel de Garre

Size: on cask

ABV: 11.5 %

We started our Saturday evening on the tiles in a highly recommended bar, wedged into a tiny alley, just a stones throw from the main square in Bruges. The Staminee de Garre in fact sits on the shortest road in Bruges, De Garre, and it took us more than a little while to actually locate the place. Once we did however, we found it even more difficult to leave.

Our visit was largely down to the dramatic owner of the guesthouse in which we were staying. On our arrival he had welcomed us with a free round of Brugse Zot’s (#36) – the staple beer of Bruges, and I was keen to see whether he had any more adventurous taste in beer than the Zot. He pulled us closer in a conspiratorial huddle, looking sheepishly around for witnesses, and told us in a hushed whisper of this bar in town, that serves a beer so strong, that they have to ration you. He claimed it was his favourite beer, and was gone as if in a puff of smoke. He was back two minutes later, armed with a map and a pencil, and thus our plan for the first drink of the evening had been hatched.

It was a small intimate bar, set on two rustic floors, which creaked with character every time you lifted a foot or moved on your chair. It was completely packed on arrival, yet within minutes we had squeezed into a gap upstairs, and were ordering the special house beer. The Tripel de Garre is only available here, although is brewed especially for the bar by Van Steenberge. It is a potent 11.5%, and the thick orange coloured brew is served up in a unique thickset goblet, which serves to preserve the wonderful thick white frothy head. As if that wasn’t enough, each beer is accompanied by meaty chunks of the house cheese, and enough celery salt to dry out a table full of beer stains.

All in all, I look very fondly back on this beer. As a strong fruity thick sweet beer it was always going to score highly for me, but to drink this in a great bar with family helped to make the occasion. It is often true that a good beer tastes even better in the right atmosphere. Even my old man, who is a bona fide English ale drinker couldn’t argue with this one. We were all able to neck a couple each before we headed off to dinner, and so were unable to put the rationing to the test. I am reliably informed that the limit is 2 or 3 Tripel de Garre’s per person – although I am sure in these hard financial times, that the bar staff might avert their eyes once in a while.

To find the Staminee de Garre, click here

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Van Steenberge

#152 – Belle-Vue Kriek Extra

#152 - Belle-Vue Kriek Extra

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.3 %

There are a whole host of fruit beers on the market that label themselves rather gratuitously. One that had already begun to confuse me was the way that Belle-Vue had two different types of Kriek. One was normal or classique Kriek, weighing in at 5.2%, and then there is the Belle-Vue Kriek Extra at 4.3%. So, if you aren’t getting extra alcohol in your Kriek Extra, what exactly are you getting?

The official website explains that the Extra, is the sweeter, more fruity variety of the traditional Kriek. It is made only with young lambics, with the addition of extra cherries, thus offering extra refreshment and extra sweetness. By that rationale then, one can only assume by adding extra cherries there is less room for alcohol. I was very much enjoying the irony of this (much more than the beer in fact), in that particularly in the US and Great Britain at the moment it seems brewers are offering more choice of beers, in an attempt to curb the latent binge-drinking culture. Stella Artois (#116) now offers a 4% beer, Becks offer the Fier; not to mention all the American Light beers. Only Belgium could offer a reduced alcohol beer and call it Extra!

I would not have normally gone hunting out the Kriek Extra, but I am on a 1000 beer odyssey after all, and as I saw this lying in the fridge at the guesthouse I was staying in, so decided to slump on the bed and refresh myself after the long haul around Bruges. It was I suppose vaguely refreshing, and at least did the job, in that it didn’t send me off to sleep – I was keen to keep myself fresh for the evenings drinking ahead. It poured a crimson red, and my overall analysis would be that this tasted like cherry cordial with the addition of some sparkling water and extra sugar. Considering the Belle-Vue range are made with lambic, I must admit to being fairly disappointed, although many rumours abound with regards to the actual processes that Belle-Vue use nowadays. Perhaps I can save that for the tougher non-Extra.

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Filed under 5, Belle-Vue (InBev), Lambic - Fruit

#151 – Straffe Hendrik

#151 - Straffe Hendrik

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Straffe Hendrik hasn’t always had things it’s own way. Life certainly hasn’t always been kind, and the fact that the beer is still alive and tastes so damn good is one of the great miracles of Belgian beer.

The original Straffe Hendrik beer was only launched in 1981, by the Brouwerij de Halve Maan. It weighed in at about 7.5% – 8%, and was only available in small kegs. It was named after the original brewer of the Die Maene (The Moon) brewery, as it was back then. His name was Leon Maes, but was affectionately known as Henri I. The beer was particularly potent, and thus it became known in Flemish as Heavy Henry (Straffe Hendrik). The beer is thus greatly symbolic of the brewery, as a succession of head brewers were all sequentially named Henri.

The symbolism of the beer was such, that in 1988, the Riva brewery took over the brand name. It continued to be brewed in Bruges though, until 2002 when the whole package moved to Riva in Dentergem. This was where things seriously began to go amiss for Hendrik. The quality of the beer began to mysteriously subside, and the ABV soon dropped as low as 6%. Hendrik was losing his weight fast, and like an aging prize fighter, he was hanging on to the ropes to retain what reputation he had left. The poor quality though soon had a devastating effect on the Liefmans Breweries (of which Riva was one), who went backrupt in 2007. Duvel Moortgat took them over, and immediately closed the plant. Heavy Henry was dead on his feet waiting for the count.

It was never to come though. In 2008, the nostalgic hands at De Halve Maan made an agreement with Duvel Moortgat to buy back the brand of Straffe Hendrik, and within months, Henry was back, this time as an utterly delicious 9% Tripel. I had spent the morning with the folks wandering the sights of the old town of Bruges, and while everyone else was happy to stop for a croque monsieur and a coffee, I was gagging for a beer. I had recently read about the revival of Henry, and where better to try it out than its’ spiritual home. It was absolutely perfect – creamy, sweet, bitter and potent and the perfect accompaniment to some local cuisine. An hour later, like a dazed boxer, I stumbled back into the afternoon sun, knowing full well I would be back for plenty more Henry this weekend.

(Post-Script) – In late 2010, Henry was re-united with his old brother. For a time while at Riva, a dark Straffe Hendrik beer was introduced, although of course it really wasn’t working for them at the time. The Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel is a dark complex beer weighing at 11% and is definitely on my hit-list for my next trip to Bruges.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Tripel, de Halve Maan

#145 – Gulden Draak

#145 - Gulden Draak

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

If you visit Ghent you will almost certainly have to look up at some point at the majestic Belfry in the main square. You shouldn’t need a telescopic lens on your camera to spot the Gulden Draak sat atop the tower. She weighs almost 400 kilograms, is over 3 metres long, and is so famous they decided to name a beer (or two) after it.

There is a legend to the story of the dragon which dates back to the Crusades in the 12th Century, and involves a certain Norse king called Sigrid Magnusson. He had been fighting hard in the Crusades, and had received such a heroes welcome on entering the city of Constantinople (now of course Istanbul), that he took the gold plated dragon from the prow of his boat and donated it to the Hagia Sofia church. Almost a hundred years later, the Flemish earl Boudewijn IX during the 4th Crusade was crowned Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, taking Constantinople from the Turks. Impressed with the dragon, he dragged it all the way back home, which prompted a succession of bids for its possession, culminating in the Battle of Beverhoutsveld in 1382, where the people of Ghent stole it from atop the St. Donaas church in Bruges.

For anyone who has drunk Kastaar, and read the review (#96), an interesting side note is that the legend details the Dragon was originally donated to the people of Biervliet before the Brugse Zot (#36) wrestled it from them, in recognition of the brave soldiers who in 1204 were the first men to climb Constantinople’s walls. This is of course all legend and I plan to disclose the real facts when I get round to tasting the Gulden Draak Vintage (#213).

I can’t say I am particularly looking forward to it though, as the original Gulden Draak was extremely over-rated. I had looked forward to it all day, but all I got was a ridiculously strong dark beer, with no head, and no redeeming features whatsoever. It was bordering on the metallic and was very artificial. Like the legend above, I was beginning to wonder whether all that shimmers really is gold.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#144 – Artevelde

 

#144 - Artevelde

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.7 %

As I opened this impressive looking beer on a quiet night indoors I didn’t give a great deal of thought to who it was named after. Once though I had unfortunately drunk it, I needed to know exactly what possessed a brewery to create such a monster.

Jacob van Artevelde is the man in question, who was famous as a 14th Century Flemish statesman and political leader. Born in Ghent, of wealthy stock, he continued to amass fortunes here as an entrepreneur in the weaving industry and as an occasional brewer. During the Hundred Years War though he began to fear for the prosperity of Ghent, as the hostilities between France and England began to crank up a level. He created an alliance with the city states of Bruges and Ypres, and then sided these with the English, in order to continue to gain from the wool and textile trade. At this stage Artvelde almost single handedly ruled Ghent as the Captain General.

His great rivalry was always with the Counts of Flanders who had been unable to check his rise to prominence, and with the Three Member Alliance, and allegiance to England greatly building the wealth of Ghent, he became an easy target for jealousy and resentment. The reality was such that in 1345, Artevelde proposed to recognise the English King as the sovereign of Ghent at the expense of Louis, the Count of Flanders. A large insurrection in the streets ensued, and Artevelde was caught by his own people and murdered at the hands of the mob. It was to signal the return to obedience for the town of Ghent.

Jacob van Artvelde faded into history soon after, but has posthumously regained his status as a key figure in the history of Ghent. He is honoured by a number of statues in the town, and the local brewery Huyghe even went as far as naming two beers after him. Bearing in mind it was Huyghe, it should come as no surprise that this beer was unpalatable and moribund. At least Sexy Rubbel Lager (#87) had the decency to do what it suggested on the bottle, rather than besmirch the good name of a local legend. Avoid at all costs.

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Huyghe

#104 – Brugge Tripel

#104 - Brugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.2 %

Beer two of the night, and another Palm Tripel style beer to follow straight after the Steenbrugge (#103). Andrew my trusty beer companion swore this was an absolute classic and had been long looking forward to introducing me to it, but for me it didn’t taste much different to the Steenbrugge. In that respect it was a nice solid beer, but whether I could tell them apart again – gruit or no gruit – is questionable. Maybe I should have tried them alongside each other but then that would have been far too geeky. We were drinking for pleasure after all. The packaging is similar, the name is missing a ‘steen’ and even the public seem to agree though. The Good Belgian Beer Guide rates both at an unremarkable 3/5, and if you go by the popular ‘RateBeer’ website, the Steenbrugge attracted 3.19 as a rating, as opposed to 3.16 for the Brugge Tripel. If it wasn’t for the drop in 0.3% ABV for the latter, I might be less guarded in restraining my cynicism. There is a bit of history to the beer as well though which is worth telling.

Brugge Tripel is the beer of Bruges,and allegedly the taste of a city, although it hasn’t always been this way. In 1491 Bruges was a dry city, after the Sheriff decided no citizen was allowed to buy beer in Bruges any longer. This lasted for five long years before eventually the citizens rightly rebelled. Prohibition of a kind was lifted, and Brugge Tripel was born – the people were so excited they decided to name it after their great city.

Ironically of course, Brugge Tripel is now brewed by Palm, but it wasn’t always this way – there was a time when it was brewed within the city walls of Bruges. It all began at the T’Hamerken tavern in around the 1580s, which became a de facto brewery for almost four hundred years until the financial demise in 1976, whence it became the Gouden Boom brewery (Golden Tree). From 1902 the current premises in the centre of Bruges were home to a range of local beers, including both the Brugge Tripel and Steenbrugge beers, however the rot set in once the beers were moved out to Palm, and only recently the whole brewery was completely demolished – just the large copper kettle surviving the holocaust. It is worth taking a peek at the photos on the Belgian Beer Board website.

So my final thoughts before memories of the evening become too cloudy. A nice enjoyable Tripel, although having recently enjoyed a weekend in Bruges I am not wholly sure I can totally agree with the brewers view that Brugge Tripel “truly evokes the very best of Bruges”.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Palm

#36 – Brugse Zot

#36 - Brugse Zot

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

The beer Brugse Zot is actually a slight against the people of Bruges. The jester or fool on the label is meant to represent the people of this elegant, quaint tourist haven. This isn’t just a wild accusation of widespread idiocy by the brewers, but actually a legend that stems from the colourful history of the town.

The modern day country of Belgium was once part of the wider Netherlands, which was also a part of the enormous realm of the Holy Roman Empire. For sixty years from 1459, Maximilian ruled the Empire, and did much to protect the lowlands from French rule as a way of defending his first wifes inheritance (Duchesse de Bourgogne, #105). Many Belgians were extremely fond of the emperor for his attempts to stabilise the area, and none more so than the people of Bruges who welcomed him on a visit to the town with a colourful parade of merrymakers. At the end of the visit, local dignitaries asked the emperor if he would be so kind as to provide hard cash for a new lunatic asylum in the town. Maximilian responded with the immortal lines ‘Madmen? Lunatics? Since I got here I’ve seen nothing but lunatics – Bruges is a madhouse!”. The nickname for the people ‘Brugse Zotten’ stemmed from this day.

It is unclear in what context Maximilian made his reference, although it should be pointed out that the burghers of Bruges once held Maximilian hostage for several months in an attempt to raise a ransom. Whether this was before or after Maximilians remarks would largely go someway to defining just how foolish the people of Bruges actually were.

The beer itself is the flagship beer of the town of Bruges, brewed by the De Halve Maan brewery. It had a nice pale colour on pouring with a frothy white head. It looked a bit lagery on first glimpse yet the aroma was polished with a really fruity bouquet. The first swig was though quite mild in comparison, with a pale flavour that threatened to explode at times but remained firmly in the anonymous camp. The odd hint of daring citrus just wasn’t enough to turn this beer into anything but an average Belgian blonde. I’d certainly be a fool to buy a crate of this !

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, de Halve Maan