Tag Archives: Brugge

#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

#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

#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

#103 – Steenbrugge Tripel

#103 - Steenbrugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Having already told the story of St. Arnoldus and his waffle-stick (#26), its time to talk about another thing Steenbrugge beers are associated with – gruit, and the best way to do that is to take a little journey back in time.

Gruit, or grut as it is sometimes spelt is a medieval mixture of various herbs which were used for bittering and flavouring beer. It was clearly the precursor to hops and could include almost anything that would give flavour and conserve the life of the brew. Again, its worth reiterating that beer was often preferred to water in these days as it was a lot safer to drink! The composition of the gruit could be almost anything, but often included gale, mugwort, yarrow, heather, juniper, ginger, caraway, aniseed – you get the picture.

It was around the 15th Century that hops became the preferred agent used to make beer, and there are a number of reasons that have been cited – some of which are more likely that others.

Firstly, is the association with the Reformation in Europe. At this time the churches were monopolising the beer production, and Protestant princes in Europe saw the advent of hops as a way of cutting down the revenue of the Roman Catholic church. It has also been posited that it may have been a social measure taken by the more austere Protestants to calm down the more stimulating Catholic beers, by ensuring the sedative effects of hops. Although a touch spurious, certainly around this time the Bavarian Purity Laws were in abundance in Europe which as we know (#35) limited the brewing of beer to only key ingredients like malt or barley, water and hops.

Two much more likely reasons remain though. Firstly, there were often ‘incidents’. Accounts abound of beer being spiced with deadly nightshade or henbane. Local governments and lords needed their workers alive and while hops were suddenly in abundance this was much more satisfactory. Another much more likely reason is that hops tend to work much better and more consistently than gruit. This was evidenced in the late 19th Century when India Pale Ale was made with higher concentrations of hops to keep better on long sea journeys.

Either way certain brewers, especially those of the craft variety in Belgium and the USA, have recently experimented with re-substituting hops with gruit mixtures. Steenbrugge beers are one such example. Hops are still used but the Palm brewery has been keen to remarket these beers as containing the famous mixture. To be fair you can hardly say the effect was overly noticeable. I suspect this is a nice little marketing ploy to discern it from the beer I drunk next. It was a pleasant tasting strong tripel which went down extremely well, and it would end up being the first of six new beers I would try tonight, not to mention those home bankers I had already tried. It was to be quite a hangover !

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