Tag Archives: Brussels

#172 – Timmermans Kriek

#172 - Timmermans Kriek

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 4 %

It has been a while since I last supped on a Timmermans beer (#12), which gave me the opportunity to talk about their gueuze. It seems only right now to introduce a little bit of the history.

Timmermans is naturally a family business, and first started brewing gueuze in a disused cow shed in Itterbeek, a suburb of Brussels, way back in 1781.The first brewer was a gentleman by the name of Henry Vanheyleweghen who eventually handed over and leased the buildings to Jacobus Walraevens. By 1832 the smallholding had amassed also a farm, an orchard, café and malt house, and also a name – the Brasserie de la Taupe (the Mole brewery).

Eventually the son of Jacobus, Paul Walraevens inherited the business and continued to provide a multitude of excellent local products. It was only in 1911 under new ownership that all subsidiary activities were finally stopped, with the complete focus being the pub and brewery. The youngest Walraevens daughter had married brewer Frans Timmermans, although the name didn’t finally stick until 1960 when Paul van Cutsem, the son-in-law of Frans, took over proceedings and changed the name to Mol Timmermans.

The Timmermans name still lives on even though the brewery is now under the stewardship of the Anthony Martin group. They are famous for their lambic gueuze and faro, and for the colourful range of fruit lambic beers of which the Timmermans Kriek is one of the most popular – I certainly did enjoy this one. There are almost certainly more authentic and traditional lambic krieks out there, but this one certainly hit the spot for refreshment and sweetness. I had the larger 330 ml bottle which meant it wasn’t over before it had begun. The flavour lasted to the very end, and bearing in mind they sell this in my local supermarket, I may well be going back on a hot summers day to try this one again.

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#147 – Boon Kriek

#147 - Boon Kriek

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4 %

It seems a long time ago now that I was first drinking the Boon Oude Gueuze (#89) where we first met Frank Boon. I said then I would continue his story, and it’s definitely a story worth telling.

We left the tale just after Frank had begun to invest in the De Vits Gueuze blenders in Lembeek. It wasn’t that he had any particular desire to do so, only that he couldn’t bear to see the place go out of business, and no longer produce his favourite gueuze. It took a while but he managed to identify just why the sale of lambic was declining at a shocking rate – lambic was seen traditionally as a peasants’ beer, thus it often used the cheapest ingredients. The best selling lambics were the best quality ones.

Things were still not working out though as planned, as between 1985 and 1989 production had dropped from 1240 hl to only 450 hl. De Vits decided to pull out entirely, and so Boon took the complete reins. He put together an agreement with Palm breweries who supported the production of gueuze as a cultural project, while he set up the brewhouse. Within three years all the remaining blenders in Brussels had become clients, the quality had risen steeply, and production shot back up – so much so that by 2007, Boon was churning out over 10,000 hl, twenty times the amount of just eight years ago.

Frank Boon continues to produce excellent lambic beers, and Boon Kriek is a fantastic example of a 100% pure lambic steeped in rich cherries – the 2006 bottle being definitely the best example I have tried yet. It was dank and sour, and yet fruity and pungent. You really need to sniff and breathe deeply as you take each sip. The colour is rich and rewarding, and you’d know it’s full of hearty goodness even if you hadn’t read about it before. Nice one Frank !

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#130 – Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

#130 - Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The striking feature of the Oud Beersel Oude Kriek label is the elegantly designed illustration of a castle. This Kasteel van Beersel is the most striking tourist attraction of the town of Beersel from which the beer/brewery derives its name. It was built approximately 700 years ago by Jan II, the Duke of Brabant as part of the defensive base for Brussels – the capital sits just 12km to the north east of Beersel.

The castle has been a key part of the towns history, being damaged in the War of Succession of Brabant (1356-57), during the rebellion against Maximilian in 1489, and then finally being left to the ravages of desolation during the 18th Century when it was left unoccupied. A cotton factory was initiated in the building in 1818, and eventually passed through a series of local families until it was donated to the League of Friends of Beersel in 1928, whereupon it was beautifully restored to its present glory.

Beersel is also the home to two famous breweries. Drie Fonteinen, and of course Oud Beersel. Both are renowned for the quality of their lambic beer in a region which is famous for it. Once you have climbed the castle and taken in the stunning views across town, you can wander off to any bar and have the pick of some of Belgiums finest beers. Be sure to make sure the service includes ‘boterham met plattekaas en radijzen’ (bread with white cheese and radishes) and ‘mandjeskaas’ (white cheese in small baskets) – both are tasty traditional snacks of Beersel and which accompany lambic beers perfectly apparently.

This was to be my third lambic of the night in the Rake. It was extremely sour still, but after the abomination of the Cassisframbozenlambic (#129) I wasn’t complaining. It was more subtle than other Krieks I had tried, which I put down to being from a professional brewer/blender. There was definitely a cherryness deep in the brew but you had to work hard to get there while the acidic dryness rebounded all round your lips. It was perfect to sip while pulling up a bar stool and catching up on old chat, and peering into the well stocked fridges to see what to choose next.

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#95 – Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic

#95 - Cantillon Kriek

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 5 %

Cantillon has five entries in the ‘Top 100 Belgian beers to try before you die’ – it would have been more but the authors felt it might skew the book somewhat. As we have previously ascertained there were hundreds of lambic brewers and blenders in Brussels in yesteryear (#89), but now there is just this one.

The Cantillon Kriek is renowned for its quality, and having only drunk the Lindemans Kriek (#78) on this journey so far, I thought I would use this opportunity to share how Cantillon make theirs as an exemplar to all thriving replicants.

The lambic beer is already sitting waiting when the cherries arrive by lorry on what is hopefully a warm summers afternoon. Cantillon usually buy theirs from auction at St. Truiden, resulting in thousands of kilos of the Kellery variety. About 150kg of this rich fruit is put in each 650 litre capacity barrel, and then the appropriate one and half year old lambics are chosen to add to the barrels. It is essential that the lambics chosen are healthy as it would spoil the beer at this stage. The unhealthy ones will have to wait, but Cantillon are experts at knowing which lambics to use, and curing those that aren’t.

Once the barrels are filled, the hole is sealed with a sheet of paper to avoid impurities reaching the mix, but still leaving the barrels open to the natural yeasts. Within about five days the fermentation fires up, whereby the sugars from the lambic and cherries start to activate the yeasts that are sitting in the wood and in the skin of the cherries. It is here that the amazing rich red colours begin to form. As the brewers here tend to start at the same time each summer, they are prepared for the fermentation to wind down around the 10th August, whereupon the barrels are finally closed, and the acids in the lambic begin to leach all the flavour and remaining colour from the cherries. Spiders are a key part of the result at this stage as they prove to be better than any insecticide, protecting the environment from infection and encouraging the perfect natural equilibrium.

It doesn’t end here as the Kriek then gets a secondary fermentation in the bottle from the beginning of October. This is either done by mixing young lambics with the kriek, or by refilling the original barrel with lambic to mix with the left over pulp. All that remains then is to let the beer sit for about three to five months where it will saturate, and then it is ready for the discerning drinker. It can spoil if left too long and therefore drinkers are advised to imbibe within a year of bottling, although of course that is a matter of personal taste.

Speaking of which, I am probably still coming to terms with the whole lambic taste. I was expecting the rich sanguine flavours of the cherries to engulf me as the Lindemans had, but the overriding experience was still one of sourness and mustiness. Once you open the cork, and you get past the strong cidery nose, you just don’t expect something so flat. I enjoyed sipping it and rolling it around my oralities but yet again I am not sure whether it’s truly for me. I will keep working on it as there are plenty more to come.

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#89 – Boon Oude Gueuze

#89 - Boon Oude Gueuze

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

This is my third Gueuze, but in a sense my first real Gueuze. With every disrespect to Timmermans (#12) and Belle-Vue (#62), this is what Gueuze is all about, and is brewed/blended by a man who is almost singly responsible for the revitalisation of lambic beer in Belgium. Frank Boon might sound like some kind of East End villain, but is actually the man behind this devastating contribution to lambic beer.

To begin the story we need to go back to just before the first World War, when in 1910 the Brussels region was responsible for over a million hectolitres of lambic beer – which lets face it is phenomenal. There were probably over 200 independent lambic breweries in Brussels alone at this time. In 1914 there were at least 800,000 barrels of lambic, yet by the end of the war, just four years later, there were only 40,000 empty ones. Copper was taken from breweries, farms were ravaged, and as we already know to make gueuze you need to blend old with new, and there was simply no oude lambic to blend – it had all been destroyed. The result was that with the recent introduction of easy and cheap to produce lagers and pilseners many breweries chose to abandon lambic.

Gueuze was still brewed in much smaller amounts, but in comparison to top fermented lagers and pilseners, it was much more expensive to make. Cheaper ingredients became the norm, and the standard of lambic fell away drastically. By 1965 there were only 27 lambic breweries left, and between 1968 and 1970 the Belle-Vue brewery bought all but one of those in Brussels, and the final recognised brewey of any size fell in 1976. Any gueuze now being made was filtered, and the final throes of death hovered over this unique drink.

This was when Frank Boon could watch no more, and decided to invest in the De Vits gueuze blenders in Lembeek, a beer he loved and who were almost certainly going out of business. It was this decision almost 35 years ago that means that the Boon Oude Gueuze was sitting on my lounge table tonight. Lots of water has passed under the bridge since, but I have got plenty of time to tell that tale (#147).

For now though I had a real gueuze to get my teeth into, although it took over ten minutes to pour it into my glass, so powerful was the carbonation and head. The smell was rich and pungent, almost cidery and yet ammonic. Some might call this ‘horse-blanket’ – well I will leave that to the experts, and I may come back to this as my palate expands. Anyway, the taste was definitely unique, and I wasn’t quite sure what my thoughts were as I tried to sum up it up. I may have to try a few more, but for now I will leave it that this maybe isn’t my cup of tea, but that’s not to say I won’t be back to try it again. I owe Frank Boon at least a conclusion to his story.

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#53 – Villers Tripel

#53 - Villers Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5%

This is my 53rd beer on this trip so far, and if I am not mistaken this is the 17th individual account of an Abbey. I feel like a bloody historian with a fetish for medieval churches. This has almost inspired me to set up a map section on the website and start up a tourist section for monastery hoppers. My stats on the website have been improving rapidly over the past few weeks, and I was becoming fairly overwhelmed with the like-minded souls searching the world wide web for Belgiums finest ales. A recent trawl through the majority of my hits however seem to suggest there is an equivalent number of National Trusties looking for sedentary days out at cloisters and priories and leaving disappointedly on finding an inane historical account of a rarely drunk beer. Oh well – there is still hope I may turn a few to the dark side.

Abbey number 17 is that of Villers Abbey – now a brooding ruin south of Brussels of a once great Cistercian Abbey. The small village of Villers-la-Ville has been the home of this Abbey in three incarnations since its founding in 1146 by twelve Cistercian monks and three lay brothers from Clairvaux. Through the ages, the Abbey grew in importance to the point where at one stage over a hundred monks and three hundred lay brothers lived and worked, brewing and quaffing large measures of strong ale as was customary. Of course, the fortunes of the Abbey were to fluctuate under Spanish repression, where the monks were reported to have fled on nine separate occasions, and then of course during the French Revolution, when the Abbey was sold off for Gallic gains.

Considerable restoration has since been carried out at Villers, leaving the venue as a popular one for day visitors from Brussels, and much of the majestic remains of the Abbey can still be seen. Therefore it was a natural transition to tie a beer to the Abbey, and of course who else but Huyghe to jump on the bandwagon.

We had left Belgium for the time being, and were heading on the long road down to Italy. We decided to tarry a while in Luxembourg, and found a great cabin with cooking facilities, where at the end of a long day travelling we rustled up an immensely spicy red Thai curry. The Villers Tripel was a perfect accompaniment as it contained its own spices. It was crisp and blond and smelt and tasted of rustic orchards. It certainly had a kick at 8.5% and I was prepared to score highly, although after the food the beer failed to live up to its early hype. Like the light outside it soon faded. Shame really.

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#51 – Abbaye de Forest

#51 - Abbaye de Forest

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The light had begun to fade at the campsite after our late start, and it had started to get a little chilly. I dug around for my army jumper, pulled myself up to the barbecue and decided to have one last beer for the night. I closed my eyes and randomly stuck my hand into one of the boxes I had filled from our Couvin stop. Abbaye de Forest from the Brasserie Silly, and I just assumed from the uninspiring label that it was one of those tawdry beers made by a supermarket with a made-up Abbey name to sell a few extra brews. I was wrong, not that I am going to apologise to anyone.

There is actually an Abbaye de Forest, and there is actually a place called Forest. Remarkable what a little research can do. Instead of contemplating the two strange campers with the worlds smallest tent who had set up a late night butterfly watching vigil in the woods, I might have sat there pondering the decline of yet another Benedictine Abbey.

The Abbaye de Forest was founded in 1106, and it grew in splendour and importance due to its location near Brussels on the main road from Paris. Often key dignitaries in olden times heading to Brussels, would stop here for food, shelter and entertainment. The community was thus able to grow in size as craftsmen, brewers, wine growers and farmers moved to be near the opportunities provided by the Abbey. The inevitable decline came however in 1764 when a massive fire razed the place, and it wasn’t until 1964 that the local commune were able to begin the restoration of this once majestic complex. The Abbaye is available for visitors now, and is apparently well worth the effort – sadly unlike the beer.

I didn’t expect much, and to be fair the Abbaye de Forest did its best not to disappoint. It looked pale and golden once the froth had decided to calm down, a little like a Duvel (#34), although clearly that is where all comparisons ended. It was watery and non-descript, and although clearly better than most premium lagers, it certainly won’t stay long in my memory. If I was throwing a barbecue in the summer, and this was on offer in the supermarket, I might consider it for the less discerning English drinkers, however I am not, and that’s what Stella Artois (#116) is for anyway.

(Post-Script) – having visited Brussels on my stag weekend, it is clear this is a staple beer of the city;  being freely available in many bars.

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#26 – Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

#26 - Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The beers of Steenbrugge are steeped in a rich beer-fuelled history – 925 years to be exact! It was then in 1084 that a certain Arnold of Tiegem – the dude kissing the potato waffle on the label – founded St Peter’s Abbey in Oudenburg in West Flanders, where he wished to escape a life of fighting. It was here that St Arnoldus started to brew some serious beer, as monks tended to do at this time as it was healthier than water. History suggests however that there was a certain magic to his brews and that those that drank his beers would be healed – and he eventually become the Patron Saint of Brewers. Yes, we do indeed have St Arnold of Tiegem to thank for this gift to life, and if you are ever in Brussels in July, you can join the throngs honouring him on the ‘day of beer’.

The item on the label is not actually a potato waffle, nor either a Belgian waffle – it is in fact a mashing rake, used while brewing to stir the mash. Anyway, long after our good friend Arnold had gone, the years took its toll on the monastery, but in 1898 a certain Abbot Amandus Mertens decided to recreate the beers to honour his St Peter’s Abbey. Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin is one of these.

I think its possibly one of the most attractive labels but quite under-drunk beers. The head was fine and lasted well, over a thin dark underbelly of beer. The smell was bright and hoppy, as was the taste. It continued to sparkle with thin warmth in the mouth and remained clean cut and distinguished but nothing of that remarkableness I was hoping for from a beer of St Arnold.

(Post-Script) – for something with a bit more bite you might want to try the Steenbrugge Tripel (#103)

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#22 – Lamoral Tripel

#22 - Lamoral Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Lamoral Tripel is more than a beer. It is in many ways a celebration of national pride. It may seem a long time ago, but Belgium and the present day Netherlands were under Spanish rule back in the 16th Century. At that time, Lamoral the Count of Egmont, was a wealthy and influential statesman and general who despite being loyal to Prince Philip II of Spain, was very much opposed to the introduction of the now-legendary Spanish Inquisition. He was not alone, with both William of Orange and the Count of Hoorn reflecting the views of the increasingly frustrated populace. Egmont even travelled to Madrid to beseech the King to withdraw this policy, but met with complete disinterest.

The people continued to revolt, and during the period of Iconoclasm, when the protestants began to attack the Catholic church, Egmont remained loyal to his King, while William of Orange read the warning signs and decided to flee the country. It was to end badly for Lamoral, who along with the Count of Hoorn was captured by the Duke of Alba, who had been sent to quiet the unrest in the lowlands. On June 5th 1568 both men were cruelly beheaded in Brussels main square, and this essentially sparked what became the Eighty Years War which eventually led to the independence of the country.

Who knows to what degree the majesty of Belgian beer is owed to the Count of Egmont – at least enough to dedicate a beer to him – unfortunately it wasn’t a particularly memorable one. It started well, with a pumping froth and an amber tangerine liquid bubbling away. Good first tastes, strangely of licquorice and a certain floridity, but it really didn’t last which was a shame, ending fairly average and meekly unlike Egmont who went down dignified right to the very end of his life.

(Post-Script) – It turns out beer runs in the family. Did you know that Kastaar (#96) was allegedly the son of the Count of Egmont?

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#18 – Pater Lieven Bruin

# 18 - Pater Lieven Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

Pater Lieven translates from Flemish as the ‘Father of Lieven’ – the father being a certain patron saint of the local parish – St Livinus. Now, any art lovers may have heard this name before, but if like me, you have been touring the brouwerijs and brasseries and not the museums, then perhaps you might wish to make a stop at the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Inside is the famous painting by Peter Paul Rubens, called ‘The Martyrdom of St Livinus’ (1633). I have stuck the picture in the People section for anyone keen enough to get a closer look at poor St Livinus having his tongue ripped out by a torturer.

Lebwin, or just Livinus, as he was known then, was actually the son of a Scottish nobleman and an Irish princess. He was raised in Ireland, and eventually left for England where he studied and was ordained into the monasteries. His mission took him on to Flanders where he eventually became the Bishop of Ghent. As was common at the time, the secular protestant society often found themselves grumbling at the church and in an effort to stop Livinus preaching he had his tongue forcibly removed. Legend has it however, that the tongue continued to preach on its own.

St Livinus was one of a number of martyrs at this time, celebrated by the Jesuits during the counter-reformation. St Livinus lives on as a hero of legend locally, and hence the reference for this range of beers from Van den Bossche.

This was another exploder that I failed to learn my lesson with. New trousers back in the wash ! A good creamy aroma, with a fantastic soft head maintained trimly atop a dark brown ale. The taste was distinctly chocolately although perhaps ended up just a little too subtle to register as a classic. The missus was impressed though.

(Post-Script) – a less impressive beer though was the Pater Lieven Blonde (#73).

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#12 – Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

#12 - Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

This is a tough ask – to sum up Gueuze in a paragraph or two. How can one possibly do that without delving deep into the world of lambic? Well here’s the whistle-stop tour. We can wade deeper into the effluent as the journey continues.

OK. Lambics are beers but not as we know it. They require wild yeasts that sit in the air in the Payottenland area around Brussels to ferment the beer, and they sit for long periods open to this natural process. They do indeed use hops, but only the oldest ones, and so the usual beer flavours are barely noticeable. It is a combination of these two circumstances that cause Lambic based beers to be sour, acetic and somewhat an acquired taste. Gueuze is the by-product of carefully combining these lambics, and so by mixing older ones with younger ones, blenders are able to sweeten the final result. This occurs as the younger lambics have yet to fully ferment and so the fermentable sugars start to work on the combination – the end result being Gueuze.

Timmermans have been making Gueuze since 1781, and despite now being subsumed into the Anthony Martins group, they still retain their ancestry in the staff and identity in their brand. I get the feeling this was a pretty tame Gueuze to begin with. It was particularly sweet and I expect the brewery intended this to make it more marketable alongside a number of their other fruit lambics. The sweeter a Gueuze, the more able it is to mask the often difficult flavours behind it. This tasted more like a flat cidery champagne to me, as I kind of expected. There were some hints of grapefruit in there which added to the sourness somewhat. I have certainly lain my hat in the strong Belgian ale and Abbey Dubbel brands, and so this was an interesting diversion. I can’t say I am a true fan yet !

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