Tag Archives: church

#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

#70 – Adelardus Trudoabdijbier Bruin

#70 - Adelardus Trudoadbdijbier Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

The Adelardus Trudoabdijbier Bruin is a bit of a mouthful, and is yet another example of a beer linked to an abbey – this time the remainder of what is left of the Abbey of St. Trudo in Sint-Truiden, in the quiet province of Limburg. There isn’t much left of the old buildings thanks to the pillaging that accompanied the French Revolution, but what does remain is fairly clearly evidenced on the label of the beer – the famous tower – and there is of course as ever a story behind it.

The Abbey itself was founded way back in the 7th Century by a Frankish nobleman by the name of St. Trudo, on the farmland of his wealthy parents. It never really became a major player in the monastic history of Belgium until the middle of the 9th Century when it was taken over by the Bishop of Metz and placed under Benedictine stewardship. The place soon became a popular place of pilgrimage and it made the town rich.

St. Trudo was one of Belgium’s more modest examples of a grand abbey until a certain Adelardus rode into town in the 11th Century. During his tenancy as Abbot of St. Trudo between 1055 and 1082, he oversaw the rebuilding of an extension of the main church, and a number of other ecclesiastical buildings in the town. The church was enormous – measuring 100 x 27 metres, with the famous Romanesque tower pictured on the label, looming high above the town. Adelardus has become famous for this achievement, and it is testimony to him that this beer was made, and indeed his architectural skills that the thing is still standing after all these years. In fact little evidence remains of the magnificence of the church, although if you visit the Abbey there is a bronze replica to feast your eyes upon, and remember what might have been if it hadn’t been for the Revolution.

The beer was actually fairly pleasant, with a thin sepia head on a dark brown fizzy lake of flavour. The flavour was spicy and ardent thanks to a local mixture of herbs called ‘sweet gale’, with the dark fruits and brown sugar that offset well the slight weirdness of the gale. It worked well but did fade somewhat, and ended just a little bit too thin. This beer is good but will never tower above other browns.

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#67 – Abbaye des Rocs Brune

#67 - Abbaye des Rocs Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Abbaye des Rocs Brewery has a big name these days, especially in the USA, however in reality it is just a small farm in a picturesque little village in the heart of the south Belgian countryside. The village in question is Montignies-sur-Rocs, and the name of the brewery derives from the ruins of the Abbaye des Rocs which rot only a few hundred yards away.

The beers from Montignies qualify as Abbey beers, but the current beers were never actually brewed there. In fact, the brewing at the farm only began in 1979, and the owners used the fortunate location of the old Abbey to add credence to their range. There isn’t a great deal of information available about the history of the Abbey, but almost certainly it will have involved a golden era, plenty of beer and then years of plundering. The current lack of tourist value suggests it fared badly during the French Revolution.

There is more information available however on the actual village, which dates back more than a thousand years, although the name has changed on numerous occasions since. It now forms part of the High Lands National Park, and is often known as the “Pearl of the High Lands”. This terminology stems from the plateau on which the village is built – often called Plat Caillou (flat stone), or more often ‘le Haut des Rocs’. It isn’t difficult to ascertain how the brewery got its name.

Visitors to Montignies-sur-Rocs are more than likely there specifically for the brewery although if you are passing there is a cracking little watermill, and a church with a cave. Blaugies (#65) isn’t too far either so watch out for ghosts of evil highwaymen !

I took this beer in the garden of a friend on a beautifully warm evening. It was probably not ideal for this kind of day, although I needn’t have worried too much as most of it ended up on my lap as it exploded rather selfishly as I removed the cap. Once the heavy sediment and froth had finally settled, and I was able to clean myself up and borrow a pair of trousers, I was finally able to tuck into this highly rated beer. Figs, caramel, chocolate, malt – the usual winter flavours. To be fair I think I did the beer a disservice drinking it on a warm day and the amount of sediment in the end swayed my vote somewhat, but it really didn’t stand out for me.

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Filed under 7, Abbaye des Rocs, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale

#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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#33 – Ciney Brune

#33 - Ciney Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 7 %

Ciney is a monastery from the 16th Century .. no I am joking. Believe it or not I have trawled through the history of Ciney from the beginnings of beer drinking, and there seems no mention of any monks, nuns or other religious orders, which is kind of refreshing after the consecutive Bon Secours (#28), St Feuillien (#29), Tongerlo (#30) and Trappistes Rochefort (#31). I am sure there probably was, but this town isn’t famous for it. No this town is famous for cows. There was even a war about these cows. Now that’s worth reading about .. surely.

Ciney isn’t big. In fact it only has about 15,000 inhabitants, and is rather overshadowed by Dinant and Namur as major tourist towns in the region. People might wish to come and see the beautiful church which adorns the beer’s label, and from where the beer was first drawn in the middle ages, and some do, but most people come for the cows.

Ciney has the largest cattle market in Belgium, and the second largest in Europe. If you are driving into the town from the countryside, you cant help but see cows everywhere, and beef from here is highly recommended for its quality and flavour. In fact these cows were so highly prized, that in 1272 a peasant from one village decided to steal one from another village. Not content with getting it home and eating the evidence, the naïve fellow tried to sell it on at another fair in another village, from where the previous incumbent of the cow was looking for a new cow, and caught eyes on his old one – cue the Guerre de la Vache (War of the Cow). It lasted three years, killed 15,000 people, and destroyed over 60 villages. Utter madness.

This was drunk outside on a beautiful day, and holding the glass up in the sun shone deep brown with fantastic cherry red flowing through. The aroma was quite smoky and appley, and although the taste was hard to discern it was fairly strong and treacly. A nice beer but far too small and thin to be one to hanker after again.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Alken-Maes