Tag Archives: Cuvee

#205 – Grimbergen Cuvee de l’Ermitage

#205 - Grimbergen Cuvee de l'Ermitage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Another beer from the surprisingly extensive Grimbergen range, and following the recent review of the Optimo Bruno (#194), here follows another with a bold claim of greatness. One would fully expect that with the appellation Cuvee de l’Ermitage this would be some kind of serious brew – Cuvee de l’Ermitage translates crudely as the monks best beer from the most select vats, or something along those lines.

This claim is more likely to have been true in the past, as Alken-Maes (who took over the old Union brewery in 1978) inherited this then highly regarded beer. The original beer was a full 1% stronger in ABV weighing in at 8.5%, and was brewed largely as a Christmas beer. At one time it even bore the name Cuvee de l’Ermitage Christmas. It was largely brewed as a kind of seasonal beer using a selection of three kinds of hops and a variation of special malts. After fermentation it was left to rest for three months in carefully designed tanks which would allow the beer to develop its characteristic flavour – often referred to as bitter, and not unlike Armagnac brandy.

The term ‘Cuvee’ as it is most often used these days in relation to wine seems to apply fairly reasonably to this old beer, in that it reflects a batch of beer blended in a distinctly different way to the rest. The term Hermitage refers most generically to a place where groups of people would live in seclusion in order to devote themselves fully to religious or monastic purposes. This was almost always ascetic in nature, and some of the finest beers known to humanity have been made in this way – the Trappist way.

I never tried the original beer, so I can only comment on the latest incarnation of the recipe, but this is certainly no Cuvee, and it certainly isn’t made in a Hermitage. For me the Cuvee de l’Ermitage is just another average beer that isn’t even as good as the two staple Grimbergen beers (#8, #9) on which it is trying to clearly discern itself from. It was firstly far too thin, with a weak insipid head, which ended up resembling a faded pale amber. It didn’t smell of a great deal but had a fairly unique flavour – quite hoppy with plenty of citrus. This was once a seemingly great beer, but is now little more than a marketable addition to an extremely average range of brews. What else would you expect though from Alken-Maes?

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Alken-Maes, Belgian Strong Ale, Phoenix

#197 – Ename Cuvee 974

#197 - Ename Cuvee 974

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

This is an interestingly titled beer, which actually refers to the founding date of the local borough of Ename, which has now essentially been subsumed into the bigger town of Oudenaarde.

The beer was first brewed in 2002 as a winter beer, at a time when the local town was working very hard to celebrate its rich medieval heritage. Since the 1980s there has been an ongoing project called Ename 974, jointly sponsored by the Flemish Heritage Institute and the Province of East Flanders. The aim of this work was to conduct important archaeological excavations, historical research and to promote the local municipality. The resident brewery Roman supported this work by promoting a new beer to the Ename range.

Another key driver of the Ename 974 project is the Provincial Archaeological Museum which was opened in 1998 and is located beside the St Lawrence Church. It highlights the daily life in Ename from the early Middle Ages until the present day. The Roman brewery also supports this local cause in the form of royalties paid for the sale of its beers. The logos that adorn the Ename range of beers are in reference to the ruined Abbey which is part of the archaeological presence in the town. It’s pretty much an accepted truth that a brewery who can tie their beer to an Abbey will sell more beer regardless of the quality.

There are plenty more Ename beers to be drunk and so I will save the enlightening history of the abbey until then. For now I need to wheedle my attentions away from archaeology before anyone falls asleep and onto the important matter in hand. Beer. The Ename Cuvee 974 was a promising looking brew, which poured obediently leaving a good looking average sized head atop a dark amber mass. The aroma was hoppy and herbal with a tinge of fruit, which to be honest promised more than the actual beer delivered. There was certainly a degree of exotic spice contained within but it was eminently unable to take me anywhere else. A nice beer but in the end really rather average. I guess at least though I have done my bit for the restoration of history in Ename.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Roman

#193 – Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

#193 - Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

It had been a while since my last grapple with a St. Martin beer (#69), and I tried the Cuvee de Noel with next to no anticipation whatsoever. It was better but really only marginally. So who was this St. Martin whose reputation seems relatively under threat now due to this recurring crap beer association?

He was born in Italy of all places in the 4th Century, the son of a Roman military officer and tribune. He would join the army himself at the plucky age of fifteen having recently discovered Christianity, and ended up serving in a garrison in what is now Amiens in France. He clearly wasn’t the fighting type though, and he was jailed for cowardice at a young age for refusing to join a battle; citing his faith as the catalyst for this change of heart. He chose instead to help the sick and needy, and is famously represented in modern day imagery giving half of his officer’s cloak to a beggar who entreated him. It’s difficult to make out but this also seems to be the illustration on the beer’s label.

A lull in the war saved Martin, who was released from all military details. He promptly took up service as a spiritual student at Poitiers, and sought to convert all those he came into contact with; from the thief who once robbed him in the mountains to his own mother back in Lombardy. He was eventually chased out by heretics to the island of Gallinaria (now Isola d’Albenga) where he settled as a hermit for ten years, eventually forming a Benedictine Abbey in Liguge with a bevy of likeminded monks. He gained great success in building churches and converting the unconvertible, and his reputation soared culminating in his eventual consecration as the Bishop of Tours in 372.

St. Martin continued to live as a hermit after becoming a Bishop becoming clearly a much revered figure who gave almost everything he had to help the needy and the poor.  I’m sure though that he would have also liked a good beer in those days – after all what monk didn’t? although I don’t really think he would have approved of this particular beer. An instantly forgettable, thin and uninspiring ruby red beer which started spicy enough but ended up losing all its strength;  just as St. Martin did in 397 before dying amongst his brethren.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brunehaut, Christmas Beer, Horse

#136 – Cuvee li Crochon Brune

#136 - Cuvee li Crochon Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 8.7 %

This beer took me back in time, to reclining by the sumptuous Lake D’Iseo in northern Italy and polishing off the rather uninspiring Cuvee li Crochon Blonde (#58). It was time to offer one last chance of redemption to the sister brown beer. I had previously introduced the Brotherhood of Li Crochon, who were set up to promote the local cuisine and tourism, and it is on the medallions of these officials that we see the link to the heron on the label of the beer.

The reference of the heron is in testimony to the many of these wading birds that have used the local area as a stopping off point during their periods of migration. The small river valley of the Condroz is a sumptuous pastoral landscape which is perfect for birds seeking the peaceful solitude and verdancy which accompanies the bloating of the river in the wet months. The valley is punctuated by charming picture-perfect villages, local taverns selling regional beer and hundreds of miles of walks, fresh air and touristic activities.

I have headed here on numerous occasions while stocking up on beers, to escape London and to take some time exploring the local area. Two worthy stops on this itinerary are the Abbey at Maredsous (#44, #111), and the chateau at Falaen, another place where the heron can be often be sighted, and which interestingly is watermarked on the label.

If on your travels you do find the li Crochon beers on offer, I strongly advise you to opt for the stronger brown. Having expected very little from this one I was very nicely surprised. At 8.7 % she immediately grabbed your attention, with a mixture of malt, licorice and other dark pleasures. My only disappointment was that with just 250 ml, she was gone before I knew it.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, Du Bocq, Heron

#123 – St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

#123 - St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

We already know who St. Feuillien was (#29), and that beer was brewed in the Abbaye St-Feuillien du Roeulx in his honour. Production did stop here in 1796 though when the French Revolution did its worst, but the story and beers of St. Feuillien continue to live on, and that is largely due to Stephanie Friart who resurrected the St. Feuillien brewing tradition in 1873 in a new set of premises on the edge of Roeulx. The Brasserie Friart was born.

The brewery held on to this title for well over a century until in 2000 the fourth generation of Friarts decided to revert back to the monastic title of Brasserie St. Feuillien, to match the name of their popular signature beers. It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, with the brewery being shut for production between 1980 and 1988 when all brewing was undertaken on their behalf at Du Bocq. I can verify there is still a working relationship taking place between these two, as on a visit to the Du Bocq brewery recently the main beer in production was the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29).

The recent success of the brewery since re-opening has been clearly evident in sales, especially at a time when the powerhouses of beer production in Belgium are putting pressure on the independent brewers. Much of this success sits with the industry and application of the founders great-grand niece, Dominique Friart who in her role as Managing Director for the business has kept the home fires burning while travelling the world and marketing the beers. If ever there was an example of a successful family run business – this is it.

Anyway, I was thirsty, and on my third or fourth beer of the evening when chance led to the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel cooling nicely in the fridge. I had for some reason expected this to be a run of the mill addition to the evening, but I was completely mistaken. This was easily the best Christmas beer I had drunk yet. Dark, thick and warmly satisfying – the perfect addition to a winter’s night. It wasn’t perhaps as complex as a Trappistes Rochefort, yet was equally as nourishing. I will be seeking this out by the crate-load on my next Christmas jaunt to the continent.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, St. Feuillien

#80 – Biere du Corsaire

#80 - Biere du Corsaire

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.4 %

Pirates (#15), buccaneers (#27), and now corsairs. It would appear it truly is cool to be a seadog in Belgium. Corsairs were more on a par with buccaneers than they were with pirates, in that their acts of piracy were also sanctioned by a letter of Marque. It is from this that the name derives. The King of France during the middle ages sought to weaken his enemies in the foreign trade routes, and thus would legalise the acts of piracy through a “Lettre de Course” – the same thing as a Lettre de Marque. ‘La course’ tended to be a euphemism at the time for chasing down foreign merchant shipping, and it is from this word that the term Corsaire was derived.

The line between pirate and corsair is a fine one, with the Letter de Course giving the benefactor the right to only attack state enemies. Any raids upon friendly or neutral parties would render the crew pirates, and thus almost certainly hangable upon capture. This method of foreign warfare worked brilliantly for the French king, who severely dented the progress and wealth of the Spanish and English at the time, particularly in the Caribbean. In fact, the use of Corsairs also unwittingly had a positive effect on the engineering of boats during this golden age. As the Spanish and English sought to avoid capture from the increasing number of mercenaries, so did their efforts to improve the technology, speed and manoeuvrability of their fleet. Corsairs have been credited with the introduction of the topsail and the gaff rig, and eventually for the designs that led to the Genovese and Bermuda sails.

The golden days of the Corsair had to come to an end, and this was precipitated in 1706 when the Treaty of Utrecht effectively put an end to the Corsair raids in the Caribbean, and although there remained a trend to continue across the world, the change in the French state in 1815 effectively shut down the practice. It wasn’t until the Congress of Vienna however in 1856 that the use of Corsairs was officially ended.

The beer of course still exists, no doubt a hankering back to the romantic swashbuckling age. It started on the wrong foot with the pour, which looked more like pineapple juice – fair in colour and littered with soupy strands of something! It redeemed itself on the palate though, with strong and very fruity overtones. It would have had to have been strong to keep on long journeys overseas, and in the end this effort seemed to have a detrimental effect on the overall experience, which faded from the memory as the beer continued. Like many of Huyghe’s brews outside the Delirium range, this is more a white elephant !

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#58 – Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

#58 - Cuvee li Crochon Blonde

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

My final blonde of the night was Cuvee li Crochon Blonde – a little beer with a funky label, and another one from Couvin. The website which gives some information on the heritage of the beers identifies the Couvin warehouse as one of only a few in the area that actually stock this beer, thus this and its sister brown beer may be one of the rarer ones tried so far.

It is worth starting with the regionality mentioned above and the Onhaye municipality which has a population of only about 5000 inhabitants. It may be a tiny place, but it is proud of its beautiful Ardennes location (only 5km west of Dinant); so much so that in 1982 the ‘La Confrerie Li Crochon’ was founded. This Brotherhood of Li Crochon, as it translates, was set up to promote tourism in this area mainly based around local cuisine. Li Crochon is not the heron on the label, which I immediately assumed on drinking, but actually a symbolic dish of the region, which refers to the end slices of a loaf of bread, which are spread with local cheese and then roasted over a wood fire. By god that sounds delicious!

A modernised version of this dish tends to refer to a hollowed out bun, which is topped with cheese, ham and cream and baked in the oven. It must be good if they set up a brotherhood to look after it and then brewed a beer to accompany it. The brewing is now carried out by Du Bocq, but previously a couple of local brasseries began the tradition of finding a perfect beer for the dish. I must confess I am not sure they did a particularly good job. I found this blonde easily the most disappointing of the night. It neither fizzed or popped on opening, and once poured looked almost green in the light, and anaemic. It smelt of nothing in particular and tasted watery and weak. I had only reserved scores of below 5 for poor fruit beers and the truly disgusting but this moribund effort sadly didn’t make the grade. I just hope the dish Li Crochon is better or they may as well sack the Brotherhood.

(Post-Script) – At least the Cuvee li Crochon Brune was a lot better (#136).

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Du Bocq, Heron