Tag Archives: De Dolle

#208 – Oerbier

#208 - Oerbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Oerbier is the flagship beer of the de Dolle Brouwers, and was the first beer to be launched by the Mad Brothers. The name of the beer roughly translates as ‘primitive beer’, ‘original beer’, or ‘beer from the source’ – a title which reflects the evolutionary nature of both the beer and the brewery.

The de Dolle Brouwers story first began in 1980 following brothers Kris and Jo Herteleer’s attempts to make home brew from English supermarket kits. They were still at college at the time and making a shed load of experimental beers. Eventually they decided to enter a competition in Brussels, and they picked one of their 35 creations. Amazingly this Oerbier won, and the cash first prize was all the incentive they needed to begin their new business.

The success of the Oerbier was really down to a change of approach from the Mad Brothers. The initial efforts at brewing hadn’t really yielded anything worthwhile, so they opted to use the finest natural ingredients – spring water, fresh hops and yeast, only malt, and strictly no colouring, preservatives or filtering! This philosophy has continued to guide de Dolle Brouwers to cult success now across the world where their beers are revered. The Oerbier continues to be the flagship beer, and the small yellow man on the label continues to represent the brand. The cartoon figure is a sprouting yeast cell, who carries a mashing fork in one hand and the perfect glass of Oerbier in the other. The year Anno 1980 represents the date the brewery began, and the words Nat en Straf literally translate as ‘Wet and Strong’, which is a pretty decent analogy of the Oerbier, although it has been even stronger at times.

The real beauty of the Oerbier, which may frustrate those who seek consistency, is that each annual effort is brewed differently. I found this out later in my journey when I tried an older version at the Kulminator bar in Antwerp. When the beer was first made it used Rodenbach yeasts which left the beer at around 7%. Eventually in around 1988 once Palm had taken over Rodenbach, the de Dolle Brouwers started to evolve their own mad strains from the original yeast and the ABV rocketed. In around 2000 the beer was over 10%. Nat en Straf indeed!

The 9% version of the Oerbier I tried was simply immense. It poured a beautiful conker brown with an attractive mop of white head glistening like an oasis on the top. There was an adequate dosing of sediment which added to the experience, and the aromas were far too abundant to even begin trying to decipher. The first taste was divine, a sweet and complex meaty brew that scintillated every taste bud. Again, there were so many flavours that I couldn’t begin to tell the story. It’s not often I drool over beers, but this and the Boskeun (#82) are easily amongst my top five brews – so much so that on my last trip to Belgium I called in to the brewery to stock up on supplies and get my own flagship glass.

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers

#195 – Rodenbach

#195 - Rodenbach

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Rodenbach is a name that many beer afficionados will immediately get excited about, primarily for the highly rated Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17) which is likely the finest example of a Belgian Sour ale that is known to man. There also exists the standard Rodenbach which was to pass my palate on this particular occasion.

Now, where the Rodenbach Grand Cru relies upon the finest matured vats of sour ale from the cellars to be mixed together, the standard Rodenbach mixes the old with the much younger which inevitably results in a more subdued flavour as you might expect. Essentially what this means is that after the original beer has had its main fermentation, it is then conditioned for around four to five weeks in casks, whereby the beer starts to acquire its sharp lactic flavour. The brewery are not particularly open in terms of the exact time they leave the younger beer to develop, however it is fair to say that the longer a beer is left in this fashion, the less likely it will be to retain its fresh clean taste. It is likely now that for the standard Rodenbach offering a period of four weeks is given to condition the “younger” beer.

Once the brewers are able to nail down the younger beer, they are able to play around with different varieties of the matured casks to create different strains of beer. A number of these efforts already sit in my cellar waiting to be drunk on a special occasion. The key to the development naturally comes not only from the various ages of vats, but also from some very special and unique varieties of yeast. Rodenbach tend to play with around twenty different strains, which include lactobacilli and Brettanomyces – reknowned of course for their important role in the production of lambic beers. A number of very reputable breweries, including De Dolle and Westvleteren used Rodenbach yeasts for around twenty years!

This particular beer was always going to be a little bit of a step down from the Grand Cru, however it was far from being the ugly sister. It had all the same colour and consistency that graced the Grand Cru, and poured without virtually any traces of head. The flavour was naturally sour but without the lip smacking tartness which I had previously encountered. It was a very pleasant start to the evening and a great example of a typical standard Belgian sour ale which many other local breweries have not been able to produce so appealingly.

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Filed under 7, Rodenbach (Palm), Sour Ale

#184 – ‘T Smisje Dubbel

#184 - 'T Smisje Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

I continued my adventure in the Rake with another beer from ‘T Smisje. The Tripel (#183) had been so good that I opted for the darker double, and am therefore quickly able to continue the story of Johan Brandt following his move of premises to Mater in Oudenaarde.

Between 1995 and 2008 as De Regenboog, the brewery was famous for an extensive range of experimental beers in the traditional style, pulling on interesting and distinctive ingredients, fruits, herbs and spices. Brandt had tried beers made with mustard seeds (Wostyntje), valerian root and lemon balm (BBBourgondier), honey and raisins (Guido), and sloes (Sleedornbier). Brandt had also worked his magic on maturing an ale for six months in Calvados barrels (Calva Reserva), very much in the style of similar beers from de Struise, Alvinne and de Dolle breweries.

In 2010 however it was with regret that I heard that Brandt had decided to take a break from the wide range of beers, and to concentrate his efforts on one or two house beers. Only a new blond hoppy ale called Smiske survives, with a seasonal variant at Christmas to be produced. He hasn’t closed the door entirely though, and has given beer lovers the chance to still get their hands on one historic recipe per year if ten thousand people on Facebook will sign a petition for it. This has recently worked for the Duvel Tripel Hop, although I would hope in keeping with his fine traditions, Brandt doesn’t rip off his customers at 15 Euros a pop, as Moortgat did.

So it is with regret that this ‘T Smisje Dubbel was possibly the last one I would ever taste. In true Brandt fashion, this was no ordinary dubbel, having been made since 1997 with fresh dates and honey. At 9% strength it is also clearly no run of the mill double, abounding with plenty of guts and a sweetness that simply blows you away. I still probably reckon this is about the best beer I have ever had the pleasure of trying in a bar. My only regret was that I had taken the only one left in the overstocked refrigerators of The Rake. I will continue to look for it on my journeys into Belgium in the older and more eclectic beer stores, or else I may just have to hope a petition of like-minded souls can coerce Mr Brandt to somehow recreate this masterpiece.

 

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Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#99 – Oeral

#99 - Oeral

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

De Dolle Oeral is still seemingly available in shops these days but appears to have been recently cast off by the brewery. A once proud beer that acted as a mother beer for the breweries experiments doesn’t even get a mention on the website these days, yet brews such as Museum Beer, De Kavijaks, Matrassebier and van de Abdij Ter Doest were all created from the original beer. I would be surprised if many of the above still exist but I am keeping my eyes open on my regular jaunts to the fatherland.

The Oeral has been created in a few label styles;  one of a yellow Oeral aeroplane flying in from space is a newer incarnation, although the version I picked up in Norfolk was one sporting a painting of shoes by the eccentric brewmaster Kris Herteleer. The Mad Brothers premises doubles up not only as a brewery and beer room, but also as a museum for the family art. Kris would label himself as both an architect and an artist, and that it is these talents which have led him to create such wonderful beers. When asked what makes a craft beer, Kris responded that it was ‘a beer which reflects the sense of beer brewing of the person who makes it, and that means that the brewer has his own opinion about how beer should be and he does it his way’. You certainly can’t argue with this after visiting the Madhouse, and tasting their range of beers – not bad considering it all started with a home brewing kit from Boots !

Sadly last month a fuel tank exploded in the brewery premises which caused extensive damage to some of the artwork and the equipment, injuring one of the employees. The production of both Oerbier and Arabier (#85) has had to be delayed.

Despite the recent rarity of the Oeral, it remains a great beer. It was a pale coloured fizzer which took at least four pours and ten minutes to finally get into my glass – but then it was definitely worth the wait. It was predominantly bitter with plenty of bite that endured to the final drop. Because the beer looked a little insipid I was perhaps expecting something a little less feisty, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will add a few to the cellar the next time I see it.

(Post-Script) – Oeral roughly translates as ‘Ural’ in Flemish – although had yet to see the mountainous connection to the beer until I spotted this label which looks like it was shipped to Russian speaking locations.

Oeral - for the Russian market

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Brewers, De Dolle Brouwers

#85 – Arabier

 

#85 - Arabier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The second beer in a week from De Dolle Brouwers, and this time one of the two staple brews on which much of their regular sales rely. Oerbier (#208) started it all off when the eccentric Herteleer family won their beer competition, but Arabier was to follow shortly after. This is a much drier beer, brewed with pure malt and spiced by dry-hopping using the typical Poperinge Nugget-hops. It is almost the complete opposite of Boskeun (#82) in that sense – the only other De Dolle beer I had tried to date.

Some have claimed that the title Arabier was given to the beer due to its dryness, pointing to the fact that Arabier translates into ‘an inhabitant of Arabia’ and after all, Arabia is a pretty arid place. Without the exact reason given by the brewery, one may wish to follow this line of thought, although a further clue seems to point more in the direction of the small colourful parrot who sits on the label with a glass of beer in its hand. It is surely not a coincidence that Ara is a genus of colourful macaw parrot that inhabits the South American continent. We have already established a link between brother Jo and South America (#82), and we can probably safely assume this is a much more likely, although no less logical, reason for the name of the beer.

Quite what the Ara has to do with beer is debatable, although they are renowned for their colourful plumage and distinctive exuberance. If you get to meet any of the Herteleers or visit the brewery/art exhibitions in Esen, it is not hard to find a subtle relationship between the two. The main diet of the Ara is also seeds, which funnily enough is essentially the main ingredient in beer.

Arabier itself is impressive, and it certainly justified its entry in the top 100 Belgian Beers book I had recently bought. Very hoppy and full of flavours, although certainly not an Orval (#37), but perhaps a more mellow and fruity deputy. I sat back and watched Ukraine end Englands’ 100% record in the World Cup Qualifying group – a sadly indistinguished occasion for a beer this good.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers, Parrot

#82 – Boskeun

#82 - Boskeun

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

De Dolle Brouwers literally means ‘the mad brothers’, and if you have ever called in on the brewery premises and looked about you will probably understand why. There were originally three Herteleer brothers, Kris, Jo and Ward, who purchased the brewery premises in 1980 after they won a local beer brewing competition. Kris is the master brewer and can normally be spotted in a mad company jacket serving at the ramshackle bar. Ward is almost the silent partner, but has become more involved in recent years, and Jo is the brother for whom Boskeun is named. Boskeun literally translates as the Hare of the Wood, which is the image that can be seen on the label and all over my website for that matter. When the brothers were younger, Jo was injured in some kind of play fight, ending up with a scar above his lip. The other boys teased him about this ‘hare-lip’ (keun) and thus the name stuck.

Jo Herteleer was fairly active in the brewery, and tended to prefer brewing the blonder beers. Wanderlust eventually got the better of him however, and he found himself heading off to South America where again he continued to brew the odd beer. Boskeun would be the last beer however that he would brew in Belgium. Jo still lives and works in South America undertaking a variation of useful roles in governmental and non-governmental co-operations, and most recently working on a number of health projects in Quito, Ecuador.

The beer itself simply blew me away. It certainly wasn’t the most attractive 330 ml I would ever drink, with about an inch deep of rich meaty sediment – I almost had to repour it through a strainer but that would probably have ended up detracting from the experience. It was a pale brown colour, but rich in legs, and smelling remarkably like a warm caramel covered apple pie. This beer was a dessert in itself. As an Easter brew (the clue is the rabbit), it is brewed with Mauritian cane sugar, and Mexican honey in the mash, and you definitely knew it. It was extremely sweet, but also remarkably delicious. I have since tried to get hold of other bottles but with not much luck. As an Easter beer it is only really available the two months before Easter, and even then can be removed up to two weeks before. The brewery recommend calling them before to reserve it. Other distributors do stock it, but like I say nothing is guaranteed. If you see it BUY IT !

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, De Dolle Brouwers, Hare