Tag Archives: De Ranke

#223 – Guldenberg

#223 - Guldenberg

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Guldenberg was the very first commercial beer brewed at De Ranke. It was so named because of the ancient Guldenberg Abbey which once stood in the town of Wevelgem, and brewed the local beer. It was in this town that Nino Bacelle, the founder of De Ranke was born.

It all started in 1994 when our man Nino started brewing under his own name. His family had been in the industry since the 1930s, and Nino himself started to tinker with recipes and homebrews from about 1981. He studied brewing (now why didn’t I get that career advice at school?) in Ghent during the mid-Eighties and continued to practice his art. Eventually in the early 90s he had begun to really perfect his passion and friends and family were urging him to launch to the public. He decided to go for it and took the less risky route of using another brewery’s equipment. This meant less initial investment, and so a relationship was formed with Deca Services in Woesten.

In that first year Nino managed to produce nine thousand litres of Guldenberg, which was received to much acclaim. Demand continued to increase and Nino began to once again survey his options. It was then in the mid-Nineties that Nino decided to join forces with a friend and fellow beer lover Guido de Vos, who was a founder member of the HOP beer tasting association, and who had also been tinkering with homebrew for much of his life. The Nino Bacelle brewery suddenly became a 50/50 venture and with that in mind they chose to rename the brewery. De Ranke was officially formed in 1996 and has rarely looked back since. They continued to brew at Deca until 2005 but I will save that story for another brew.

So what about the Guldenberg beer? Well, I would say it certainly lives up to the hype. It’s a strong crisp blonde ale weighing in at 8.5% and is particularly hoppy. This is derived from the use of high quality Hallertau hops, and of course a good measure of dry-hopping. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s in the same league as the XX Bitter (#131) on that front but it certainly matches it in overall presence, with the extra ABV perhaps giving it a leading edge. It’s a particularly delicious beer and one that essentially launched one of Belgium’s most impressive breweries.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, De Ranke

#196 – Buffalo Belgian Bitter

#196 - Buffalo Belgian Bitter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

The Brouwerij van den Bossche is most well known for it’s range of Pater Lieven beers (#18, #73), however they have also been brewing another range called Buffalo for well over a hundred years now. As ever, there is an interesting tale behind the name.

It all started in 1907 on the town square in Sint-Lievens-Esse – the home town of the van den Bossche brewery which had started up a mere ten years earlier (#73). At this time the town square had been taken over by an American travelling circus and the entire local population were clamouring with excitement to see this exotic show. With this in mind, Arthur van den Bossche for one particular noon showing gave a pass out to all his brewery staff to attend the circus. They were still in heavy production of their beers, and so Arthur arranged for the youngest apprentice to stay behind and tend to the brewing kettles.

The luckless young man who had missed the show duly watched the kettles meticulously in their absence however had forgotten in all the excitement to regularly stir the contents. The result was that the beer had completely roasted due to the young boys’ negligence and caramelised on the bottom of the kettle. There was general dismay on Arthur’s return as the exuberant workers returned to survey the wreckage. It was only when a number of staff actually tasted the resulting beer that they decided they actually quite liked it. From that night on, this style of dark burnt beer became the staple diet of the brewery, and the recipe has remained virtually unaltered to this day. The ‘Buffalo Bill’ travelling circus though was gone the next day.

It wasn’t the famous stout I was trying tonight, but the Buffalo Belgian Bitter, a solid 8.5% amber blonde. It was a great beer to accompany a night on the cards, and much better than I had expected on first surveying the bleak label. In fact I would go as far as saying it was pretty much on a par with the XX Bitter (#131) from De Ranke. The full hoppy flavour was clear and sharp, and each mouthful was perfectly crisp on the tongue. I’d definitely recommend this beer for anyone wanting their Buffalo wings!

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#142 – Pere Noel

#142 - Pere Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

The political situation in Belgium is often centred around the cultural and regional differences between French and Flemish speaking areas. No more abstract an example of the dichotomy exists perhaps than in the celebration of Christmas.

Flemish speaking Belgians get visited by St. Nicholas at Christmas time, whereas the French speaking Belgians get their presents from Pere Noel (Father Christmas to the English) – a simplistic view but something I still found truly astonishing. While St. Nicholas is celebrated for giving gifts to children on the 6th December, Pere Noel visits on the morning of the 25th December. I tried to get interviews with both for the research on this beer, but have thus far been unable to get any meaningful comment. For the time being I will leave St. Nicholas to his busy list-making duties, as he must be beginning to get inundated with requests, and concentrate on the man after which this latest beer is named.

Pere Noel does of course only leave goodies (usually sweets and chocolate) for those children that are good; for those that have been naughty, it’s usually a selection of wooden sticks. (Whether it would be safe to assume most hockey players from Belgium endured wayward childhoods is something for another discussion!).  The children traditionally leave their shoes by the fireplace, filled up with carrots and other exciting treats for Gui (translates as Mistletoe), who is Pere Noel’s donkey. This would explain perhaps why the Pere Noel in France and Belgium is far slimmer than the one I used to see as a child creeping up the stairs with a face full of mince pies.

As for the beer, this was a slight variation on the Christmas theme; where most festive brews tend to be dark and spicy, this was immediately amber blond on the pour. It was still thick and full of spice, but also had the hoppiness and complexity that you would expect from De Ranke. It was also quite dry and surprisingly strong for the relatively low 7% ABV. If I got a crate full of this for Christmas this year, I can’t say I would be disappointed.

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#131 – XX Bitter

#131 - XX Bitter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

By now propped at the bar, I had decided that I must have overdone it on the lambic. My gut was making extreme noises, and I had begun to look a little off colour. I spotted a XX Bitter in the fridge and having heard very good things about this beer, decided to finish off my night with a bit of good old fashioned hoppy goodness.

I was attracted to the XX Bitter due to its association with one of my favourite beers. The commercial description suggests this is reminiscent of Orval (#37) in its heyday, and this is true to some extent – Orval certainly used to add more hops to its mash in bygone days. The gentlemen at De Ranke, big fans of Orval, noted this and decided to try and reverse the trend by adding more and more hops. The result is now possibly Belgium’s hoppiest beer!

The process of making a beer this hoppy requires some care and attention from its owners, and this is why Guido and Nino at De Ranke use only hop flowers to make their beers. Almost every brewer in the country has moved towards using hop extracts now, but our protagonists argue that you cannot match the texture and complexity of a beer which uses the flower as opposed to the pellet.

There are a number of reasons why brewers have opted away from the flowers themselves. Firstly, because the flowers are so fresh they have a massive impact on the flavour of the beer. This is great if you have a high quality hop, but very bad if you don’t! It can often be hit and miss, and expensive to get the best hops. Hops are also seasonal and so you have to buy the optimal amount at the start of the year, and then it is also very expensive to continue to keep them fresh. This requires refrigeration which is expensive on a grand scale. Finally, hop flowers require a lot of cleaning due to their propensity to stick to anything after being cooked. If you opt for hop flowers, then you can pretty much kiss goodbye to automatic production.

De Ranke remain committed to making beers this way, and only tend to use the highest quality hop flowers from Poperinge. If the XX bitter is an example of a beer made this way, then I only wish I was born in the pre-pellet era. The bitterness of the XX was staggering, yet it was full of flavour and attitude. I nursed it like the last beer I was ever going to drink and eventually the bar staff had to kick us out.

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#68 – Antiek Super 8 Blonde

#68 - Antiek Super 8 Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Deca is a fairly distinctive brewery in that it rarely brews its own beers nowadays. The facilities in the rurality of Woesten-Vleteren are regularly used but only by others. You might call it more of a brewhouse than a brewery, and the business is now known as Deca Services which more than adequately paints the picture of the current priorities of the owners.

Deca started up in 1991, taking over from the previous brewery on the premises – Isebaert. They have made a number of their own beers over the years, some of which are quite hard to pin down as to being made by themselves or recipes of others. Even research on the Antiek Super 8 Blonde was difficult. I haven’t even been able to find an identical representation of the exact label on this beer. Most beer experts have shared my frustration.

The premises at Deca are renowned for their copper kettles and the reputation that affords the complexity of flavours and textures of beers made in these receptacles. It was no surprise that the brewers De Ranke set up shop here for a number of years, and most recently since 2006, the highly regarded Struise Brothers used Deca to brew their recipes and to store the end product. Deca may go back to concentrating on their own beers now as Struise are rumoured to have finally found themselves a place to call home in Oostvleteren * – or of course they may decide to continue renting to another up and coming ambitious brewer, as there is decent money to be made. One of the main reasons breweries struggle to get going is that the costs of the kit and maintenance of brewing is so high. The result of this is an inevitable dichotomy.

On one hand it gives the genius brewers such as De Ranke and Struise Bros the opportunities to be part of the Belgian scene and get a start on the road to success. On the other, it encourages brewers to pimp their beers to the unscrupulous marketeers keen to make a fast buck out of the new wave of Belgian beers by adding splashes of juice or spice to existing beers, and making up exciting stories to sell the dream. On my road to 1000 Belgian beers, I am preparing myself for dipping my toes in more than a few of these.

The Antiek Super 8 Blonde eventually turned out to be a pretty decent brew though, and one may assume that the influence of the Struise brothers may have rubbed off on the mysterious owners. The pour was a cloudy orange amber, and the flavour quite malty and yet fruity. The tagline refers to the Golden Age of brewing, and this beer represents this well. I just wonder if I will ever see it again.

* (Post-Script) – De Struise finally did move to Oostvleteren in late 2009.

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