Tag Archives: fire

#181 – Kasteel Triple

#181 - Kasteel Triple

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11 %

This is the second and penultimate beer from the Kasteel range which has found its way down my throat. The first was the dark sweet cloying beast that is the Kasteel Donker (#93), where I had previously told the story of the history of the famous castle in Ingelmunster, up until 1986 when the brewing siblings Luc and Marc Van Honsebrouck moved in.

It hasn’t all been good news though since. In 2001 the beautiful moated building was devastated by a terrible fire. Work has been done ever since to restore the castle however so immense was the damage that at least two thirds are no longer open to the public. The structure does though remain, and has been bandaged up over the years to at least look better on the outside, but the heart and soul has literally been ripped out of this historic building. This is no better exemplified than by the loss of almost everything inside – family furniture, tapestries, sculptures and paintings all perished forever one September evening.

It also isn’t the first time that the castle has burnt down. This jinxed building and in fact the whole village of Ingelmunster was completely razed in 1695 following hostilities between English, French and Spanish soldiers. The rebuilding which followed under Hapsburg rule has led to the current design which has only just hung onto existence by the very skin of its teeth. In fact, the only area now safe for the public to enter is the Kasteelkelder, the atmospheric name for the castle’s basement. It is here where tourists and beer fans can enjoy tasting the famous Van Honsebrouck beers in their traditional castle shaped glasses.

The Kasteel Triple is another megalith of a beer. Weighing in at 11% you would need to ensure you had a designated driver if you were stopping in at Ingelmunster for a quick tipple. Somebody recently suggested to me that this beer is similar to the Bush Blonde (#164) by Dubuisson, and to be fair they aren’t too far wrong in terms of appearance and potency, however I feel the Kasteel Tripel has just a little more panache in the finish. There is some fruit in there, some spice and whatever that something is that just urges you to want another. This is by no means a professional ground-breaking brew, but it deserves its place as one of the better super-strength triples.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Van Honsebrouck

#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

#81 – Hoegaarden

#81 - Hoegaarden

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.9 %

Everybody has heard of Hoegaarden – certainly since Interbrew exported it around the world. In terms of white/wheat beers there are probably none more famous. The beer gets it name from the town in which it is brewed, and although it is brewed to a traditional recipe that dates back to 1445, this actual beer has only existed since 1966.

The original wheat beer recipe was largely engineered by the monks of Hoegaarden in the middle ages, where they had access to spices such as coriander and curacao due to the Dutch trading influence. So successful was the result, that at one point there were over 30 independent small farmhouse breweries in the tiny town – although by 1957 there were none left! The rise in popularity of mass-produced lager and the asset-stripping that occurred during both world wars had taken its toll on this cottage industry.

In 1966 however, a local milkman with a fond nostalgia for the older white beers decided to reinvent the style. He set up de Kluis (the Cloister) brewery with a few close friends and the rest is history as they say. We have already met this milkman Pierre Celis (#20, #21), and doubtless we will again.

His white beer was a remarkable success over the next twenty or so years, with production growing from 350 hectolitres in 1966 to 75,000 in 1985. Sadly the Hoegaarden plant was completely destroyed by a terrible fire in this year, and Celis was forced to take extra investment from Interbrew, who inevitably were able to influence a take-over of the brewery in 1987. The amount of hectolitres produced would rise to 855,000 over the next ten years, but by then the standard of the beer had fallen sharply. The fact was that by now Hoegaarden was a worldwide commodity, and most people drinking it on a warm summers afternoon had no concept of what this beer once was. The final knife in the back came in 2005, when AB/InBev, who by now had taken over Interbrew, decided to move all production to Jupille, near Liege. Suddenly Hoegaarden was merely a brand, and the village just a memory. Such an outcry followed for the next couple of years that in 2007 brewing returned to Hoegaarden, but sadly the quality has never returned.

I had clearly tried Hoegaarden on and off over the years, but this was the first wheat beer to pass my lips on the Belgian Beer Odyssey. I had brought back a 250 ml bottle from a jaunt to Belgium, and thus was not drinking it from its traditional hexagonal glass*, however it really didn’t taste as I remembered it to be on those warm summer afternoons. Traditional Hoegaarden was famous for being unfiltered, but this was almost translucent, and much too gassy. It looked anaemic and to be fair, if there is still coriander and curacao in this, then it has long since been tastable on my palate. I am not going to bad-mouth the name, because the Hoegaarden Grand Cru is still a mighty fine beer, but this one remains a lesson to us all that we should stand up for the little men amongst the craft breweries of Belgium.

* Did you know? – that the traditional hexagonal glass was supposedly designed to be prised out of ruined drinkers hands at the end of a long night by a spanner.

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Filed under 5, Belgian White (Witbier), Hoegaarden (InBev)

#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

#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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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Silly