Tag Archives: French Revolution

#127 – Val Dieu Biere du Noel

#127 - Val Dieu Biere du Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

There was a time when I seemed to drink an endless swathe of Abbey beers, but its been a while since I was able to talk purely about an Abbey. In fact the Abbaye d’Aulne (#60) was about the last monastic history lesson.

The Abbey of Val Dieu started way back in 1216 as a tiny settlement, following the migration of a few monks from the Maastricht area who were looking for an uninhabited haven to settle in. This place, now Aubel, deep in the east of modern day Belgium, they decided to call Val-Dieu – the Valley of God, such was the splendid location. Here the monks were able to reap the land, brew beer and live to the Cistercian ways (#94).

The original church buildings didn’t last long though as in 1287 the War of Succession in the Duchy of Limburg caused irreperable damage. She was rebuilt again only to be destroyed in 1574 during the Eighty Years War, and then again by the armies of Louis XIV in 1683. Shortly after this the Abbey began to flourish as one of the most renowned in the country under the jurisdiction of Jean Dubois, but bad luck of course struck again during the French Revolution, and she was destroyed for the fourth time.

It would be a slow return for former glories as between 1749 and 1844 the once regal premises remained empty becoming eaten by the ravages of time. A local monk who had lived through the Revolution, and four monks from Bornem eventually restored the Abbey, which survived as a working Abbey until 2001. Since then it has been home to a small Cistercian community, and of course a brewery.

The Val Dieu Biere de Noel was a fairly solid amberish Christmas beer with good legs and a yeasty topping – the head dissipating into what looked like a trail of amoebas. The beer was too inherently thin to be a classic, but was powerful enough on the taste buds to be enjoyable. I melted back into the sofa and let the last vestiges of the weekend wash over me.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Val Dieu

#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

#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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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Kerkom

#69 – Saint-Martin Blonde

#69 - Saint-Martin Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

This is another beer that looks like a supermarket beer from the label. In Tesco in England I once tried a stubby bottle of some similarly titled beer and it tasted of baked beans. I did not therefore have high hopes for number #69 on my journey.

It was refreshing I suppose to learn that at least there is an Abbey of Saint Martin, which was founded in Tournai in 1096, based on the teachings of the famous St. Martin. Again as was common throughout Europe at this time, beer was brewed on the premises as a safer alternative to water during the age of disease. This was emphasised when Bishop Radbod gave special charter to the Abbey during the Great Plague, to brew beer and try and halt the widespread starvation that permeated this dark period.

The brewing of beer continued until the late 1790’s when once again the French Revolution wielded its destructive hand on the monastic community. The Abbey of St. Martin lost almost all of it’s abbey structures apart from the relatively new Abbots Palace, and parts of the 13th Century crypt and 14th Century cloister. In fact visitors to Tournai can still see these remnants of one of Belgiums’ greatest abbeys, by visiting the Hotel de Ville. Set in an attractive park, the town hall is one of Tournai’s top tourist destinations.

While the brewery area was completely decimated during the revolution, the recipes for the St. Martin beer were kept well hidden from the revolutionary plunderers, and in 1890 following an altogether more reasonable revolution – the industrial one – there was increased prosperity in Belgium, and the Brasserie de Brunehaut took up the task of recreating these recipes. Either the recipes required the stale, disease-ridden water which would have been used in days of yore, or maybe Brunehaut have just misinterpreted the recipes, but it may really have been better for all if the recipes had been lost during the destruction of the Abbey.

This was a very poor beer. Clear, thin and pasty in appearance, and even more anemic on the tastebuds. Slightly floral in its essence and lacking in any kind of character, this is one to put out of the memory quickly, although I would have to wait three days for the next beer to take away the memory of this one.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Brunehaut

#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

#61 – La Guillotine

#61 - La Guillotine

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

La Guillotine by Huyghe is a beer that was first brewed in 1989 as a celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Anyone who does a search on the French Revolution on this website or who has read all the reviews so far will know how influential the Revolution was on the entire history of monastic life in Belgium. The Abbeys and abbey life almost ceased to be, henceforth so did almost all the associated breweries.

The symbol of the Guillotine on the label is one that symbolises the immense loss of life suffered during the ‘Reign of Terror’. The names of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, and Maximilien Robespierre are all well known and were notable beheadees of the Revolution, but another estimated 40,000 people were executed in this manner, almost certainly without trial, and in many instances, without reason.

It would be impossible to sum up in such a small opportunity the entire history of the Revolution, but it would be worth taking the time to explain quite why this event had such a profound effect on the clergy in Belgium. Essentially at this time, there was increasing poverty across this area of Europe, and while the monarchy lived the life of riley, and the clergy held important powers while being exempt from taxes, a bubbling resentment began to boil up throughout the 18th Century. The riots which led to the eventual storming of the Bastille were a build up of years of hostility to the ever growing gulf in fortunes. Once this iconic moment in the Revolution had happened, it seemed to foster anarchy across the whole nation who soon gained the confidence to attack chateaux and monasteries as evidence of their displeasure. This became manifest in November 1789 when the National Assembly declared that the property of the Church was “at the disposal of the nation.”, and legislation abolished monastic vows. The nail in the coffin came in February 1790 when all religious orders were officially dissolved, and monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life. What religious buildings didn’t close were usually destroyed and under the Reign of Terror many priests were imprisoned and massacred.

Quite what possessed Huyghe to introduce a beer to celebrate these events is beyond me, but drink it I did, while in a Bed and Breakfast in Tivoli. Again, I had secured a room with a fridge and after a hot sweaty day toiling around Rome this beer was badly needed. It poured an immense head that took forever to clear, leaving a pale coloured liquid, beneath which was as super-carbonated as any beer I had tried yet. Just watching the legs fizzing down the side of the glass was mesmerising, leaving an intense lace. The flavour was nothing special but there was definitely pineapple and lemon somewhere within, and the overriding experience in drinking this was the profound strength. It was tart and rigged with an extremely powerful kick, and I hate to say this because others already have, but any more than two or three of these and you are guaranteed to lose your head!

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#60 – Abbaye d’Aulne Tripel Brune

#60 - Abbaye D'Aulne

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Another different Abbey beer brand – number 18 of the journey so far, but within the story of this one there is a nice ending which almost leaves this beer unique amongst Abbey beers.

The general history however is far from unique, other than that at some points in its history, the Abbaye d’Aulne has been Benedictine, Augustinian and Cistercian. It was founded in around 637 by St. Landelinus and remained Benedictine until around 1144, when secular clerics took over who adhered to the rules of St. Augustine. This was short-lived however, as in 1147 the Cistercian Abbot, Franco de Morveaux continued the religious traditions. The Abbey remained Cistercian until the French, no doubt jealous of such fine beers, used the backdrop of the French Revolution to once again destroy a wonderful building and brewing tradition. Though the buildings were destroyed in 1752, the monks did re-establish the brewery in 1796, although it petered out by 1850 as the number of monks eventually declined to the point of being unable to support the brewery.

As was typical in the 1950’s, a number of local breweries, including de Smedt, had latched onto the Abbey theme and associated their beers with the Abbey d’Aulne, but in 1998 something quite remarkable happened, in that the Val de Sambre brewery set up shop in the ruins of the Abbey. If we go back through our veritable trail of Abbey beers, very few can lay claim to still being brewed in the Abbey grounds. The actual current brewery is what used to be the stables in the Middle Ages.

So what could a microbrewery do in an old outbuilding? The answer was not great things. The Abbaye d’Aulne Tripel Brune poured a good frothy head atop a chestnut hued lake. The smell promised much with mysterious aromas emanating but this ended up tasting like most standard browns. There was the odd touch of caramel and liquorice which my uneducated palate picked up, but it ended up far too weak and watery for an 8% beer to warrant any further attention. A fairly stable beer if you will excuse the pun.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Val de Sambre