Tag Archives: Ghent

#213 – Gulden Draak Vintage

#213 - Gulden Draak Vintage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Although I had previously recounted a version of the legend of the Golden Dragon in my review of Gulden Draak (#145), there is an even more fanciful alternative in a book by Bertha Palmer Lane called ‘Tower Legends’. This anthology details the mystical dragon from Aleppo, and other similar stories related to an assortment of world belfries. It’s more a book for children, and considering children aren’t supposed to be drinking beers and almost certainly should have better things to do than read about beers, I am going to dispel all those myths right here. I did the same whistleblowing recently on the gnomes of Achouffe (#185), and nobody there has come knocking on my door yet.

Despite the fact that the people of Bruges seem to think that their Golden Dragon was stolen by the people of Ghent in actual fact this is complete baloney. It’s hardly surprising they might think this though given that Emperor Maximilian once labelled his own Brugeois people as mad (Brugse Zot #36). We can assume that without the invention of broadband at that time that maybe word of mouth and propaganda was responsible, although the myth has permeated through to the 20th Century. Not only are there still regular requests in Bruges to have the dragon returned, even the people of Norway made a request in 1918 for their claim on the prize. It was after all a Norwegian king who in the legend had first donated the mythical dragon to the Turks. Sigh.

The actual dragon that sits atop the belfry in Ghent was commissioned at the request of the people of Ghent in 1378. It was suggested the dragon would be symbolic of the power and freedom of Ghent at that time, and as dragons are supposed to never sleep, this creature would always look out across the city and protect its citizens. It has often been involved in key historical festivities, notably first in 1500 at the baptism of prince Karel, and on regular occurrences since when it would spit fire (no doubt some sly mechanical sleight of hand in case you were beginning to wonder). It has lain dormant however since 1819; no doubt when the people of Ghent began to realise it was in fact just a copper statue.

Whether you prefer the facts or to lose yourself in the legend, there is no getting away from the popularity of the copper statue and the role it plays in the identity of the city. The two beers made by Van Steenberge are equally iconic; although I haven’t myself quite worked out why as yet. The Gulden Draak Vintage was slightly better than the original beer, but to be honest it wasn’t by a great deal. The Christmas version started badly by viciously exploding on my lap (when will I learn?) and having managed to first decant it into two glasses and then scrubbed the sofa I was able to continue with what was left. I found the remains to be less artificial than the original but lacking in any real flavours which you might expect from a seasonal beer. It packed less of a punch but was slightly more rounded in flavour than the Gulden Draak. I may be in the minority on this one but I’d give both beers a wide berth – once again the truth is less interesting than the hype.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#201 – Artevelde Grand Cru

#201 - Artevelde Grand Cru

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.3 %

Jacob van Artevelde. He was so good the brewers at Huyghe named him twice. The original Artevelde (#144) was first marketed on the 5th July 1985, and then in 1987 the brewery decided to rightly improve things and had their first stab at bottle conditioning a beer.

Jacob van Artevelde is a natural choice really as a symbol of Ghent. The 14th Century statesman was of Ghent stock, and a successful Flemish statesman. He was also known widely as the ‘Master Brewer of Ghent’ such was his love for making beer. Until very recently and the opening of the Gentse brewery, Huyghe has largely dominated the brewing scene in Ghent, and despite my spurious views on Huyghe as a quality brewery, nobody can really argue that they aren’t the master brewers themselves of Ghent.

The Artevelde beers signalled what was a massive change for the brewers at Huyghe. I’m yet to delve into the earlier history at the brewery, but at this time there was a radical renovation and reformation of its purpose and structure. Away went the dull and listless pilsener recipes for which they were known, and in came the plans to develop high fermentation beers for both the Belgian and International markets. It was a statement of intent, and despite more famously now being known for beers such as the Floris range, or the Delirium Tremens, it was the Artevelde beers which kick-started this successful move into mainstream.

Despite my misgivings of the original Artevelde, the result of the attempts to improve it was the Artevelde Grand Cru. This special vintage beer was destined to be stronger, thicker and brewed using only natural sugars. For some reason I expected a more syrupy version of the original but on the pour I was surprised to see a sepia coloured beer, with a thin meek head. The murky depths provided an oddly herbal aroma, which failed to really materialise on tasting it. There were strains of malt and chocolate somewhere within, but the flavour never really went anywhere, and although this was a reasonable first attempt at bottle conditioning, I would be lying if I said this stood the test against comparable beers.

Jacob van Artevelde was murdered by a mob of his own townspeople and is in many ways a martyr to the city of Ghent. In a kind of symbolic way I get the feeling the beers of Artevelde remain on the market more out of nostalgia for their role in revolutionising Huyghe than for any aesthetic qualities they bring – which seems fair enough.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#145 – Gulden Draak

#145 - Gulden Draak

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

If you visit Ghent you will almost certainly have to look up at some point at the majestic Belfry in the main square. You shouldn’t need a telescopic lens on your camera to spot the Gulden Draak sat atop the tower. She weighs almost 400 kilograms, is over 3 metres long, and is so famous they decided to name a beer (or two) after it.

There is a legend to the story of the dragon which dates back to the Crusades in the 12th Century, and involves a certain Norse king called Sigrid Magnusson. He had been fighting hard in the Crusades, and had received such a heroes welcome on entering the city of Constantinople (now of course Istanbul), that he took the gold plated dragon from the prow of his boat and donated it to the Hagia Sofia church. Almost a hundred years later, the Flemish earl Boudewijn IX during the 4th Crusade was crowned Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, taking Constantinople from the Turks. Impressed with the dragon, he dragged it all the way back home, which prompted a succession of bids for its possession, culminating in the Battle of Beverhoutsveld in 1382, where the people of Ghent stole it from atop the St. Donaas church in Bruges.

For anyone who has drunk Kastaar, and read the review (#96), an interesting side note is that the legend details the Dragon was originally donated to the people of Biervliet before the Brugse Zot (#36) wrestled it from them, in recognition of the brave soldiers who in 1204 were the first men to climb Constantinople’s walls. This is of course all legend and I plan to disclose the real facts when I get round to tasting the Gulden Draak Vintage (#213).

I can’t say I am particularly looking forward to it though, as the original Gulden Draak was extremely over-rated. I had looked forward to it all day, but all I got was a ridiculously strong dark beer, with no head, and no redeeming features whatsoever. It was bordering on the metallic and was very artificial. Like the legend above, I was beginning to wonder whether all that shimmers really is gold.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#144 – Artevelde

 

#144 - Artevelde

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.7 %

As I opened this impressive looking beer on a quiet night indoors I didn’t give a great deal of thought to who it was named after. Once though I had unfortunately drunk it, I needed to know exactly what possessed a brewery to create such a monster.

Jacob van Artevelde is the man in question, who was famous as a 14th Century Flemish statesman and political leader. Born in Ghent, of wealthy stock, he continued to amass fortunes here as an entrepreneur in the weaving industry and as an occasional brewer. During the Hundred Years War though he began to fear for the prosperity of Ghent, as the hostilities between France and England began to crank up a level. He created an alliance with the city states of Bruges and Ypres, and then sided these with the English, in order to continue to gain from the wool and textile trade. At this stage Artvelde almost single handedly ruled Ghent as the Captain General.

His great rivalry was always with the Counts of Flanders who had been unable to check his rise to prominence, and with the Three Member Alliance, and allegiance to England greatly building the wealth of Ghent, he became an easy target for jealousy and resentment. The reality was such that in 1345, Artevelde proposed to recognise the English King as the sovereign of Ghent at the expense of Louis, the Count of Flanders. A large insurrection in the streets ensued, and Artevelde was caught by his own people and murdered at the hands of the mob. It was to signal the return to obedience for the town of Ghent.

Jacob van Artvelde faded into history soon after, but has posthumously regained his status as a key figure in the history of Ghent. He is honoured by a number of statues in the town, and the local brewery Huyghe even went as far as naming two beers after him. Bearing in mind it was Huyghe, it should come as no surprise that this beer was unpalatable and moribund. At least Sexy Rubbel Lager (#87) had the decency to do what it suggested on the bottle, rather than besmirch the good name of a local legend. Avoid at all costs.

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Huyghe

#96 – Kastaar

#96 - Kastaar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

The label of Kastaar is adorned by what looks like a king, but I was struggling to find out just who this fellow was. In the end after some poking around on the internet I contacted the right people, and I am mightily pleased that I did. Forget the Olympic Games in London in 2012. I’m off to Biervliet in the Netherlands to join a crowd of eccentric villagers recreating wars and stealing city monuments !

Biervliet (apparently) has always been an important place in history, mainly due to its strategic location on an island in the Westerschelde river between Ghent and Antwerp. It’s population have been historically recognised for their efforts in the Middle Ages during the Crusades, and more recently during the Eighty Years War for Dutch independence. In 1573 while under Spanish control, William of Orange and the ‘gueuzen’ (essentially the French peasantry), fought a terrific battle to win back the area and liberate Biervliet. This was no doubt consigned to the back of the history books until in 1973, exactly 400 years since the liberation, the people of Biervliet decided to celebrate this event with a festival.

The idea is to pick a story from the rich history and to recreate this in the form of a parade over a long, and more often than not, boozy weekend. In 2007 this recreation took the form of the story of Kastaar, the bastard son of Count Lamoral of Egmont (#22). There may be a certain amount of spin to this story, and many would argue that it is questionable as to whether he really ever existed, but the story goes that when Lamoral was imprisoned in the Gravensteen castle in Ghent, Kastaar was knee deep in resisting the Spanish in Biervliet. Learning of his fathers predicament he rallied his troops to Ghent and successfully stormed the Gravensteen. Stopping only to celebrate with a raucous party, he returned to Biervliet and routed the Spanish – a victory which was to largely determine the successful restoration of independence from the infidels.

Thus in 2007, the modern day revellers numbering around fifty descended on Ghent in full costume and armed with weapons, and plenty of Kastaar beer to storm the Gravensteen. These adventurous pilgrims – not content with a quiet few pints – also have a history of kleptomania, in the name of avenging the cities who once sullied the name of Biervliet. In this case they stole the twelve ton cannon which sits peacefully in the centre of Ghent. This cannon is called the Dulle Griet, which is also the name of another beer by the Schelde brewery, and thus is another tale altogether.

If I had to imagine a weekend of high octane drinking of Kastaar I can imagine myself being led to high jinks in this manner, assuming of course I didn’t fall over drunk first in the cobbled gutters. At 7% this is a powerful beer, and felt like a bit of a cross between a blond and a brune. I merely sipped mine from the safety of the sofa while the football was on, and imagined rampaging the streets of Ghent. A good beer and an even better story !

(Post-Script) – the people of Biervliet have had quite an impact on history; even during the Crusades they played a brave role (#145).

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Brewers, De Block

#88 – Zwijntje

#88 - Zwijntje

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Everything I need to discuss about Zwijntje is covered on the label. There is a piglet holding a coat of arms, while sitting on a mound of flowers in front of an old windmill. So what exactly does this excerpt from some bizarre hallucination actually represent?

Firstly, we should explain the pig – Zwijntje is the diminutive version of Zwijn, which translated nicely into English means ‘swine’ or ‘pig’. Zwijntje being the diminutive suggests a piglet, or piggy. I wasn’t quite sure why Van Steenberge would create a beer named after a pig and so I did some digging and discovered that the beer was created for the people of Zwijnaarde, a village about 7km from the centre of Ghent. One can only assume that the pig reference is based on the towns name which essentially means “field of pigs”.

The town is identified clearly on the label, with the coat of arms of Zwijnaarde and the windmill in the background, which was built originally in the 18th Century and has been a protected monument in Zwijnaarde since 1945. The village being completely ruralised (although now intersected by the A10/E17 and A14/E40) tends to be illustrated by the flowers and the windmill. There is now a large industrial area on the edge of the town, and a number of scientific companies are based there, with connections to recent innovations in treating swine flu – no doubt something based around this beer.

The beer itself seems to be based on the stable Augustijn brew of the Van Steenberge farm brewery. It is likely according to the back label of the beer that Zwijntje is tweaked from the mother brew rather than directly lifted and copied, although this is common practice at Van Steenberge, with the Augustijn beer.

Whatever the origin though, this is a damn fine beer. It is a rich amber gold colour, which lets you know its strength from the off, and in between hits you with twangs of oranges and honey. In the background, the flavour is maintained with the dry faint sniff of hops. This very much reminded me of Piraat 9 (#15), and is one beer I will seek out again for the summer months, or of course if I desperately need a remedy for swine flu.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Pig, Van Steenberge

#39 – Keizer Karel Blonde

#39 - Keizer Karel Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

If you studied 16th century history you may know Keizer Karel or Charles Quint by a different name – Emperor Charles V. His realm was so large at one point that it was popularly described as one in which the sun never sets – in actual fact it spanned almost four million square kilometres. He was notably the most powerful man in the world during the mid 1600s as both the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, and all her foreign lands. Why then was this leading figure of world history so associated with Belgian beer?

The answer lies in his heritage. He was born in 1500 in Ghent and was brought up in Mechelen, Brussels and Leuven – all fiercely proud Flemish cities, and at the age of just six, he inherited his father’s territories of the lowlands and Franche-Comte. His Aunt Margaret acted as regent until he was 15 years old, and Charles then took over in full force, adding a number of new territories to a new unified lowlands of which he was the ruler – this included his birthplace of Flanders, levered away from the French. Although he spent the majority of his time in Spain and her outlying lands, his heart was always in the place of his birth, and he ensured a unified nation for his heirs when he eventually abdicated in 1556 and then passed away in 1558.

The brewers Haacht have celebrated the reign of Charles Quint through two beers which symbolise the power of his Empire. This Keizer Karel Blonde symbolises the pure morning light of the rising of the sun on one side of his realm, while the Keizer Karel Rouge (#134) represents the ruby red of the warm evening shimmer as the sun sets on the other. There are other stories about good old Charles Quint, and I will save them for later as it isn’t just Haacht who celebrate this man on a beer label – some go much much further.

Good little beer this. Actually drunk a couple of months after the best before date but still tasted remarkably fresh. A great strong fruity aroma on opening, and a very clear pale golden pour with barely any head. What looked slightly insipid initially was eventually very pleasant on the tastebuds with the 8.5% clearly evident. Fruity and sweet with undertones of vanilla ice-cream, this went down far too well. I Just wish I’d had another waiting in the fridge.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, Haacht