Tag Archives: Grand Cru

#219 – St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

#219 - St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

Size: 500 ml

ABV: 7.6 %

It’s pretty hard to miss the St. Sebastiaan beers in their 500 ml coloured enamel crocks – which is exactly what the Sterkens family would have wanted. With hundreds of Belgian beers to choose from in the Beers of Europe warehouse the St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru stood out a mile. Even if I didn’t like the beer, the bottle would look great on my shelves.

We have already established that Stan Sterkens was the original father of this range of beers but that the actual brewing now happens elsewhere. When I had previously drunk the St. Paul Double (#177), this was under the remit of the Scheldebrouwerij in Meer, although all beers are now picked up by Duvel Moortgat on behalf of the Sterkens brewery. The Scheldebrouwerij still use the name of the beers though which only further adds to the confusion.

The significance of St. Sebastiaan on the world of beer is unclear, and his story can wait for another beer, however Stan Sterkens clearly likes a saint or two. He is perhaps best known for his St. Paul range of beers, and the family brewpub which opened in the US in Spring Hill was also known as the Saint Sebastiaan Microbrewery. The idea was to showcase to the local population the Belgian way of brewing although to be fair it would all eventually fall on its feet. The location wasn’t ideal and subsequently the beers were perhaps a little ahead of their time for the US Market. The Sterkens family eventually fled back to Belgium and the original Saint Sebastiaan sat empty. I hear it has since been renovated into a stereotypical chain restaurant/bar with no hint of any Belgian beers or a saintly name.

The St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru, or the St. Sebastiaan Golden as it is perhaps more commonly known abroad is a limited edition release. A single batch is made every year to a secretive Sterkens family recipe. It is also brewed in line with the Bavarian Purity Laws which I had explained a while back when drinking the Corsendonk Pater (#35). The Grand Cru was another beer that I shared with my sister although this one didn’t quite have the WOW factor that the bottle would have you believe. It was your average Belgian style tripel which was pleasant to drink but that couldn’t deliver above and beyond expectations. If you like a pale citrus flavour then maybe this is for you, but for me all that glitters in this case was definitely not golden.

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Filed under 7, Golden Ale, Schelde

#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

#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

#102 – Echt Kriekenbier

#102 - Echt Kriekenbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Echt Kriekenbier is a famous traditional Flemish cherry ale made by Verhaeghe, and is based on the brew Vichtenaar (#146). After being matured in oak casks for about eight months, in a similar style to the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), a batch of the Vichtenaar is not taken for sale, but is left to mature in the oak casks and filled with very local and very sour cherries. A selection of different aged casks of this fine concoction are then blended together (usually between one and three years) and then bottled for our delectation.

It is worth making the point here and now that this is a kriekenbier and not a kriek! There is a subtle difference as all aficionados will tell you, in that one is not officially allowed to call a kriek a kriek unless it contains lambic beer. Kriekenbier refers to any other possible fusion – which I suppose could include steeping in sour ales, stout or even wheat beer. Like the Bacchus Frambozenbier (#38) the Echt Kriekenbier is mixed with an Oud Bruin. It is worth making the distinction as other sour ales exist which are known as red ales, such as the Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105), also from Verhaeghe.

The Echt Kriekenbier is an impressive brew, actually not unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru, although there is slightly less of it in the 250 ml bottles. The Echt in the title refers to the adjective in the German and Dutch languages meaning ‘genuine’ or ‘authentic’. My mum will vouch for this through her screwed up face on having a sip of what I cheekily told her was a cherry beer. At least I didn’t have to waste any more, and it’s a good sign as if my mum likes a beer you know its probably bad !

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Filed under 7, Brewers, Lion, Sour Ale, Verhaeghe

#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)

#20 – Hoegaarden Grand Cru

#20 - Hoegaarden Grand Cru

Size: 330ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Hoegaarden is reknowned for it’s plain wheat beer, which is something of a shame as it is a common concern of many beer fans today, that the quality of Hoegaarden (#81) has declined since it was taken over by AB/InBev. I would rather tackle that issue another time, as in actual fact, the Hoegaarden Grand Cru, which I painstakingly selected from the bar menu of the Dovetail in Clerkenwell was a much too pleasant beer to be negative about.

I was interested in the concept of Grand Cru. What on earth are they talking about? I must admit I had only heard this term largely used by winemakers, where it generally referred to the specific growth-place of a wine, intimating a region more so than a particular vineyard. The addition of ‘Grand Cru’ is a suggestion that this beverage is indeed a special one of this variation – the ‘great growth’. The term ‘Grand Cru’ can often be associated with foods, spirits and beers, but it doesn’t hold such an obvious official meaning, in that there is no regulation of what is or isn’t a ‘great growth’ beer. Pierre Celis, who invented the Hoegaarden Grand Cru, clearly felt this was his premier beer, and even went so far to use a Grand Cru wine label as the label for his new beer. His revelation in his autobiography ended much speculation that the mansion on the cover had some particular relevance to him – it was actually just a wine label he had happened to come across.

The beer itself was fantastic. A good solid head and a creamy dense mass underneath swimming in a sea of rich sediment. It felt alive. The taste is sweet and meaty and reeling with deep inner strength. I hadn’t eaten, and didn’t need to after this. I had good company in the bar, but noted quietly to myself that this was definitely a good one to look out for when restocking the cellar. Definitely some great growth in this one!

(Post-Script) – I was so impressed with this beer that I followed it, not with food, but a Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit (#21).

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Hoegaarden (InBev)

#17 – Rodenbach Grand Cru

 

#17 - Rodenbach Grand Cru

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

Rodenbach is an extremely unique brewery in that after brewing and fermenting in the normal fashion, the beers are aged in oak casks – something of a Flemish tradition. There are about 300 ceiling-high oak wooden tuns on the premises, all of various sizes, and each gives the contents a slightly different taste and colour.

Rodenbach age the beers for two distinct periods of time. The “young” beer tends to mature for four to five weeks to give it the sharpness, however the “old” beers tend to mature for about two whole years – although this is by no means official information such is the secrecy instilled within the brewery.

The key to the production of the Rodenbach beers is that the contents of these tuns are mixed together to create the different Rodenbach beers. The standard Rodenbach (#195) beverage mixes the young and the old together for bottling, whereby the Rodenbach Grand Cru uses only the finer mature tuns.

The end result is that of a red Belgian Sour Ale, that the sadly departed beer guru Michael Jackson labelled “the most refreshing beer in the world”. From my experience on a warm night in, she poured a dark crimson, with a lacy head and a real pungent aroma immediately pleasured my olfactory senses. With a fine amount of fizz, the beer stayed both immeasurably fresh and sour from start to finish. It has a fairly odd taste to your normal beer, but you really can’t help but enjoy it. For anyone who doesn’t like this, then surely it must be a case of sour grapes.

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Filed under 8, Rodenbach (Palm), Sour Ale