Tag Archives: Heineken

#122 – De Koninck Tripel

#122 - De Koninck Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

If you asked me to describe what Antwerp means to me I would probably say three things. Diamonds – shouldn’t it have been Antwerp where James Bond had the infamous fight in the lift in Diamonds are Forever? Nausea – the worst whitey I have ever had in my life was after an errant Norwegian persuaded me one fateful night to stick a wad of snus on my gums (which I forgot about until the headspins began) . Finally, it has to be the Kulminator bar – the best ever Chimay Grand Reserve (#45) aged and served from the cellar. The hangover though was crippling.

Ask any Antwerpian however and you might get a different answer. The Schelde – the famous river which dissects the town is the lifeblood of the city. The Zoo – apparently so? The most likely answer though would be De Koninck beer. Probably no beer in Belgium is so intrinsically linked to a city than De Koninck. The beer started being brewed here as far back as 1933, and has been as popular with locals ever since.

The phenomenon may be more of a regional thing though. On my wanderings through Belgium I rarely see it out of Antwerp, which considering 114,000 hectolitres is produced annually is quite remarkable. The brewery reckons 35% leaves the country though, most to the Dutch, and you have probably as much chance of seeing it in Amsterdam as you will in Brussels. Go to Antwerp however and you have no chance of escaping the influence. In any bar, it really is a part of the furniture.

Recent events are worrying the locals though, with Duvel Moortgat only a few days ago acquiring 100% of the shares in De Koninck. It is fair to say that De Konick have had better days – there was a time when they would brew up to 140,000 hectolitres a year, but their beers now only equate to about half a percent of the overall Belgian beer market, and as the world recession hits us all, it is wielding its stick particularly on café culture in Belgium. Drinkers have less money, and as De Koninck is very much an Antwerp café beer (present in at least a hundred cafes in Antwerp alone), it is a worrying sign. La Chouffe is an example of a relationship with Duvel Moortgat that has worked well and we keep our fingers crossed that De Koninck is able to keep its head above the froth.

As for the De Koninck Tripel, which came highly recommended I might add, I would bestow a consistent 7. As the beer is made with biological South American cane sugar, as opposed to the typical Belgian white sugar, I had expected a sweet, thick glutenous beverage, but it was much lighter, and I just couldn’t recreate the head that dominates the advertising. If it meant buying a crate to keep De Koninck from selling up (and out) though, then I’d be happy keeping this as a safety beer.

(Post-Script) – Antwerp has never been renowned as the party capital of Europe, but I seem to have had my fair share of debauchery here. It was only after racking my brains further on what Antwerp means to me, that I recalled getting detained by the police on a long walk back to my hotel. I had rather unintelligently chosen the main police office wall to urinate against. I have made better decisions in my life.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, De Koninck

#9 – Grimbergen Dubbel

#9 - Grimbergen Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

In 2007 as previously mentioned (#8), Alken-Maes was a bit-part of the major deal which saw Heineken team up with Carlsberg to usurp British giant Scottish Courage. Heineken effectively then became the worlds second largest brewing company after AB-InBev. The Grimbergen range however does survive just as a tiny flea does in the fleece of its strutting master. In fact, Heineken owns two more Abbey brands of beer in Affligem and Postel and the beer drinking world awaits the fate of these in the face of the dog-eat-dog business world that Heineken et al dominate.

It is fair to say however that Heineken has never been a major player in Belgium. Where the Dutch and British mass market have been quaffing Heineken lager by the hectolitre, the Belgian undiscerners have preferred the equally indistinguishable Jupiler (#192), Stella Artois (#116) or Maes. This may all change though as Heineken is the largest multinational brewery in Europe, and is active in over 170 countries. In 2008 alone she saw 125.8 million hectolitres pass under their umbrella, and at least half of that was sold within the European Union. You may have heard of the following beers which are also Heineken staples – Zywiec, Cruz Campo, Birra Moretti, Murphy’s, and 33 Export. While this is something of a success story for the beer business started by Gerard Heineken in 1864, it is a major worry for small regional breweries who struggle to compete financially. The decline in the numbers of breweries over the last fifty years threatens everything we all love about craft beers. I hope this story isnt a portent of things to come in Belgium.

The Grimbergen Dubbel has rich brown chestnutty hues yet remains clearer and thinner than many other brown beers. With more head than the blonde and a definitively smokey aroma, the taste is surprisingly sweet and uncomplicated, yet very pleasant indeed. As you continue to drink, hints of mushroom leap out at you in a brew that is far too drinkable for a dark/dubbel. With availability in UK supermarkets this beer goes very well in a slow cooker casserole *

* (Post-Script) – this has fast become a favourite meal of mine, whereby recently becoming decadent enough to replace the Grimbergen Dubbel with a couple of Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) – a la bloody carte if I say so myself !

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#8 – Grimbergen Blond

#8 - Grimbergen Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

In 1128 St Norbert of Xanten built a majestic abbey for the eponymously named Norbertine canons of the time in a quiet place called Grimbergen. It is very unusual for an Abbey to have actually been established by the founding of an order, and these religious fellows were famously reknowned for their hospitality and especially their homebrew.  The Norbertines, or the Praemonstratensians started life near Reims in French Champagne country and moved northwards. The original building, like many other abbeys, has been knocked down and rebuilt many times throughout history, including 1796 when Napoleon decided to shut up shop, however a beautiful church remains left in the town as a reminder of former glories. Much of this is due to the rebuild which happened in the 1830s after the Abbey had been secularised, and further restorations continued in the 1920s to ensure it is now among one of Belgium’s prettiest churches.

Brewing probably started at the Grimbergen Abbey in the 1600s and only stopped due to the French Revolution. The rich brewing traditions however passed to Maes brewery in 1958 at the monks own request, and this alliance has continued even despite Maes merging with the Alken brewery in 1978 to form Alken-Maes – who now comprise part of the larger Heineken chain. Confusing, but at least the Grimbergen range with its immense brewing history is still going strong today.

This beer smacks of gold; with its vivid colour and smooth texture. There were few bubbles and barely any head to report, and the first taste was fairly lagery but going down it hinted at more. On a session night in beautiful rural Cornwall, this beer proved very drinkable, perhaps too so at the 6.7% strength. It needs perhaps to do more though to impress and really was just a bit too sweet in the end.

(Post-Script) – A better beer, which I often use in cooking, is the Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), which strangely was up next on my list, although the pick of the range is probably the Optimo Bruno (#194). Not that that is a ringing endorsement for what is essentially a pretty average bunch of beers.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Alken-Maes, Belgian Ale, Phoenix