Tag Archives: Hildegard

#150 – Urthel Hop-It

#150 - Urthel Hop-It

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5 %

The Urthel Hop-It was born around 2005 when Hildegard van Ostaden (#101) returned inspired from a beer festival in the USA which was devoted to high quality super-hopped beers. In fact in many quarters today, the Urthel Hop-It is considered to be about as hoppy as a Belgian beer can get – even more than the XX Bitter (#131).

This assumption is based on the concept of the IBU (International Bitterness Unit), which I first introduced when drinking the Hopus (#77). This is a scientific analysis of the bitterness of a beer, and the Urthel Hop-It comes out at a rumbustious 180 IBUs. Simplisticly, the IBU is calculated by determining the ratio of isomerized alpha acid to every one litre of beer. For every milligram, one IBU is assigned. Thus for the Urthel Hop-It, there are 180 milligrams of alpha acids, which is a fair bit more than the XX Bitter. People tend to say this beer isn’t quite as bitter tasting as the XX, but that is more to do with the balance and blend, than the IBU rating. Often a beer with plenty of malt can have the same IBU as a pale ale, but taste far less bitter due to the balancing. Many consider the threshold for common decency to be at 100 IBUs, and so when beers end up nearer the 200 mark, the brewery have to work hard to ensure it is palatable.

The IBU can be very accurately measured in a scientific laboratory, but of course this is rarely done. Mostly, brewers apply a set of criteria to estimate the potential IBUs of the beer. The key is to efficiently estimate the utilisation of the alpha acids, and there are three main methods of calculation used. These are the Rager, Tinseth and Garetz methods, and each approaches it in a slightly different way. If I get a chance I will try and go into more detail the next time I find a highly hopped beer on my table.

Anyway, onto the tasting. I can officially confirm that this may be 180 IBUs, but it wasn’t as cheek-creakily bitter as the XX Bitter. It was certainly very hoppy and full of warm spicy goodness, but in a way that left you exploring other strange things going off on the palate. If I hadn’t just eaten a four course meal I would have considered it perfect as an accompaniment to a gastronomical meal. I actually found myself wedged into a tiny area of Brugs Beertje, the famous Bruges beer bar. Where better to sit with like-minded beer fans and celebrate the 150th beer of my journey? The best testimony I can give to this beer, is that one of the Northern ramblers I met on the table next to me was so impressed with my comments, that he promptly ordered one.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, de Koningshoeven

#101 – Urthel Samaranth

#101 - Urthel Samaranth

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.5 %

Two very special people are behind the range of Urthel beers – Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden. Hildegard is the brewmaster and Bas manages the affairs and illustrates the beers, including the impressive website. Proving that even I can be a sexist male at times, I was surprised to find that Hildegard was the lady of the house.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Hildegard actually began studying industrial engineering in Leuven, specialising in all things ‘brewery’. After about four years teaching young engineers and leading them around various breweries, she let her entrepreneurial nature lead her to create a range of high quality Flemish beers with her partner Bas. Since the spring of 2000 the Urthel beers have been going strong, surprising people with their quality, and introducing the world to a myriad of strange stories and characters. These are predominantly the domain of artist, illustrator and storyteller Bas, who still romanticizes over a world of miniature gnomes.

The Urthel beers were originally brewed for Hildegard and Bas by the Van Steenberge brewery, however they have since moved these north of the border into the Netherlands at the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven, where our intrepid couple both worked and met. The spiritual home of the beers though is in Ruiselede in Belgium under the company name de Leyerth. Certainly by the time I had started my adventure these beers were brewed in Belgium, and if anyone cares to argue I will just drink extra at the end!

Hildegard and Bas, though based in Ruiselede, can often be found showcasing their beers in North America where the Urthel range is extremely popular. There are also plenty more Urthel beers to come and thus I will eventually get round to detailing the adventures of the Erthels from the Valley of the Ley, behind the mountains of Rooverth.

As for the Urthel Samaranth, this was actually a beer created and brewed specifically to celebrate the wedding of Hildegard and Bas in September 2002, and is because of its strength known as a Quadrium in the folklore of the Erthels. Whatever possesses anyone to drink beer this strong at a wedding certainly defies belief as my tasting will testify one quiet night indoors, miles away from the land of the Erthels.

Samaranth clearly is an Erthel with a reputation; an elder, just like the mate of your dad who can stand at the bar and drink eight pints in the last two hours like its water. He is most definitely somebody to look up to. I had already supped the St. Bernardus Wit (#100), and uncapped the Samaranth as I reclined on the sofa, eyes fixated on a Frank Capra movie. It was to be a critical error of judgment as twenty minutes later I was still on my hands and knees scrubbing Vanish into the sofa and carpet. This truly was a badboy!

Once I finally got down to drinking it, I can honestly say it blew me away. In no word of an exaggeration for every mouthful (or should I say sipful) a plume of fumes would emanate from my nose. I am not a big fan of brandy which this reminded me of, and while tasting a little medicinal and lacking the finer qualities of say the St. Bernardus Abt (#46), it certainly outshone the similar strength Bush Ambree (#3). I would definitely get this again, as any beer that has the temerity to bully me in my own house is something to be treasured.

(Post-Script) – the fumes that emanated from my nose was an interesting was of semi-interest, as I later discovered that the character Samaranth was a dragon in a fantasy novel by James A Owen.

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Filed under 8, Abt/Quadrupel, Brewers, de Koningshoeven

#47 – Dendermonde Tripel

#47 - Dendermonde Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

If you take a good look at the label of the Dendermonde Tripel, you can see the stunningly gothic cathedral, but if you look closer you will make out the silhouette of a monk, with musical notes fluttering further in the background. This is actually the silhouette of a woman – Hildegard von Bingen, and the representation of the music highlights just one of her many skills. In fact her association with Dendermonde Abbey is that 58 of her liturgical symphonies from the 12th Century are preserved here.

Many of her other roles in her 81 year life are listed as mystic, author, counsellor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, channeller, visionary, composer, polymath, and Benedictine Abbess. I would imagine from our experiences thus far, that it is the latter that associates her most with beer. After all what monk, male or female, didn’t enjoy a drink to help them cope with the solitude?

This medieval Carol Vorderman was born in 1098 in what is now modern day Germany. She had many visions as a child (although modern day scientists suggest these may have been migraines – but who am I to ruin a good story?), and was thus tithed to the church by her parents in the belief that this was some kind of portent. Regardless of the authenticity of these claims, Hildegard became so embroiled in the clergy that she was eventually founding monasteries in Rupertsberg in 1150, and Eibingen in 1165. Her preaching tours were legendary and coupled with her musical talent and penchance for a good vision, she ended up being extremely popular, although not seemingly as much in modern days due to so many of her medieval works being readily available for scrutiny – a rare indulgence for modern day students of ancient music.

I am surprised Hildegard would have found much time for drinking, especially given her feministic tendencies and non-liberal approach to sexuality, however she found her way onto a beer label, and for that we assume the marketers of Dendermonde Tripel saw some worth in her. The beer itself was the first of two enjoyed on my sofa the night before going back to Belgium. She smelt fairly average, but poured impressively with a solid robust head. There was a good all-round pale colour with hints of oranges deeper in, and definite grapefruit and other citrus that stirred on the tongue. The taste was excellent though, making this a good all-round strong tripel. In fact, some more of the over-rated tripels I doubt could live with this on a blind taste-test. Just don’t drink too many – like Hildegard, it might just give you a migraine !

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, De Block