Tag Archives: Hoegaarden

#232 – Hougaerdse Das

#232 - Hougaerdse Das

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.1 %

I would imagine there aren’t many beer fans out there who haven’t at least once tasted the beer Hoegaarden (#81). As previously explained this beer hails from the small Belgian village of the same name. Since the brewing operations of the beer have moved back to the locality there are now two brewing establishments in the vicinity, however it is astonishing to think that in 1750 this tiny place once had 35 breweries operating at one time. With a population of around two thousand people that works out at about one brewery for every 57 people!

A number of reasons have accounted for this massive decline; notably two World wars, and the mass commercialisation of craft beers by bigger companies (of which the beer Hoegaarden has perhaps suffered more than any). A few famous old names have fallen by the wayside including the Brasserie Louis Tomsin, where Pierre Celis once worked when he was a boy, and de Grote Brouwerijen van Hoegaarden, or as it was more commonly known – Brasserie Loriers, for the name of the street on which it once proudly sat.

It was the Brasserie Loriers that launched a beer in 1931 called Hougaerdse Das. The brewmaster was Marcel Thomas who had been travelling to various breweries in England and had tried a small beer which he fell in love with. It became a very popular beer in the locality for the next thirty years until in 1960 the brewery at Loriers went the same way as so many others – bought out by Artois (a forerunner of the foodchain that is Interbrew-InBev-AB/InBev etc). It was only a couple of years and the brewery was shut for ever. Hougaerdse Das became a lost beer, although InBev continued to use the Das yeast to create their Vieuxtemps beer.

If we go back to the story of Hoegaarden (#81) we follow that Pierre Celis set up his de Kluis brewery in the village as a result of watching all his favourite breweries get closed down. In fact, Marcel Thomas helped Pierre to set up his own brewery. Following the terrible fire in 1985 Celis was forced to take alms from Interbrew, and of course the same fate befell him in 1987 when he was bought out. As a result of this unlikely partnership however, Hougaerdse Das was unexpectedly revived in 1996. Perhaps it wasn’t to be too unexpected though, as Celis had used the Das yeast for his own beers also in the early years.

I’m almost certain that in the early days this Speciale Das Ale was probably quite a beer, but it certainly isn’t anymore. It is an unfiltered light amber barley beer, which according to the official website is ‘easily drinkable, full of character and appealing to beer aficionados who like to experiment’. The recipe contains coriander and orange peel in addition to the usual water, barley, malt and hops, although the flavours were largely anonymous. Just like the original Hoegaarden beer changed under new stewardship, so probably has the Hougaerdse Das, given its local reputation of yore. I almost feel like euthanasia might be the best thing for this beer.

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Hoegaarden (InBev), Lion

#209 – Hoegaarden Citrons

#209 - Hoegaarden Citrons

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 3 %

You only need to read the review of Hoegaarden (#81) to understand why the beer I am drinking today has ever come to exist. I am almost certain that if Pierre Celis still looked after affairs then the Hoegaarden Citrons would be little more than a bad idea scribbled on a discarded flipchart page *. But it’s Belgian, and therefore I need to drink it. I’ll try and be quick.

The history of Hoegaarden I previously outlined was a brief glimpse into the sad demise of the de Kluis brewery, and one of the outcomes of this new modern world was the addition of a number of low strength fruit beers to the range. Simple concept of weak base beer diluted further with some kind of processed syrup. It’s a fairly common practice now amongst modern day breweries who clearly have a market for such stuff or they wouldn’t make it. Hoegaarden have delivered us the Citrons (lemon and lime), and the Rosee (raspberry). Other breweries who have succumbed are Haacht with their Mystic range, Du Bocq who have polluted the market with beers such as Agrumbocq (#74), Redbocq and Applebocq. Bockor (Jacobins), de Smedt (Grisette), Huyghe (Floris) and Het Anker (Boscoulis) are among others who have all cashed in.

The formula clearly does work. In 2009, a year after the production of beer was returned to the Hoegaarden spiritual home, the annual report of AB/InBev referred to Hoegaarden products as the fastest growing brand. This is surely more to do with the international reputation of the staple blanche beer than the summer Citrons and Rosee. An example of this globalisation was the production of Hoegaarden for the South Korean market in 2008, through subsidiary company Oriental Brewery. While this has been another commercial success for AB/InBev through the accounts ledgers, the general public agree that the flavour is a far cry from the original. I guess you could say here is another example of the great brand being Seouled out 😉

The Hoegaarden Citrons hit the Benelux market in 2008, marketed as a ‘beer aromatised with lemon and lime, with sugar and an artificial sweetener. Not filtered, naturally misty’. It was perfectly pitched for those looking for a low strength beer on a hot summer afternoon. Clearly this is why this beer never made it over to the UK, hence I tried it on a dark blustery afternoon indoors. I’m sad to say that I actually found it quite refreshing. It barely touched the sides and reminded me more of cool lime sodas that I regularly drunk while travelling around India. Nothing like nostalgia to improve a rating. If you are the designated driver and you need refreshing there are plenty worse options available than this one.

* Pierre Celis sadly passed away in April this year after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 86 years old. I feel confident that whatever Pierre is drinking right now as he looks down to survey the fruits of his labours, it won’t be a Hoegaarden Citrons.

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Filed under 6, Fruit Beer, Hoegaarden (InBev)

#100 – St. Bernardus Wit

#100 - St. Bernardus Wit

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

Beer experts tend to say that if you want to try a beer that tastes like Hoegaarden (#81) used to then there is no better exponent than the St. Bernardus Wit. This comes as no surprise as the beer was actually developed in co-operation with Pierre Celis, who of course was the mastermind behind the success of Hoegaarden. The main difference is that the St. Bernardus gets the traditional Belgian secondary fermentation in the bottle which just adds to the steely quality.

The term wheat beer is something of a misnomer, as these beers are not made 100% from wheat – in fact probably only about 30-40% of the mash. The rest is more likely to contain forms of pilsener malt. It is this 30-40% though which gives the wheat beers their hazy milky glow, which in turn has tended to coin the appellation ‘white beer’. Hops are generally used less frequently as they tend to impair flavour, and brewers such as Celis have traditionally been more subtle with spices such as coriander, or fruit – most commonly the peel of an orange.

It is surprising that white beers are not more common in Belgium as wheat tends to be in greater abundance than barley and is therefore cheaper to produce. Wheat beers tend though to be somewhat lower in strength than dubbels, tripels and typical Belgian ales, which may go some way to explain why these beers are more popular in Germany or the USA. Others argue that wheat tends to clog up the brewers equipment and is therefore more painful to brew due to the rigours of keeping the kit clean and free from infection.

Either way I’m not really a wheat beer man, or I wasn’t until I tried the St. Bernardus Wit. It was altogether more robust, with extra colour and fizz, and it was both crisp and sharp with a flavour that actually challenged your taste-buds. I could actually taste the hints of orange peel and coriander which is saying something. I think this is best suited to a warm summers day in Flanders, but all in all a pretty impressive way to bring up the hundredth beer!

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Filed under 8, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, St. Bernardus

#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)

#41 – Leffe Blonde

#41 - Leffe Blonde

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 6.6 %

I already started the story of Leffe (#25), and predictably it didn’t take too long to be able to continue the tale of how she ended up as part of the world’s largest brewery, although I may (dependent on space) leave the rest for the next Leffe beer. Lets see how far we get. Ok, on with the tedious global bullshit.

We left the story on the Artois takeover of 1977. Artois themselves were the second largest brewer in Belgium at the time, and also had a rich history – having been set up in 1366 as Den Horen of Leuven. Sebastien Artois purchased the brewery in 1717 and decided to name it after himself. Meanwhile, back in 1977, and now run by the Spoelberch family, Artois were in direct competition with the largest Belgian brewer Piedboeuf, and the Van Damme family. Piedboeuf themselves had a rich history, having brewed since 1853, and neither wanted to give up the power. The end result was that to avoid the detrimental effects of intense competition, the two families merged in 1987 to form Interbrew, who eventually went on to acquire almost three quarters of the Belgian beer market. Interbrew used the brands of Stella Artois, Leffe, Hoegaarden and Jupiler to spearhead this assault, and went on to acquire numerous other brands and brewers across Europe, including Belle-Vue in 1991.

Interbrew were by now the 4th largest brewer in Europe, although real global ambition soon took hold of them, and they sought to break into the North American market. This was always going to be a tough ask, as Anheuser-Busch and Miller dominated two thirds of the market, but craft beers from Europe were becoming more popular, and Interbrew were in a position to buy out Labatts in 1995 which really put them on the North American map. This was soon followed up by takeovers of Bass and Whitbread in the UK, Becks in Germany, Oranjeboom in the Netherlands, and Peroni in Italy among many many others. Interbrew were suddenly a major force in the world, and the company then set its sights on the very top. But surely that’s another story.

Anyway, Leffe Blonde had begun to grow on me. I was always previously a bigger fan of the brown, but was beginning to appreciate the blonde. I decided to try the 750 ml bottle. The colour was pure golden, with a lacy thin head that sat on a fizzy soup of bubbles. The taste was striking and typical of many abbey blondes but still with that recognisable Leffe taste that despite its availability is annoyingly good. I ended up finishing the whole bottle without sharing, unlike some breweries we have recently mentioned.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, InBev (Belgium)

#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)