Tag Archives: horse

#140 – Bavik Pony Stout

 

#140 - Bavik Pony Stout

 

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Bavik is a famous old Belgian brewery; and one that is proud of its traditional history. I am almost certain that the labelling of their sweet milk stout comes with a glowing testament to the role of the horse in the history of brewing beer. It might not be obvious to all of us who have grown up in the modern world, but the horse (or pony) once played two pivotal roles in ensuring the production and delivery of beer to the masses.

The first is grossly underestimated. Probably the most labour intensive part of brewing is the grinding of the malt. Even during the Middle Ages, brewers had used oxen, water or wind to supply power to turn the mill stones. Horses became the next best way of providing this service, and were harnessed to a series of spokes which radiated from the central shaft of the milling equipment. These often malnourished and ill treated animals would walk in circles all day massively increasing the efficiencies of entrepreneurial breweries. In the 18th Century, the horse wheel was also used to work pumps moving the liquor to and from the coppers. Horsepower was cheap and very effective – any decent sized brewery of the time could easily have around twenty horses in service.

Horse lovers must have breathed a sigh of relief in 1781 when James Watt patented the steam engine, however the need for the horse remained, as brewers and distributors began to rely heavily on the horse and cart for deliveries. As an example, in the late 19th Century your average brewery in London required about fifty horses for every 100,000 barrels of beer sold. In England, these tended to be dray horses, normally Shires, or Suffolk Punches. In Belgium, the most popular type tended to be the Percheron. This reliance on the horse or pony continued until the early 20th Century when the motorised transport revolution began. By the end of World War II the horse had largely been consigned to the knackers yard. In fact in thirty years between 1920 to 1950, the number of draft horses alive and working in England had astonishingly been decimated from 2,000,000, to just 2,000.

This led Winston Churchill to comment that ‘the substitution of the Internal Combustion Engine for the horse marked a very gloomy passage in the progress of mankind’. It is this sentiment that has sparked something of a nostalgic return to horse and cart delivery, but only really as a gimmick by some craft brewers. If it could happen anywhere though, then my bet would be on Belgium.

As for the beer itself, it was something of an anti-climax. It was certainly dark and sweet, but had a slightly odd flavour, ranging from the deeply herbal to what you might call synthetic. Like the pony on the label, this one was being consigned to the knackers yard. This is no thoroughbred!

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Filed under 5, Bavik, Brewers, Horse, Sweet Stout

#105 – Duchesse de Bourgogne

#105 - Duchesse de Bourgogne

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

My third beer of the night, and something of a switch after two heavy tripels. I had heard a lot about the Duchess of Burgundy, and was served this one up by Andrew in its rightful glass. I had only possibly drunk two Belgian beers loosely named after a woman. One was a statue in a Park in Ostend (#43), and the other was a witch (#79). Surely here was a proper Belgian heroine?

Before my infatuation with Belgium I would often struggle to be able to name many famous Belgians, let alone a female one. I’m still trying to think of one now. Even TinTin and Asterix were completely male orientated! Ask any Belgian however, and many will point to the good Duchesse – and with good reason.

Mary of Burgundy was born at the Castle of Coudenburg in Brussels in 1457, to be the only child of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and his wife Isabella of Bourbon. She was instantly the heiress to a vast swathe of Burgundian land stretching from the Low Countries deep into France. She instantly became a hit with the fellas, even at the age of five when her hand was sought for the future Ferdinand II of Aragon. Later suitors included King Louis XI of France on behalf of his son, the Dauphin Charles. Mary managed to hold off the attention, although things came to a bit of a head in 1477 when her father infamously died at the Siege of Nancy. France suddenly saw an opportunity to secure the inheritance of the Low Countries through the union with the 19 year old Mary.

It is perhaps fair to say that the Duchesse de Bourgogne is so popular in the modern era due to her snubbing of the French. Later that year, she opted to take the hand of Archduke Maximilian* of Austria, aligning herself to the Hapsburgs and changing the fate of history for the Low Countries. What followed was about two hundred years of relative peace. The French were spurned, and civil strife was abated. It wasn’t something however that Mary could spend her later years looking back on fondly. Tragically just five years after marrying Maximilian she was thrown from her horse while falconing and trampled. It was to break her back and she survived no more than a few days. The artwork on the label is a famous Flemish portrait of Mary and her falcon photographed by Hugo Maertens.

The beer itself is a Flanders sour red ale with plenty of bite, which gets its unique flavour through a primary and secondary fermentation, followed by eighteen long months maturation in oak. The final mix is then blended with a younger eight month beer. Its well worth the wait, but like anything in 250 ml bottles its over in the shake of a lambs tail.

* You may remember Maximilian from drinking Brugse Zot (#36) – he suggested that the people of Bruges were all mad fools !

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Filed under 8, Sour Ale, Verhaeghe