Tag Archives: Lowlander

#119 – St. Feuillien Brune

#118 - St. Feuillien Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I was having a rough day and I needed to get out of the office. I don’t tend to take lunchbreaks that often but if I ever do, then it has to be somewhere special. That place is more often than not the Dovetail. I have already told the story of St. Feuillien (#29), and there are plenty more varieties from this brewery sitting waiting, so please permit me the chance to talk about the Dovetail – almost certainly the best Belgian beer bar in central London.

It’s a hard place to find, wedged into a small alley hidden away in atmospheric Clerkenwell. There are many good pubs around here, including the Gunmakers and the Crown, but none of these come close to offering the breadth of choice that the Dovetail can. The website claims to offer over a hundred different Belgian beers, although experience tells me that what they offer, they don’t always have in stock. Even so, any bar outside Belgium where you can sit and be waited on and choose your beer from a menu is a treasure for me. The food is pretty good also!

Timeout magazine labelled the Dovetail in 2007 as ‘The kind of place everyone wishes they had as their local’, which in a sense it is to me. I have been popping in here on and off for the last eight years; and in terms of appearance the place has barely changed. The décor is a mix between an Abbey refectory and beer museum, with the walls adorned with the kitsch tin beer plates which never cease to fascinate me. If you can wedge yourself in early, whether it’s a lunch-time or an evening, you can normally escape the feeling of the growing crowds and get carried away with the feeling you might just be outside of the UK.

As I sat and drank my St. Feuillien Brune though, the conversation soon revolved around to the place, and perhaps it isn’t just me nowadays that thinks the place is losing some of its charm. While it hasn’t sold itself out completely like the Lowlander in Covent Garden, the overall feel-good factor has certainly dissipated. I may have been spoilt in Belgium, but I do still expect the right glass, believe I have the right to be served with a smile, and not to have to pay a deposit for my glass on a Friday night. There also was a time when the bar staff were knowledgeable about the beers on offer but I guess those days have long gone with the preference for cheap labour. Nostalgia though just isn’t what it once was, and I should be grateful for what I have on my doorstep – which is still excellent beer.

The St. Feuillien Brune was no exception to this. It poured a majestic muddy chocolate colour, lighter than most brown beers, but finished with an exceptionally creamy fluffy head. If I hadn’t known where I was, I might have just assumed I had been brought a glass of cocoa. There was something somewhat comforting in the taste, hints of chocolate and malt, but as you finished her off she tended to lose her way a little. That said a very pleasant beer to spend on your lunch break, and as per usual I was dribbling and nodding off at my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

(Post-Script) – For a bit of family history from St. Feuillien see the review on the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (#123).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, St. Feuillien

#72 – Gordon’s Highland Scotch Ale

#72 - Gordon's Highland Scotch Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

I was fairly uneasy talking about this beer as part of the Belgian Beer Odyssey. The commercial description says everything about how un-Belgian this beer is – “Gordon Scotch Ale was born in the limpid highlands among isolated lochs and haunting Scottish castles”. Then if you consider the tartan and thistle on the label and bottle, and the fact the glass is shaped like a thistle you quite wonder how this can possibly be continental? There isn’t even the faintest hint of its intended market in the title, and yet the brewers John Martin (an equally non Belgian appellation) started to brew this beer in Belgium as early as 1924 in Antwerp. Maybe it is here that I should stop a while and consider the term ‘Scotch Ale’, which might help to begin easing my discomfort.

A Scotch Ale is one of many types of Pale Ale, which is a bit of a convenient catch-all for a variety of beers of low to medium strength which utilise ale yeast and pale malts. These could include IPA (India Pale Ale), Red Ale, American Pale Ale and good old English bitter on which I was raised. Some of these pale ales are made stronger (normally above 7%), and Scotch Ale is an example of this. There are a couple of convincing reasons why the term ‘Scotch Ale’ came about. Some say it is due to the fact that it originated in Edinburgh in the 1700’s which seems a reasonable claim – others suggest it is due to the fact that the Scots tended to use smoked malts while brewing which gave the beer the flavour of whisky or scotch.

None of this explains however why this is a Belgian Beer by designation, or why a brewer in Antwerp wanted to create this beer outside of its obvious surroundings. Well, sadly the answer is probably that Belgians (and Americans where this beer is also very popular) have a particularly sweet tooth. The beer in question was known in the UK as McEwans Special Export, a drink normally associated with the unkempt who frequent railway arches at night. Because the Belgians enjoy this kind of drink and have learnt the art of drinking in moderation, an even stronger version of this beer was introduced to the market where it has remained remarkably popular as a heavy aperitif or nightcap on winter nights. The fact that you are unlikely to find it in Scotland amidst the wispy lochs and limpid highlands satisfies my concerns for now.

The beer itself was on the menu of the Lowlander at Creechurch Street (now sadly closed), and ended up on my table only due to the fact that about another four beers were apologetically not available. It was dark, very dark, with a surreal red glow permeating through it when any light source caught it. The flavour was heavy and sweet, and not distinctly unpleasant, but at the same time not a drink that I would eagerly seek out again, unless of course they surrounded it in a label of the Belgian flag or stuck TinTin eating a waffle on the front.

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Filed under 6, Brewers, John Martin, Scotch Ale

#71 – Saison Dupont

#71 - Saison Dupont

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I spent the evening in the Lowlander near Fenchurch Street (now sadly closed) in London for a spot of dinner and took the opportunity to get my hands on another couple of beers that I didn’t have in my cellar. I started proceedings with the Saison Dupont – something of a classic apparently. In fact in the magazine Mens Journal in July 2005, it was named ‘the Best Beer in the World’.

Saison Dupont is traditionally a seasonal beer from French-speaking Wallonia – the saison in the title is the french term for ‘season’ – and refers to the fact that in olden days these types of beer were traditionally brewed in autumn or winter, but only for consumption during the summer months. These were your real working class beers, in that they were brewed for the farmhands to drink while working in order to quench their thirst. For that reason they needed to be low in alcohol and able to be stored throughout the winter. While our modern day farm hands would probably reel at the thought of working in the fields and drinking alcohol all day, it is worth remembering that the water in rural areas in the 1800’s was of a dubious quality.

It is also worth noting that in the past, refrigeration was the luxury not of the poor, and so during the summer the beer would likely spoil, and so Autumn and Winter were the best seasons for producing the workers’ beer. It had to be strong enough not to weaken over the next six months, yet as we mentioned before, moderate enough not to inebriate the workforce. The beers were also highly hopped so as to ensure they preserved as long as possible.

There is no official style to describe a saison beer, although of the various breweries that do indeed produce one, they all tend to try and copy the success of Dupont. The saison of the 21st century will still tend to be well hopped and dry, yet much stronger. Without the refrigeration issues faced by the traditional ‘saisoners’ most saisons are bottle fermented now, where complicated styles of yeast are added to give their beers the unique flavours, which is where the Saison Dupont leads from the front.

The beer itself certainly quenched my thirst after a long day at the office, and I can only echo the views of the masses in that this beer is delicious. It poured a cloudy amber, and smelt remarkable, with plenty of fizz and head. There were hints of citrus and other unnameable fruits to accompany the hops, and I found it hard to concentrate on the conversation with this little beer at my side. I vowed next time to drink this alone on a warm day outside and really get to grips with it.

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Filed under 8, Dupont, Saison