Tag Archives: Maredsous

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix

#158 – Vedett Extra White

#158 - Vedett Extra White

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

Just one look at the Vedett website and you know exactly what you are up against. Here is a company which seemingly has recently employed a brand new marketing manager whose illustrious career history has probably been broken up by various stints in rehab from wild hallucinogenic narcotics. By the time I had worked out how to navigate the website, my eyes had begun to cross, and I was feeling somewhat disorientated. That this is the same brewery as the understated Duvel and Maredsous, I felt some serious trepidation for what might become of De Koninck since their recent arrival under the Duvel Moortgat umbrella.

I don’t intend to pull any punches on this one, in that I really didn’t think the Vedett Extra White was any good. I’ve drunk the Vedett regular blonde on various nights out in the UK prior to my Odyssey, and that is pretty average fare also. My point is that somebody smart in the company must have realised that this beer isn’t going to sell without a lot of fancy gimmickry. The fact that it is selling, I guess somewhat vindicates that decision, and maybe frees up capital to invest in better beers.

Once I had started to follow the cement mixer truck around the country on it’s Vedett tour, I went on to enter the competition to estimate the amount of miles that the cement mixer truck will travel. I wont share that with anybody at this stage as I am fairly confident that the Vedett Cement Mixer truck will be mine at the end of this, and I will be able to sell it at a novelty truck auction and thus fund my Belgian beer bar dream in the Ardennes.

It has also been a dream of mine since starting my Odyssey to commission my own beer. Why not make the 1000th beer my own creation? Vedett give you the opportunity to personalise your own case of Vedett beer at a not so unaffordable cost, which is a step in the right direction I suppose, and I decided to play ball and give my own label a go. Bearing in mind my overall view of the beer was a pungent, over-wheaty bottle of garbage, I thought we would go with this design. Let me know what you think? I wouldn’t mind betting I’ve ruined my chances with the cement mixer truck now. Oh well.

Leave a comment

Filed under 4, Belgian White (Witbier), Duvel Moortgat, Polar Bear

#136 – Cuvee li Crochon Brune

#136 - Cuvee li Crochon Brune

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 8.7 %

This beer took me back in time, to reclining by the sumptuous Lake D’Iseo in northern Italy and polishing off the rather uninspiring Cuvee li Crochon Blonde (#58). It was time to offer one last chance of redemption to the sister brown beer. I had previously introduced the Brotherhood of Li Crochon, who were set up to promote the local cuisine and tourism, and it is on the medallions of these officials that we see the link to the heron on the label of the beer.

The reference of the heron is in testimony to the many of these wading birds that have used the local area as a stopping off point during their periods of migration. The small river valley of the Condroz is a sumptuous pastoral landscape which is perfect for birds seeking the peaceful solitude and verdancy which accompanies the bloating of the river in the wet months. The valley is punctuated by charming picture-perfect villages, local taverns selling regional beer and hundreds of miles of walks, fresh air and touristic activities.

I have headed here on numerous occasions while stocking up on beers, to escape London and to take some time exploring the local area. Two worthy stops on this itinerary are the Abbey at Maredsous (#44, #111), and the chateau at Falaen, another place where the heron can be often be sighted, and which interestingly is watermarked on the label.

If on your travels you do find the li Crochon beers on offer, I strongly advise you to opt for the stronger brown. Having expected very little from this one I was very nicely surprised. At 8.7 % she immediately grabbed your attention, with a mixture of malt, licorice and other dark pleasures. My only disappointment was that with just 250 ml, she was gone before I knew it.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Brewers, Du Bocq, Heron

#111 – Maredsous 8

#111 - Maredsous 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

A fair way back on my Odyssey I got to try the Maredsous Tripel 10 (#44), and touched a little upon the history of the wonderful Abbey hidden away in the Namur countryside. I was able to pay a visit while wandering around Belgium looking for more beers for the cellar, so I thought I might as well bring the history bang up to date, as I failed to mention before that the Abbey at Maredsous has more to its history than just religion, beer and cheese!

In 1903 the St. Joseph School of Applied Arts and Crafts was officially opened. It seemed originally intent on serving as a repository for poor local children to hone their skills in a number of vocational trades, such as carpentry, cobbling or plumbing, but it ended up being purely a centre for fine arts and crafts. High quality works were produced and displayed here at first, leading on to the commissioning of pieces of art for paying customers. Although the 1914-1918 war had a profound effect on the business it did continue on, though changing its focus more to the training of artists rather than skilled craftsmen. The international reputation started to flourish and eventually the eclectic school merged to form the IATA (Technical Institute of Arts and Crafts).

This daily activity still lives on now in the buildings of the Abbey, and anybody passing by is well advised to pop into the St. Joseph visitors centre and have a quick nose around. It certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but at least it’s a welcome diversion from the oh-so-expensive gift sets of Maredsous on sale in the predictably tacky beer shop. I would recommend the cheese though – but that’s probably another story I will save for the final Maredsous beer.

This little Saturday evening tipple was a very pleasant surprise for me after my original disappointment with the Maredsous Tripel. She was rich and dark and full of good old fashioned spicy twang. I would go as far as calling it delicious. It was strong in all the right places and stuck there right to the end. I thought that with the hangover I had today that I would be making a mistake drinking this, but if ever a beer qualified as ‘hair of the dog’ this one certainly was going for first prize.

2 Comments

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Duvel Moortgat

#44 – Maredsous Tripel 10

#44 - Maredsous 10

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

Maredsous is another example of a range of Abbey beers, whose monks still take the concept extremely seriously. The beers have long since been brewed outside the Abbey, now by Duvel Moortgat, but the Maredsous Abbey has a long tradition of making beer and cheese from its completion in 1892.

The Abbey itself is picturesquely sited in the Namur countryside just outside the village of Denee. It is a truly stunning piece of Neo-Gothic architecture as I can testify after a short visit there this summer. If you stand in front of the main towers and look up at the sheer splendour set against a radiant backdrop it really sends you dizzy with awe.

Maredsous Abbey was another example of a Benedictine Monastery. At the end of the 18th century there were about 50 examples of these dotted around the territory which corresponds to modern day Belgium, however within years there were literally none remaining! I have already touched on this a few times, but the desolation caused by the French Revolution was a major catastrophe for the monastic ways in these lands, as the abbeys and monasteries were sold, and if not sold, almost certainly destroyed. The monks did fight back however, but it was nothing less than a struggle. Some didn’t make it (Floreffe #40), but Maredsous did and the evidence is clear there today, where in excess of thirty monks still live, pray and work according to the strict rules of St Benedict. They still have a key role to play in the brewing of the beer, as the Maredsous recipes at Duvel Moortgat are still fastidiously observed through the supervision of the head Abbot himself.

I took this strong Tripel into the fading sunshine of my balcony. It was a splendid end to a tough day at the office. The pour was pert and amber with an average head, accompanied by a strong smell and even as ten-percenters go this one tasted stronger than usual. I’m a big fan of tripels but this seemed to lack some of the characters of others. It was hard to define any definite flavours other than the taste of spice, and I left unenthralled as I had heard great things about this beer. I am definitely more in awe of the building than the beer.

(Post-Script) – I have since had my faith restored by the beautiful Maredsous 8 (#111).



2 Comments

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Duvel Moortgat