Tag Archives: monastery

#198 – Westvleteren 8

#198 - Westvleteren 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is currently the final beer on my Westvleteren journey (unless I’m fortunate enough to end up with a bottle of the long retired Westvleteren 6)  and having already rambled about the phenomenon which is Westvleteren (#66), and the history of the brewery itself (#90), this gives me the opportunity to finish the story by giving a little history of the abbey.

The Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus began life in 1831, although the plot on which the Abbey was formed had been a spiritual home for hundreds of years previously, with at least three different monasteries occupying the land. Historians suggest as far back as 806 the Cella Beborna was built on this land. Records also show that between 1260 and 1355 there was a nunnery, and between 1610 and 1784 the place was occupied by a monastery. If you ever get a chance to wander around the area there really does feel an eerie sense of spiritual history.

The catalyst for the most recent incarnation was probably the hermit Jan-Baptist Victoor, who left Poperinge in 1814 to settle in the woods of St. Sixtus, where he rebelled against the rules of Emperor Joseph II and took up the monastic tradition. It was only when the prior and a few other disparate monks at the Catsberg monastery joined the hermit that the Abbey was officially formed. The monks here often went off on journeys to found other monasteries, and you may recall from the tale of Chimay White (#165), that the Abbey at Scourmont was started by the monks at St. Sixtus.

Life at the Abbey in Westvleteren though began to grow, and by 1875 the number of members totalled 52. It was still mind you a completely peaceful rural community which would have seen very few visitors. All this was to change during the first World War, when hundreds of refugees and approximately 400,000 allied soldiers lived in and around the abbey. Now it is once again a very peaceful place with only around thirty brothers, who serve the community and provide the world with some of the finest beers known to humanity.

Once of which is the Westvleteren 8, and I had been saving the blue-capped beer for a special occasion and this one happened to be a relaxing Christmas afternoon after the usual three thousand calories of roast!. The pour was everything I hoped it would be – thick and viscous with a ring of rustic head, but I wasn’t getting much in the way of the nose. The taste was very good, with a mix of chocolate, coffee and festive spice. Perhaps though it was the lack of room in my stomach, but I felt just a little let down by the beer in the end. It was still impressive but I guess I had fallen for all the hype. I was expecting some kind of oral firework show, but all I ended up with was an overwhelming desire to nap!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#191 – Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

#191 - Bon Secours Blonde de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

While guzzling on the Bon Secours Brune (#28), I introduced the Bernadine nunnery that was formed in Peruwelz in 1904, and then much later while drinking the Bon Secours Blonde (#159) we got to explore the history of the St. Bernard dogs who bedeck the Bon Secours labels. This latest beer brings these two stories to a nice neat conclusion.

Prior to the formation of the nunnery, a monastery had been founded by monks in 1628 in the rural town of Peruwelz. There are legendary tales of the first brewmaster and unsurprisingly this chap, Father Baudelot was something of a habitual drinker. Sundays were the days where the monks would travel between the monastery and the village of Bonsecours to celebrate at the local church, and the journey back for Father Baudelot was always something of a pub crawl. He would spend long convivial evenings hopping between taverns listening to the stories of the locals. Most nights he would stagger home late, although there were times when he might only make it intact, with the help of his St. Bernard dog who would lead him back in a straight line in the early hours of the morning. Bon Secours does after all translate as ‘good help’ in French.

The brewery Caulier later honoured this story of Father Baudelot through the addition of the St. Bernard dog to the label of their Bon Secours beers. The monastery is long gone, as is now sadly the nunnery which recently shut down in Peruwelz, but through the local beers the legend still remains at large. I might have chosen a better beer however to regale this story. The Bon Secours Blonde de Noel was not an entirely pleasant experience. It was somewhat doughy with a flat overpowering hint of rotten fruit, and although I like strong beers, this one completely overpowered any quality the beer might have had. I definitely needed rescuing from this one, and there was not a helpful dog in sight.

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Filed under 4, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Caulier, Christmas Beer, Dog

#61 – La Guillotine

#61 - La Guillotine

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

La Guillotine by Huyghe is a beer that was first brewed in 1989 as a celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Anyone who does a search on the French Revolution on this website or who has read all the reviews so far will know how influential the Revolution was on the entire history of monastic life in Belgium. The Abbeys and abbey life almost ceased to be, henceforth so did almost all the associated breweries.

The symbol of the Guillotine on the label is one that symbolises the immense loss of life suffered during the ‘Reign of Terror’. The names of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, and Maximilien Robespierre are all well known and were notable beheadees of the Revolution, but another estimated 40,000 people were executed in this manner, almost certainly without trial, and in many instances, without reason.

It would be impossible to sum up in such a small opportunity the entire history of the Revolution, but it would be worth taking the time to explain quite why this event had such a profound effect on the clergy in Belgium. Essentially at this time, there was increasing poverty across this area of Europe, and while the monarchy lived the life of riley, and the clergy held important powers while being exempt from taxes, a bubbling resentment began to boil up throughout the 18th Century. The riots which led to the eventual storming of the Bastille were a build up of years of hostility to the ever growing gulf in fortunes. Once this iconic moment in the Revolution had happened, it seemed to foster anarchy across the whole nation who soon gained the confidence to attack chateaux and monasteries as evidence of their displeasure. This became manifest in November 1789 when the National Assembly declared that the property of the Church was “at the disposal of the nation.”, and legislation abolished monastic vows. The nail in the coffin came in February 1790 when all religious orders were officially dissolved, and monks and nuns were encouraged to return to private life. What religious buildings didn’t close were usually destroyed and under the Reign of Terror many priests were imprisoned and massacred.

Quite what possessed Huyghe to introduce a beer to celebrate these events is beyond me, but drink it I did, while in a Bed and Breakfast in Tivoli. Again, I had secured a room with a fridge and after a hot sweaty day toiling around Rome this beer was badly needed. It poured an immense head that took forever to clear, leaving a pale coloured liquid, beneath which was as super-carbonated as any beer I had tried yet. Just watching the legs fizzing down the side of the glass was mesmerising, leaving an intense lace. The flavour was nothing special but there was definitely pineapple and lemon somewhere within, and the overriding experience in drinking this was the profound strength. It was tart and rigged with an extremely powerful kick, and I hate to say this because others already have, but any more than two or three of these and you are guaranteed to lose your head!

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#52 – Petit-Orval

#52 - Petit-Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3.5 %

Petit-Orval can only supposedly be bought in the L’Auberge de L’Ange Gardien (The Guardian Angel Inn) – the tavern owned by the Orval Monastery, and so that was where I headed while I drove myself and the missus across the rural splendour of Luxembourg province. The beer is only 3.5% so it was probably perfect strength as I was the designated driver. We settled down on the cramped verandah by the rural roadside and peered in the dusty windows as a table of bloated locals set about some coronary-inducing cheese dishes. After our table had been Windowlened clean, and the grime from a previous dish crow-barred off, we were served.

Petit-Orval comes in a green embossed glass, and is served from a plain Orval bottle – the same skittle shape but with no label. I tried to buy one to take away but our grumpy hostess was having none of it. We sat back in the sunshine and took in the views down the lane to the picturesque monastery. The beer was as bitter as the original, and looked almost identical. There seemed to be a slight reduction in strength but it wasn’t massively noticeable until the final third. In fact, the Petit-Orval is essentially a watered down version of the queen beer (#37) at the stage of bottle-fermenting, with caramel added for the identical colouring.

I took a wander in to the tavern to check out the souvenirs and was soon given the evil eye and so shiftily purloined a small leaflet and wandered back out to the table. I had no intention of stealing the glass, although perhaps a guilty conscience from my student days made me sure there were eyes upon me. I flicked through the pamphlet and was surprised to learn that no monks now actually brew the beer, although they are under the supervision of a monastic gentleman which ensures the Trappist status is retained (#7). The locals inside ordered a platter piled high with trappist cheese, and I knew it was time to go. I was beginning to get hungry and the day was still long.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Orval, Trappist Beer

#46 – St. Bernardus Abt 12

#46 - St. Bernardus Abt

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

St. Bernardus has a slightly different history to many others of the Trappist/Abbey ilk. For all intents and purposes you may pick up a bottle and consider this a Trappist beer, and if you open it and taste it you wouldn’t be far wrong – because it used to be.

The Refuge Notre-Dame de St. Bernard was established in Watou in the early 1900’s when the Catsberg Abbey Community from France fled anti-clerical policy into Belgium. They largely funded their existence through the production and sale of cheese. In 1934 they felt safer to move back across the border, and so sold the land and buildings to a gentleman named Everist Deconinck who expanded on, and improved the cheese making facilities.

Meanwhile, not far down the road, there sat the Trappist Monastery of St. Sixtus which shortly after World War II decided to stop the commericalisation of their beer and brew only for the monks. The head Abbot asked Mr Deconinck if he would continue to brew their Trappist beer,and Evarist was only too delighted, and thus until 1992 the St. Bernard facilities brewed and commercialised the St. Sixtus Trappist Ales under contract. Once this contract expired, the monks at St. Sixtus decided to end the relationship in order to preserve the true nature of the Trappist brand under the new definitions (#7).

The beers that had been made from the St. Sixtus yeast and recipes proved to be extremely popular, and the St. Bernard community did not want to give this up, and so changed their name, removed the Trappist identity and continued on under the name St. Bernardus. As far as we know though, it is still the same recipe, and of course the range of beers has increased beyond the usual capacity of a typical Trappist brewery. Meanwhile, St. Sixtus still brew their official Trappist beer, and you may know them better as the world-beating Westvleteren ales; ther Westvleteren 12 (#66) being often regarded as the best beer in the world !

So you can see how this beer has been confused over the years. I dare anyone to try it and say it doesn’t taste like one. It is immense. Dark and stoutlike in appearance with a frothy yeasty head typical of Trappist beers of this strength.  The aroma was possibly a little understated in comparison to the Trappistes Rochefort beers (#13, #31) yet the first taste equates to some of its more illustrious compatriots. Rolling the beer over the back of the throat evokes a multitude of spices; cloves, cinnamon and barbecue, and right to the end the flavour stays and when you finally put her down you feel like you have just been hit by a juggernaut. It’s not Trappist but who gives a shit. This was the perfect start to three weeks off work !

(Post-Script) – The St. Bernardus Tripel (#106) is also a stunner! Look out for the bright green bottle.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, St. Bernardus

#37 – Orval

#37 - Orval

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Orval is the fourth of the six Trappist breweries we have come across thus far in Belgium, and it is almost certainly the most attractive, set in the grounds of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the deep south east of Belgium near the Luxembourg border.

There is definitely not enough space to document the rich history of the Abbey, however since around the 11th Century when the Benedictine monks of Calabria of Italy first settled, beer has been brewed here. Over time, other sets of monks have moved in, and fires and the French Revolution have put pay to the original buildings. The newest incarnation was constructed between 1926 and 1948, under the direction of the Trappist monk Marie-Albert van der Cruyssen, and in 1935 Orval regained the rank of abbey, four years after the first Orval beer was brewed.

None of these stories however are quite as interesting as the legend behind the name and beer label of the ‘Queen of Trappists’. Apparently, the recently widowed Mathilda of Tuscany was convalescing after the death of her husband and child in the area when tragically she lost her wedding ring in a spring that ran through the beautiful site. When she sat and prayed to the Virgin Mary for its return, a trout appeared from the depths of the spring, bearing the ring in its mouth. She immediately retook it and exclaimed that this place truly was ‘Val d’Or’ – the Valley of Gold, from which the name Orval is derived. Her immense gratitude was to fund the foundation of the original monastery, and the rest as they say is history, albeit a slightly fanciful one. Does nobody else agree this all sounds just a little bit fishy?

I have been drinking Orval as one of my favourite beers for quite some time, and it was a pleasure to officially record my thoughts on here. Served at the designated temperature as opposed to the chilled examples I have been enjoying over the last few months. At a warmer temperature the pour was still electric amber, carbonating and pffing with a yeasty head. The smell is stupefying and almost alive. The taste is sharp, and sour right to the end, with some orange citrus and a dryness that makes you beg for another. These beers are readily available in large Tesco supermarkets. Stock up, or head to Belgium !

(Post-Script) – the story of the Petit-Orval (#52) recollects a brief visit to the Abbey

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Fish, Orval, Trappist Beer

#28 – Bon Secours Brune

 

#28 - Bon Secours Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This website is beginning to feel like a trainspotters’ guide to monasteries. For that I must apologise, but I must admit my previous views of the behabited ones was that life can’t really have been much fun, but then on reflection – offer good beer and silence to any man, and it’s likely they will bite your arm off.

Bon Secours is another example of a brewery taking the name of a local monastic establishment and playing on its status to sell brews – although with one vital difference – this time its all about nuns !*

Peruwelz is both the home of Caulier the brewery, and a side-arm of the Bernadine Bon Secours monastery which was formed in 1904. This may seem rather late in the day given recent accounts, however the story of the nuns travel here shows how determined and passionate they were to find a home again. Typically during the French Revolution they found themselves leading a nomadic life – desperate to continue to live in the Cistercian tradition. Eventually, they made home at the monastery in the village of Esquermes near Lille, before dispersing further afield. There are actually orders of the nuns in England, Japan, and even the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso. Quite what association the nuns have with the beer is another question, but it serves once again as an excellent example of the selling power of the church when it comes to alcohol in Belgium.

I would surely hope that the Grolsch-style bottles were not around in the monastic days, as I would imagine there would be a few vows of silence ruined by a rogue bottle of brown beer exploding all over a monks freshly cleaned habit. This certainly happened to me, with once again, the sofa cover needing a thoroughly good dry clean. I am now banished to the kitchen to open my beers! In fact, the whole product was deeply malevolent – complex, herbal and extremely spicy, not unlike a beer equivalent of mulled wine. Possibly a little similar to the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), although essentially thinner. Totally enjoyed this beer, once I had learnt to get it in my mouth, and would definitely be perfect for a Christmas tipple.

* (Post-Script) – The nunnery is now sadly closed.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Caulier