Tag Archives: monks

#193 – Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

#193 - Saint-Martin Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

It had been a while since my last grapple with a St. Martin beer (#69), and I tried the Cuvee de Noel with next to no anticipation whatsoever. It was better but really only marginally. So who was this St. Martin whose reputation seems relatively under threat now due to this recurring crap beer association?

He was born in Italy of all places in the 4th Century, the son of a Roman military officer and tribune. He would join the army himself at the plucky age of fifteen having recently discovered Christianity, and ended up serving in a garrison in what is now Amiens in France. He clearly wasn’t the fighting type though, and he was jailed for cowardice at a young age for refusing to join a battle; citing his faith as the catalyst for this change of heart. He chose instead to help the sick and needy, and is famously represented in modern day imagery giving half of his officer’s cloak to a beggar who entreated him. It’s difficult to make out but this also seems to be the illustration on the beer’s label.

A lull in the war saved Martin, who was released from all military details. He promptly took up service as a spiritual student at Poitiers, and sought to convert all those he came into contact with; from the thief who once robbed him in the mountains to his own mother back in Lombardy. He was eventually chased out by heretics to the island of Gallinaria (now Isola d’Albenga) where he settled as a hermit for ten years, eventually forming a Benedictine Abbey in Liguge with a bevy of likeminded monks. He gained great success in building churches and converting the unconvertible, and his reputation soared culminating in his eventual consecration as the Bishop of Tours in 372.

St. Martin continued to live as a hermit after becoming a Bishop becoming clearly a much revered figure who gave almost everything he had to help the needy and the poor.  I’m sure though that he would have also liked a good beer in those days – after all what monk didn’t? although I don’t really think he would have approved of this particular beer. An instantly forgettable, thin and uninspiring ruby red beer which started spicy enough but ended up losing all its strength;  just as St. Martin did in 397 before dying amongst his brethren.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Brunehaut, Christmas Beer, Horse

#127 – Val Dieu Biere du Noel

#127 - Val Dieu Biere du Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

There was a time when I seemed to drink an endless swathe of Abbey beers, but its been a while since I was able to talk purely about an Abbey. In fact the Abbaye d’Aulne (#60) was about the last monastic history lesson.

The Abbey of Val Dieu started way back in 1216 as a tiny settlement, following the migration of a few monks from the Maastricht area who were looking for an uninhabited haven to settle in. This place, now Aubel, deep in the east of modern day Belgium, they decided to call Val-Dieu – the Valley of God, such was the splendid location. Here the monks were able to reap the land, brew beer and live to the Cistercian ways (#94).

The original church buildings didn’t last long though as in 1287 the War of Succession in the Duchy of Limburg caused irreperable damage. She was rebuilt again only to be destroyed in 1574 during the Eighty Years War, and then again by the armies of Louis XIV in 1683. Shortly after this the Abbey began to flourish as one of the most renowned in the country under the jurisdiction of Jean Dubois, but bad luck of course struck again during the French Revolution, and she was destroyed for the fourth time.

It would be a slow return for former glories as between 1749 and 1844 the once regal premises remained empty becoming eaten by the ravages of time. A local monk who had lived through the Revolution, and four monks from Bornem eventually restored the Abbey, which survived as a working Abbey until 2001. Since then it has been home to a small Cistercian community, and of course a brewery.

The Val Dieu Biere de Noel was a fairly solid amberish Christmas beer with good legs and a yeasty topping – the head dissipating into what looked like a trail of amoebas. The beer was too inherently thin to be a classic, but was powerful enough on the taste buds to be enjoyable. I melted back into the sofa and let the last vestiges of the weekend wash over me.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Val Dieu

#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)

#53 – Villers Tripel

#53 - Villers Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5%

This is my 53rd beer on this trip so far, and if I am not mistaken this is the 17th individual account of an Abbey. I feel like a bloody historian with a fetish for medieval churches. This has almost inspired me to set up a map section on the website and start up a tourist section for monastery hoppers. My stats on the website have been improving rapidly over the past few weeks, and I was becoming fairly overwhelmed with the like-minded souls searching the world wide web for Belgiums finest ales. A recent trawl through the majority of my hits however seem to suggest there is an equivalent number of National Trusties looking for sedentary days out at cloisters and priories and leaving disappointedly on finding an inane historical account of a rarely drunk beer. Oh well – there is still hope I may turn a few to the dark side.

Abbey number 17 is that of Villers Abbey – now a brooding ruin south of Brussels of a once great Cistercian Abbey. The small village of Villers-la-Ville has been the home of this Abbey in three incarnations since its founding in 1146 by twelve Cistercian monks and three lay brothers from Clairvaux. Through the ages, the Abbey grew in importance to the point where at one stage over a hundred monks and three hundred lay brothers lived and worked, brewing and quaffing large measures of strong ale as was customary. Of course, the fortunes of the Abbey were to fluctuate under Spanish repression, where the monks were reported to have fled on nine separate occasions, and then of course during the French Revolution, when the Abbey was sold off for Gallic gains.

Considerable restoration has since been carried out at Villers, leaving the venue as a popular one for day visitors from Brussels, and much of the majestic remains of the Abbey can still be seen. Therefore it was a natural transition to tie a beer to the Abbey, and of course who else but Huyghe to jump on the bandwagon.

We had left Belgium for the time being, and were heading on the long road down to Italy. We decided to tarry a while in Luxembourg, and found a great cabin with cooking facilities, where at the end of a long day travelling we rustled up an immensely spicy red Thai curry. The Villers Tripel was a perfect accompaniment as it contained its own spices. It was crisp and blond and smelt and tasted of rustic orchards. It certainly had a kick at 8.5% and I was prepared to score highly, although after the food the beer failed to live up to its early hype. Like the light outside it soon faded. Shame really.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Huyghe

#49 – Chimay Doree

#49 - Chimay Doree

Size: on cask

ABV: 4.8 %

There are some beers that you can’t just buy from your local off-licence, or if you are lucky to live in or near Belgium, go pick up from your nearest Drankencentrum. Some you can’t even pick up in a good Belgian bar. No, there are some beers where you actually have to go to the brewery tap. As I was in Belgium, it seemed rude not to venture down to the Abbey of Scourmont, and check out the Chimay Doree. Chimays’ secret fourth and rarest beverage.

The place to get it is the Auberge de Poteaupre, a 3-star bar/hotel/restaurant on a quiet country lane a stones throw from the Abbey and brewery. It was just before midday and I had built up something of a hunger and a thirst. I was driving so the 4.8% Chimay Doree was almost perfect, washed down with a traditional Chimay Cheese sandwich served on a breadboard on the open air patio. It was warm, and the sun was out. Chimay Doree means Golden. I do so love Belgium.

My other half, who seems to have developed a healthy liking of brewery taps despite having the alcoholic tolerance of an eight year old, opted for the Chimay Triple (#165) – never a good idea before breakfast. She spent the rest of the afternoon either talking gibberish or nodding off into an alcoholic stupor, while I continued to bemoan the fact that nobody would sell me a take-away bottle of Chimay Doree. I was beginning to enjoy my 48 empties stacked up by the window and a gap would upset me! I suppose it was a little unreasonable to expect them to sell the vintages on show under the blankets of cobwebs in the window. Oh well, shit happens !

This is the brewery tap beer preserved previously for the monks of Chimay. This would only normally be available at the brewery for the working behabited, and thus just like the Het Kapittel Pater (#2) this is the Pater beer. To be fair, for 4.8% it was pretty splendid, tasting stronger than it actually was. There wasn’t a great head to talk of and it was very cloudy; and seemed more wheat-based than barley. It was dry, fruity and definitely akin to grapefruit – a kind of watered down Dendermonde Tripel (#47). I reckon the monks wouldn’t do too bad drinking this all day.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Chimay, Trappist Beer

#40 – Floreffe Double

#40 - Floreffe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.3%

Floreffe is a reasonably sized town in Namur, which is renowned probably only for its monastery, and then its range of colourful beers, now brewed by Lefebvre. As with most Abbey beers, these were once brewed on the premises, but of course the ravages of history took care of that.

Our old friend Norbert of Xanten (#8), the founder of the Premonstratensian order of monks was responsible for the founding of the Abbey – the second such one after Grimbergen. The Abbey was named Flos Mariae – The Flower of Mary, and soon became known for the legend of the altar stone. The Abbey chronicles reveal that while celebrating mass, St Norbert saw a drop of blood issuing from the sacred host (bread) onto the paten (offering plate). This sight was confirmed also by the deacon, and further miracles were said to have happened in 1204 and 1254 on the occasion of the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, where blood leaked from the remnant of the True Cross kept at the Abbey. This has since been relocated but remains within the rich history of Floreffe.

Following the French Revolution, the Abbots were expelled and although they did eventually return, they were never able to muster the numbers to continue the order,  and so the Bishop of Namur turned the buildings into a seminary in the early 1800’s. It is still a training school for priests to this day and I ended up here in the summer driving through the town. It’s a fairly attractive place to wander around, and there is a bar that sells the Floreffe range of beers. The tourist shop sells them but stupidly you can’t buy a pack with all the different beers and the price was ridiculous anyhow.

The beer was drunk after its best before date, but that doesn’t normally affect good Belgians that have been stored well. The beer really looked the part throughout the whole experience – dark and rich with a solid creamy head that barely flinched as I quaffed it. The aroma promised profound flavours but it really never delivered even from the off. Maybe there were some darker flavours somewhere in there but like the beginning of the second half of the England game I was watching I soon began to lose interest.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Lefebvre

#25 – Leffe Brune

#25 - Leffe Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

Almost every UK supermarket now seems to stock Leffe, in both 330ml and 750ml varieties. Since being taken over, most recently by In-Bev, the saturated marketing ploy is clearly evident. It hasn’t always been this way however, as Leffe was first brewed almost 800 years ago by the monks of St. Norbert, at a small abbey on the Meuse river in Dinant, Namur. Things went well until the 1460s when the Abbey was first flooded and then invaded by Burgundian troops. It took until 1719 for a new church to be consecrated on the site, but the good days didn’t last long, as the French Revolution took its toll on the Abbey when it was continually vandalised and eventually abandoned under Republic Law.

The Abbey saw further immeasurable grief during World War I until once again the Norbertine monks took control of the Abbey in the 1950s and eventually made a deal with the brewer Albert Lootvoet to re-launch the production of Leffe beers, starting with Leffe Brune. It seemed to work wonders, and the rest of the Leffe brands followed. 1977 was a pivotal year in which the Artois brewery came in and took control, but I will leave that story for the next Leffe beer (#41).

Leffe Brune is readily available but shouldn’t be underestimated. It is a fine drink with a good solid chocolate coloured appearance and a sweet smell. The taste is cloved and malty and stays to the end. This beer won’t win prizes but is certainly value for money.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, InBev (Belgium)