Tag Archives: Moortgat

#185 – N’Ice Chouffe

#185 - N'Ice Chouffe

Size: cask

ABV: 10 %

If you still believe in Father Christmas, as well as little elves, goblins and gnomes then please look away now. In fact I would suggest immersing yourself in the fairy tale of La Chouffe (#168) rather than reading on any further. I had previously written that La Chouffe beer was once made by gnomes from golden nectar that flowed from a sacred spring, however I wish to make it clear that this is categorically not the case.

I realise this may come as something of a shock to many regular readers and beer aficionados, but the story of the gnomes is just a cruel marketing ploy by the brewers at Achouffe to lure small bearded men in bright clothing to drink their beers. Not long after the brothers-in-law Chris Bauweraerts and Pierre Gobron had set up their hobby-cum-brewery, Chris had spotted the logo of a dwarf on a painting used by a local charity to raise money for victims of a storm. The image had such an effect on him that the very next day the brothers were conducting a business meeting to discuss using a similar design for their beer label. The fact that Chouffe is Wallonian dialect for a gnome or dwarf, and is almost identical to the spelling of the place where the beer was brewed, was in fact just a brilliant coincidence.

Pierre commissioned a work colleagues daughter to knock up a drawing for them, and the rest just fell into place, with the brothers then able to conduct a fantastical fairy tale, set amongst the idyllic Ardennes countryside. The whole thing was a perfect marketeers dream – even the valley where the brewery sits is known locally as the Vallee des Fees, (the Valley of the Fairies).

Nobody would surely though deny these gentlemen this slight twisting of the truth. What started as a hobby when Gobron quit his day job in 1982 was big enough in cash and potential to lure Duvel Moortgat to invest heavily in the venture in 2006, therefore continuing to safeguard the very future of the brewery. It is a massive success story

I finished my night in the Rake with the breweries winter offering – the unfiltered N’Ice Chouffe on cask, which turned out to be another fine brew. A malty thick soup of spicy cheer, that bulged in your mouth with every swill. The flavours are imparted through the addition of thyme and curacao, although by this stage of the evening I was far too busy lamenting the fact that the elves of Achouffe do not exist to bother with the finer details of the beer.

(Thanks to http://www.beerobsessed.com for the picture)

Leave a comment

Filed under 8, Achouffe, Belgian Strong Ale

#184 – ‘T Smisje Dubbel

#184 - 'T Smisje Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

I continued my adventure in the Rake with another beer from ‘T Smisje. The Tripel (#183) had been so good that I opted for the darker double, and am therefore quickly able to continue the story of Johan Brandt following his move of premises to Mater in Oudenaarde.

Between 1995 and 2008 as De Regenboog, the brewery was famous for an extensive range of experimental beers in the traditional style, pulling on interesting and distinctive ingredients, fruits, herbs and spices. Brandt had tried beers made with mustard seeds (Wostyntje), valerian root and lemon balm (BBBourgondier), honey and raisins (Guido), and sloes (Sleedornbier). Brandt had also worked his magic on maturing an ale for six months in Calvados barrels (Calva Reserva), very much in the style of similar beers from de Struise, Alvinne and de Dolle breweries.

In 2010 however it was with regret that I heard that Brandt had decided to take a break from the wide range of beers, and to concentrate his efforts on one or two house beers. Only a new blond hoppy ale called Smiske survives, with a seasonal variant at Christmas to be produced. He hasn’t closed the door entirely though, and has given beer lovers the chance to still get their hands on one historic recipe per year if ten thousand people on Facebook will sign a petition for it. This has recently worked for the Duvel Tripel Hop, although I would hope in keeping with his fine traditions, Brandt doesn’t rip off his customers at 15 Euros a pop, as Moortgat did.

So it is with regret that this ‘T Smisje Dubbel was possibly the last one I would ever taste. In true Brandt fashion, this was no ordinary dubbel, having been made since 1997 with fresh dates and honey. At 9% strength it is also clearly no run of the mill double, abounding with plenty of guts and a sweetness that simply blows you away. I still probably reckon this is about the best beer I have ever had the pleasure of trying in a bar. My only regret was that I had taken the only one left in the overstocked refrigerators of The Rake. I will continue to look for it on my journeys into Belgium in the older and more eclectic beer stores, or else I may just have to hope a petition of like-minded souls can coerce Mr Brandt to somehow recreate this masterpiece.

 

4 Comments

Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#179 – Duivels Bier

#179 - Duivels Bier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is yet another tale of a modern beer with a very rich and gothic history. Frank Boon (#89, #147) our hero and defender of lambic put Duivels Bier on the market in 2003 – a very unassuming looking dark beer amidst a sea of high quality lambic and gueuze. He had once enjoyed a beer called Duivelsbier which was produced by Vander Linden. Sadly this was another regional brewery who bit the bullet during challenging times, and Frank, just as he did with lambic, could not bear to sit by while this favourite beer rotted into extinction.

The original Duivelsbier was the first of its kind in Belgium to appellate itself to the Devil. In 1883 the brewery in Halle known as Petre Freres started brewing a Scotch Ale that was made with the raw materials of a Faro, yet with English hops and yeast. It did so well that in 1900 Joseph Petre won a “Grand Prix” award, and by 1916 the town of Halle was famous for it. It would still be another eight years until the famous beer from Moortgat would title its beer after the Devil (#34). This would eventually lead to quite a fierce rivalry for the name.

The brewery Petre Freres unfortunately lost its way after the Second World War, and in 1952 was taken over by Vander Linden who acquired the brand name of the Devils beer, and repackaged it in enamel 33cl bottles. In 1958 they further upped the stakes with a switch to a darkly gothic label and font – one not at all dissimilar from that of the most well known beer named after the Devil as illustrated below.

Gothic Label

The rise and fall of each beer over the next forty or so years is most appropriately indicated by the fact that when Frank Boon repackaged Duivels Bier in 2003 he was not best placed to recreate the original gothic labels so as to distinguish itself from Duvel.

The two beers are of course very different. Duvel is a famous golden ale, whereas the original Duivelsbier from Halle was much darker, sour and spontaneously fermented. Frank Boon has kept the new Duivels Bier a much more steady brown offering. It is fairly sweet and yet remains dry on the palate with hints of malt and chestnuts. It is thick enough to discern itself from other similar beers but for me is still rather living in the shadow of a beer that in a previous life was once its apprentice.

10 Comments

Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Boon

#169 – Lucifer (pre 2008)

#169 - Lucifer

Size: 750 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

There is almost a frightening symbolism to the fate of the beer Lucifer. Here was a strong golden ale which stood proud and strong in the pantheon of beers, and yet following the bankruptcy of the Riva brewery it found itself cast down into Purgatory.

Lucifer, as the beer label of the pre-2008 beer will attest, is a name nowadays widely used to describe the devil himself. Interestingly however this particular reference is never used in the Bible. In fact according to the Old Testament, Lucifer refers to the latin term lucern ferre meaning ‘light bearer’, referring to the rising of the Morning Star (the planet Venus).Throughout religious antiquities, stars have often been commonly regarded as living celestial beings, and it has commonly been believed that shooting stars are in fact fallen angels. One such famous fallen angel from Apocalyptic literature is Lucifer.

Lucifer was though not just any old angel – he was the favourite archangel of God, only second in command after his own son Jesus Christ. His light which shone more brightly than all the others reflected his perfect form and powerful intellect. So the story goes that he began to seriously believe in his own hype and became intensely jealous of God’s son, believing that it should be he, and only he, at God’s side. He began to appeal to the other Angels who he promised he could offer a better life, not only as replacement as God’s deputy, but inevitably as God himself. The Angels of Heaven watched on in horror as Lucifer managed to stir up a rebellion against God, who sat passively with his security blanket of omnipotence watching the malevolence play out.

Thus it was that Lucifer, the light-bearer and sharer of God’s glory became Satan, God’s adversary. The battle of good and evil began to play out, and once satisfied that Lucifer could not be saved, God inevitably expelled him and his rioting angels from Heaven. Lucifer had been cast off and forced to seek his revenge on mankind. The same of course was true for the beer. When Riva could no longer afford to pay the bills, Duvel Moortgat came in to offer a lifeline, although inevitably opted to give more attention to the fruit beers inherited from Riva. The beer deserved better, and eventually an agreement was made with het Anker to re-launch and re-brand the beer. Lucifer, the fallen Angel was given another chance at redemption. God’s work is seemingly playing out in the kettles and tuns of East Flanders.

I managed to get my hands on a 750 ml bottle of the original pre-2008 Lucifer. It was a strong golden ale, very much of course in the image of Duvel (#34) and Judas (#5), particularly fruity, but somehow lacking in the depth of the former and ending up more in similarity with the less impressive latter. It was not quite as good as I remember it had been in older days, but I had taken my Belgian beer drinking much more seriously since then. I will be keen to try the new reformed Lucifer just to see if the light truly has returned to this famous beer.

Leave a comment

Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Riva (defunct)

#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

#151 – Straffe Hendrik

#151 - Straffe Hendrik

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Straffe Hendrik hasn’t always had things it’s own way. Life certainly hasn’t always been kind, and the fact that the beer is still alive and tastes so damn good is one of the great miracles of Belgian beer.

The original Straffe Hendrik beer was only launched in 1981, by the Brouwerij de Halve Maan. It weighed in at about 7.5% – 8%, and was only available in small kegs. It was named after the original brewer of the Die Maene (The Moon) brewery, as it was back then. His name was Leon Maes, but was affectionately known as Henri I. The beer was particularly potent, and thus it became known in Flemish as Heavy Henry (Straffe Hendrik). The beer is thus greatly symbolic of the brewery, as a succession of head brewers were all sequentially named Henri.

The symbolism of the beer was such, that in 1988, the Riva brewery took over the brand name. It continued to be brewed in Bruges though, until 2002 when the whole package moved to Riva in Dentergem. This was where things seriously began to go amiss for Hendrik. The quality of the beer began to mysteriously subside, and the ABV soon dropped as low as 6%. Hendrik was losing his weight fast, and like an aging prize fighter, he was hanging on to the ropes to retain what reputation he had left. The poor quality though soon had a devastating effect on the Liefmans Breweries (of which Riva was one), who went backrupt in 2007. Duvel Moortgat took them over, and immediately closed the plant. Heavy Henry was dead on his feet waiting for the count.

It was never to come though. In 2008, the nostalgic hands at De Halve Maan made an agreement with Duvel Moortgat to buy back the brand of Straffe Hendrik, and within months, Henry was back, this time as an utterly delicious 9% Tripel. I had spent the morning with the folks wandering the sights of the old town of Bruges, and while everyone else was happy to stop for a croque monsieur and a coffee, I was gagging for a beer. I had recently read about the revival of Henry, and where better to try it out than its’ spiritual home. It was absolutely perfect – creamy, sweet, bitter and potent and the perfect accompaniment to some local cuisine. An hour later, like a dazed boxer, I stumbled back into the afternoon sun, knowing full well I would be back for plenty more Henry this weekend.

(Post-Script) – In late 2010, Henry was re-united with his old brother. For a time while at Riva, a dark Straffe Hendrik beer was introduced, although of course it really wasn’t working for them at the time. The Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel is a dark complex beer weighing at 11% and is definitely on my hit-list for my next trip to Bruges.

4 Comments

Filed under 9, Abbey Tripel, de Halve Maan

#122 – De Koninck Tripel

#122 - De Koninck Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

If you asked me to describe what Antwerp means to me I would probably say three things. Diamonds – shouldn’t it have been Antwerp where James Bond had the infamous fight in the lift in Diamonds are Forever? Nausea – the worst whitey I have ever had in my life was after an errant Norwegian persuaded me one fateful night to stick a wad of snus on my gums (which I forgot about until the headspins began) . Finally, it has to be the Kulminator bar – the best ever Chimay Grand Reserve (#45) aged and served from the cellar. The hangover though was crippling.

Ask any Antwerpian however and you might get a different answer. The Schelde – the famous river which dissects the town is the lifeblood of the city. The Zoo – apparently so? The most likely answer though would be De Koninck beer. Probably no beer in Belgium is so intrinsically linked to a city than De Koninck. The beer started being brewed here as far back as 1933, and has been as popular with locals ever since.

The phenomenon may be more of a regional thing though. On my wanderings through Belgium I rarely see it out of Antwerp, which considering 114,000 hectolitres is produced annually is quite remarkable. The brewery reckons 35% leaves the country though, most to the Dutch, and you have probably as much chance of seeing it in Amsterdam as you will in Brussels. Go to Antwerp however and you have no chance of escaping the influence. In any bar, it really is a part of the furniture.

Recent events are worrying the locals though, with Duvel Moortgat only a few days ago acquiring 100% of the shares in De Koninck. It is fair to say that De Konick have had better days – there was a time when they would brew up to 140,000 hectolitres a year, but their beers now only equate to about half a percent of the overall Belgian beer market, and as the world recession hits us all, it is wielding its stick particularly on café culture in Belgium. Drinkers have less money, and as De Koninck is very much an Antwerp café beer (present in at least a hundred cafes in Antwerp alone), it is a worrying sign. La Chouffe is an example of a relationship with Duvel Moortgat that has worked well and we keep our fingers crossed that De Koninck is able to keep its head above the froth.

As for the De Koninck Tripel, which came highly recommended I might add, I would bestow a consistent 7. As the beer is made with biological South American cane sugar, as opposed to the typical Belgian white sugar, I had expected a sweet, thick glutenous beverage, but it was much lighter, and I just couldn’t recreate the head that dominates the advertising. If it meant buying a crate to keep De Koninck from selling up (and out) though, then I’d be happy keeping this as a safety beer.

(Post-Script) – Antwerp has never been renowned as the party capital of Europe, but I seem to have had my fair share of debauchery here. It was only after racking my brains further on what Antwerp means to me, that I recalled getting detained by the police on a long walk back to my hotel. I had rather unintelligently chosen the main police office wall to urinate against. I have made better decisions in my life.

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, De Koninck