Tag Archives: Norbertine

#247 – Tongerlo Christmas

#247 - Tongerlo Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I have slowly been working my way through the Tongerlo collection; a fact made more noticeable by the recent re-marketing of the beers and adaptation of styles. I first tried the very average Tripel Blonde (#30) where I was able to introduce the brewing at the Abbey. I then followed up with the slightly better Dubbel Bruin (#137); and a look at the Norbertine monks. The latest offering is the Tongerlo Christmas beer, and now a closer look at the history of the Abbey.

The religious community at Tongerlo was formed in 1133 by a group of monks from the Norbertine Abbey of St Michael of Antwerp, who had been invited by the wealthy landowner Giselbert Castelre to settle on his Tongerlo estate. The monks were characterised by the Norbertine traditions which was a popular and modern movement at the time. The Abbey grew in power through the 13th Century as a papal bull placed Tongerlo at the centre of a number of parish churches in the region. Numbers soon grew on the estate and the community began to spread itself wider. The remit of the Abbey steadily became more powerful, and the buildings grew in size with the best local architects enhancing the beauty of the place.

The rise to prominence was only checked in the 16th Century when the Abbey fell under the strongly Catholic stronghold of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.Rome began to increase taxes and salaries from Tongerlo considerably, and it was only in 1629 under the Calvinist revolt that Tongerlo was spared. It was probably a case of ‘better the devil you know’ however as the Calvinists banned all Catholic worship and many monks were exiled away from their parishes. Things became even worse in 1796 when the French Revolution swept into town and the Abbey came under private ownership. It was as late as 1838 when the Belgian state came into being, that a religious community found its way back to Tongerlo. The brothers have largely remained ever since; with just a brief sojourn at the Abbey of Leffe when a huge fire swept through and destroyed many of the buildings in 1929.

The Tongerlo Christmas is not your traditional dark Christmas fayre. It pours a rusty copper colour with a small and unassuming head. The hint of vanilla on the nose wasn’t completely lost on me, although I struggled to reach the same conclusion once it hit my tastebuds. It was a fairly fruity and enjoyable beer which just lacked any unique characteristics which might have led me to recommend it any further. Essentially if Father Christmas was buying you a sack full of Christmas beers this yuletide you might be a bit disappointed with too many of these.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, Haacht

#137 – Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

#137 - Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

This is the second dabbling I have had with the beers of Tongerlo, my first stop being the Tongerlo Tripel Blonde (#30) which gave me a chance to introduce the Abbey which so elegantly adorns the beers labels. The abbey is famous for its Norbertine traditions, but just what sets aside a Norbertine from say a Cistercian, or a Trappist?

It all stems funnily enough from St. Norbert, who was a migrant preacher that founded the religious community of Premontre in France in 1121. The influential teachings here spread like wildfire, and the Norbertines or Premonstratensians were soon involved in the beginnings of Tongerlo Abbey in 1133. You may also recall he was the founder of Grimbergen Abbey (#8).

The main difference in the Norbertines of the Premonstratensian order was that they weren’t exactly monks, they were canons regular. It’s a subtle difference, one in which I am trying manfully to get my head round – especially as the orders and expectations manifest themselves so differently through time. Essentially the Norbertines originally based their traditions on the Cistercian (#94), and Augustinian ways, in that they were seeking a more austere way of being, but fundamentally they acted as canons regular, and therefore did not lead the true monastic contemplative life. They had far more responsibility in looking to minister to those outside the abbeys, and were if you like, the link between the inner sanctum of the monks, and the wider secular clergy. A subtle difference but one which saved the canon regulars from the long choral duties, and systemic moral reproofs which characterised the monks lives.

At the end of the day though, they were bonded by the brewing of the beer, and I say amen to that. The Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin itself was a safe brown. Thinner and fizzier than I expected, but with the subtle maltiness that you expect from a decent brown beer. At 6% it didn’t have the kick of some darker Belgians but is one I wouldn’t have a problem drinking again.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht

#30 – Tongerlo Tripel Blond

#30 - Tongerlo Tripel Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The date on the label of the Tongerlo beer says 1133. If I’m not mistaken that’s – er – 876 years of brewing beers? Apparently true.

The monastic community of the Norbertine Abbey of Tongerlo was founded in the same year, and like all good monks, they didn’t mess around in getting the beers brewed. We have Abbot Waltman and Bishop Burchard of Kamerijk to thank for this, and the subsequent rise of Tongerlo abbey as a powerful centre of religion and culture.

The usual history affected the abbey throughout the middle ages with secular powers and Calvinism haranguing the occupants, but it was only eventually World War I that put a final nail in the coffin of the brewing at the abbey, when the German occupying forces looted the abbey of the copper stills to make armaments. It was only in 1989 that the beer was re-launched by Haacht, and the Norbertine traditions (#137) were once more reignited in this beautiful area.

With a seriously blocked nose it probably wasn’t wise to waste a beer as I was unlikely to taste much, but I doubted it would be a classic. The beer poured golden with an initially thick head, with not much of a smell and to be honest not much of a taste (who knows?). This seemed a fairly routine blonde which definitely tastes of 8% but remains fairly anonymous. Pretty average fare in all with bit of a kick to it. I blame the Germans 😉

(Post-Script) – I have since learnt that this beer is now retired, to be replaced by the stronger and yet untested Tongerlo Prior Tripel.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Haacht

#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)

#8 – Grimbergen Blond

#8 - Grimbergen Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.7 %

In 1128 St Norbert of Xanten built a majestic abbey for the eponymously named Norbertine canons of the time in a quiet place called Grimbergen. It is very unusual for an Abbey to have actually been established by the founding of an order, and these religious fellows were famously reknowned for their hospitality and especially their homebrew.  The Norbertines, or the Praemonstratensians started life near Reims in French Champagne country and moved northwards. The original building, like many other abbeys, has been knocked down and rebuilt many times throughout history, including 1796 when Napoleon decided to shut up shop, however a beautiful church remains left in the town as a reminder of former glories. Much of this is due to the rebuild which happened in the 1830s after the Abbey had been secularised, and further restorations continued in the 1920s to ensure it is now among one of Belgium’s prettiest churches.

Brewing probably started at the Grimbergen Abbey in the 1600s and only stopped due to the French Revolution. The rich brewing traditions however passed to Maes brewery in 1958 at the monks own request, and this alliance has continued even despite Maes merging with the Alken brewery in 1978 to form Alken-Maes – who now comprise part of the larger Heineken chain. Confusing, but at least the Grimbergen range with its immense brewing history is still going strong today.

This beer smacks of gold; with its vivid colour and smooth texture. There were few bubbles and barely any head to report, and the first taste was fairly lagery but going down it hinted at more. On a session night in beautiful rural Cornwall, this beer proved very drinkable, perhaps too so at the 6.7% strength. It needs perhaps to do more though to impress and really was just a bit too sweet in the end.

(Post-Script) – A better beer, which I often use in cooking, is the Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), which strangely was up next on my list, although the pick of the range is probably the Optimo Bruno (#194). Not that that is a ringing endorsement for what is essentially a pretty average bunch of beers.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Alken-Maes, Belgian Ale, Phoenix