Tag Archives: oak

#146 – Vichtenaar

#146 - Vichtenaar

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.1 %

The claim to fame often laid at the feet of the Flemish oud-bruin Vichtenaar, is that it is the family favourite. This isn’t just any old family either, when you consider that since 1817, the Verhaeghe clan have been brewing in this area of West Flanders. Even now they dominate the local culture and own approximately 15 pubs and bars in the local area.

The name of the beer is in reference to the tiny village of Vichte, which has been the home to the brewing operations since 1875. Before this, the Verhaeghe’s were holed up in the village of Kuurne. The present owner of the brewery is Karl Verhaeghe and he is extremely keen to keep the family traditions running. It was his great-grandfather who started things off at the brewery in Vichte, armed with his own maltery and copper brew-kettles. These were removed by the Germans during World War I, when Paul refused to brew for the occupants, and the maltery has long since been closed, but much else remains the same – this includes many of the large oak casks, and the koelschip, although this is no longer used.

Paul Verhaeghe carried on the running of the brewery until 1928 when he handed it over to his two sons, Leon and Victor. It would then be another 44 years until they handed over to their sons, Jacque and Pierre. I just love the way that this arrangement is still present in so many breweries in Belgium. This isn’t just a nostalgic look at the way breweries used to be; this is real life, and this is a proper brewery. Beers like Vichtenaar win prizes and turn heads.

The brewing and fermentation process for Vichtenaar is virtually the same as the Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105), except that the beer remains unblended. It is aged in oak casks for eight months and then simply bottled. The result is a typical sour red-brown ale which tantalises the tastebuds. There isn’t a great deal of difference between the two but I would venture that the Vichtenaar is somewhat sweeter, although without the two together it’s hard to compare. I will save that for another night.

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Filed under 8, Lion, Sour Ale, Verhaeghe

#102 – Echt Kriekenbier

#102 - Echt Kriekenbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Echt Kriekenbier is a famous traditional Flemish cherry ale made by Verhaeghe, and is based on the brew Vichtenaar (#146). After being matured in oak casks for about eight months, in a similar style to the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), a batch of the Vichtenaar is not taken for sale, but is left to mature in the oak casks and filled with very local and very sour cherries. A selection of different aged casks of this fine concoction are then blended together (usually between one and three years) and then bottled for our delectation.

It is worth making the point here and now that this is a kriekenbier and not a kriek! There is a subtle difference as all aficionados will tell you, in that one is not officially allowed to call a kriek a kriek unless it contains lambic beer. Kriekenbier refers to any other possible fusion – which I suppose could include steeping in sour ales, stout or even wheat beer. Like the Bacchus Frambozenbier (#38) the Echt Kriekenbier is mixed with an Oud Bruin. It is worth making the distinction as other sour ales exist which are known as red ales, such as the Duchesse de Bourgogne (#105), also from Verhaeghe.

The Echt Kriekenbier is an impressive brew, actually not unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru, although there is slightly less of it in the 250 ml bottles. The Echt in the title refers to the adjective in the German and Dutch languages meaning ‘genuine’ or ‘authentic’. My mum will vouch for this through her screwed up face on having a sip of what I cheekily told her was a cherry beer. At least I didn’t have to waste any more, and it’s a good sign as if my mum likes a beer you know its probably bad !

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Filed under 7, Brewers, Lion, Sour Ale, Verhaeghe

#78 – Lindemans Kriek

#78 - Lindemans Kriek

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 3.5 %

It is remarkable to think that it has taken 78 beverages of the Belgian variety to finally cross paths with a Kriek. I am not a massive fan of cherries, especially the darker kind that are traditionally used in beers, but it is almost impossible to drink a decent Kriek and not enjoy it. Lindemans is hardly the pinnacle of Lambic, but this Kriek is a seriously tasty little number.

Kriek is a recognised style of Belgian Beer, which is historically and traditionally created by fermenting authentic lambic beer with sour cherries. The addition of the cherries tends to kick-start a brand new fermentation in the oak barrels over a period of usually six to twelve months, by which time the residue is filtered and bottled for the delectation of the customer. This is the hardcore purist Kriek methodology, but it can be manufactured slightly to ensure similar results. As an example, Lindemans recognise the limited availability of the “schaerbeekse” cherries which traditionally comprise the Kriek, and therefore have developed a methodology whereby they add pure cherry juice to the lambic blends of different ages. I will certainly come across more pure Kriek lambics on this journey whereby either real cherries will be steeped in the vat, or even the rare “schaerbeekse”, however the resultant Lindemans was good enough for me.

The good news for those in the UK, is that this beer is readily available in most supermarkets at a reasonable price. Just make sure if you take one to a picnic that you have a corkscrew, as this is not something you would normally need to open a beer. Once you finally prize out the cork, you are faced with the startling cherry vapour and then the wonderful smells on pouring. The deep red colour was eerily sanguine, and although sweet on the tongue, was equally sour enough to remind us of the spontaneous fermentation. I have to say this is a fruit beer that will satisfy more the everyday drinker than the connoisseur, but surely even they wouldn’t turn this down on a warm summers day. It’s even perfectly designed to be a drink for a designated driver at 3.5%, assuming of course they know when to stop!

(Post-Script) – the first real opportunity to taste a pure kriek lambic came with the Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic (#95).

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Filed under 8, Lambic - Fruit, Lindemans

#42 – Bacchus

#42 - Bacchus

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.5 %

We have already come across a Bacchus (#38) whereby raspberries were added to brown ale – well this is the brown ale in question – Bacchus Vlaams Oud Bruin. ‘Oud Bruin’ is Flemish for Old Brown, distinguishing the colour from other local sour ales like Rodenbach, which tend to be red, and ‘Vlaams’ is Flemish for … well ‘Flemish’ – Flemish Brown Ale.

When we drunk and purred over the Rodenbach Grand Cru (#17), we learnt that the sour ale is made by oak-aging the beers in order to mature them. It is this process which gives the beers of East and West Flanders their unique acidity. The oak-aged conditioning introduces a similar lactate fermentation to the lambic beers (#12) except that there are less natural yeasts around thus the product isn’t quite so extreme. The brewers also add a dab of acetic acid at this stage to get the flavour going – something taboo for lambics.

The best sour ales of this kind are made in oak-vats and usually kept for two years, although some breweries might resort to using steel casks, or even trying to get the oaky effect by suspending particles of wood in their brews. Van Honsebrouck are reliant on a ‘koelschip’, which is essentially a large vat in the roof where the wort is left to attract natural yeasts just as lambic beers do. It all adds to the breweries attempts to recreate the good old days – even the new paper label of the old bloke with the beer is a typical Flemish old-time image.

The label also reflects the aging process used with the quotation ‘met wijnsmaak’ – meaning ‘with wine taste’, and its fair to say this brew is a little similar. My over-riding impression was that this was like a fruit beer without the fruit – a frambozenbier without the frambozen. It’s certainly sour on opening, and it rightly pongs but it isn’t overpowering on drinking. It looks the part, is pleasant to drink, but it doesn’t really set any standards – unlike the Rodenbach Grand Cru.

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Filed under 7, Sour Ale, Van Honsebrouck

#12 – Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

#12 - Timmermans Tradition Gueuze

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

This is a tough ask – to sum up Gueuze in a paragraph or two. How can one possibly do that without delving deep into the world of lambic? Well here’s the whistle-stop tour. We can wade deeper into the effluent as the journey continues.

OK. Lambics are beers but not as we know it. They require wild yeasts that sit in the air in the Payottenland area around Brussels to ferment the beer, and they sit for long periods open to this natural process. They do indeed use hops, but only the oldest ones, and so the usual beer flavours are barely noticeable. It is a combination of these two circumstances that cause Lambic based beers to be sour, acetic and somewhat an acquired taste. Gueuze is the by-product of carefully combining these lambics, and so by mixing older ones with younger ones, blenders are able to sweeten the final result. This occurs as the younger lambics have yet to fully ferment and so the fermentable sugars start to work on the combination – the end result being Gueuze.

Timmermans have been making Gueuze since 1781, and despite now being subsumed into the Anthony Martins group, they still retain their ancestry in the staff and identity in their brand. I get the feeling this was a pretty tame Gueuze to begin with. It was particularly sweet and I expect the brewery intended this to make it more marketable alongside a number of their other fruit lambics. The sweeter a Gueuze, the more able it is to mask the often difficult flavours behind it. This tasted more like a flat cidery champagne to me, as I kind of expected. There were some hints of grapefruit in there which added to the sourness somewhat. I have certainly lain my hat in the strong Belgian ale and Abbey Dubbel brands, and so this was an interesting diversion. I can’t say I am a true fan yet !

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Filed under 5, Lambic - Gueuze, Timmermans