Tag Archives: Piraat

#237 – du Boucanier Christmas

#237 - du Boucanier Christmas

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5%

When you drink 9.5% beers it tends to have an effect on your mental faculties. Of course the range of dysfunction will tend to depend on the number of 9.5% beers consumed however it certainly takes less of these to get to that happy maladjusted state. Once I had got around to polishing off the Biere du Boucanier Christmas I was keen to ask the question – so how do pirates celebrate Christmas?

It’s not something I’m sure many people have ever thought about and once I was sober again I realised it was a stupid question. I have to admit to searching on Google in the extremely optimistic hope that somebody had published a university paper on the subject. Aside from finding a plethora of Christmas carols which had been butchered to fit a jaunty nautical theme or a number of children’s storybooks I found very little. What was I hoping for? A Christmas tree plundered from an island and tied to the mast? Boozed up buccaneers passed out around the wireless waiting for the Kings speech?

I am surprised though that the marketeers haven’t yet cashed in on the festive piratical theme when it comes to the du Boucanier range of beers – they seem to have covered everything else. The beers are brewed by Van Steenberge but marketed and distributed by a company called Icobes. The portfolio of beers consists of the Blonde Ale, a Red Ale (#27), a Dark Ale (#174), and this Christmas Ale. There is also a Buccaneer Old Reserve beer which seems to use the same theme but is actually the same beer as the Bornem Tripel. This is also the same brewery which makes the much tastier Piraat 9 (#15), and Piraat 10.5. Clearly somebody at Van Steenberge likes pirates, and Icobes certainly feel there is a market given the merchandise available.

The beers, in particular the flagship (excuse the pun) Blonde Ale are sold in anything from 33cl bottles, six pack gift boxes and 750ml bottles, to Magnums, Jeroboams and the mighty Salmanazar. These are largely for one-off brews such as the Grand Reserve 3rd Millenium, and the Grand Reserve Prestige du Brasseur, although I have never seen any of these and given the dated nature of the company website can only assume the novelty of the du Boucanier beers has waned in recent years. If anyone wants to put this to the test the following can be ordered for Christmas presents:- T shirts, baseball caps, posters, mirrors, enamelled pins, picture frames, bandannas and shawls, as well as the regular beer mats, gift sets and beer glasses. You can also buy the boot shaped 0.5l glass which was discovered in the du Boucanier Dark Ale (#174). I rarely see these beers anymore although still cling to the hope of trying the popular Blonde Ale some day.

The Christmas beer itself though was really quite disappointing. While the Red and the Dark Ales hadn’t exactly been seminal brews they did at least have some redeeming features, whereas this high strength amber could and should have delivered so much more. It’s a style of beer that I am particularly fond of, but there was very little flavour to the beer, aside from a pineapple tinge and the extra strength offered no increase in character in any way. It will get you pissed though which is at least something when you have had enough of the relatives on Christmas day.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Van Steenberge

#88 – Zwijntje

#88 - Zwijntje

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Everything I need to discuss about Zwijntje is covered on the label. There is a piglet holding a coat of arms, while sitting on a mound of flowers in front of an old windmill. So what exactly does this excerpt from some bizarre hallucination actually represent?

Firstly, we should explain the pig – Zwijntje is the diminutive version of Zwijn, which translated nicely into English means ‘swine’ or ‘pig’. Zwijntje being the diminutive suggests a piglet, or piggy. I wasn’t quite sure why Van Steenberge would create a beer named after a pig and so I did some digging and discovered that the beer was created for the people of Zwijnaarde, a village about 7km from the centre of Ghent. One can only assume that the pig reference is based on the towns name which essentially means “field of pigs”.

The town is identified clearly on the label, with the coat of arms of Zwijnaarde and the windmill in the background, which was built originally in the 18th Century and has been a protected monument in Zwijnaarde since 1945. The village being completely ruralised (although now intersected by the A10/E17 and A14/E40) tends to be illustrated by the flowers and the windmill. There is now a large industrial area on the edge of the town, and a number of scientific companies are based there, with connections to recent innovations in treating swine flu – no doubt something based around this beer.

The beer itself seems to be based on the stable Augustijn brew of the Van Steenberge farm brewery. It is likely according to the back label of the beer that Zwijntje is tweaked from the mother brew rather than directly lifted and copied, although this is common practice at Van Steenberge, with the Augustijn beer.

Whatever the origin though, this is a damn fine beer. It is a rich amber gold colour, which lets you know its strength from the off, and in between hits you with twangs of oranges and honey. In the background, the flavour is maintained with the dry faint sniff of hops. This very much reminded me of Piraat 9 (#15), and is one beer I will seek out again for the summer months, or of course if I desperately need a remedy for swine flu.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Pig, Van Steenberge

#80 – Biere du Corsaire

#80 - Biere du Corsaire

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.4 %

Pirates (#15), buccaneers (#27), and now corsairs. It would appear it truly is cool to be a seadog in Belgium. Corsairs were more on a par with buccaneers than they were with pirates, in that their acts of piracy were also sanctioned by a letter of Marque. It is from this that the name derives. The King of France during the middle ages sought to weaken his enemies in the foreign trade routes, and thus would legalise the acts of piracy through a “Lettre de Course” – the same thing as a Lettre de Marque. ‘La course’ tended to be a euphemism at the time for chasing down foreign merchant shipping, and it is from this word that the term Corsaire was derived.

The line between pirate and corsair is a fine one, with the Letter de Course giving the benefactor the right to only attack state enemies. Any raids upon friendly or neutral parties would render the crew pirates, and thus almost certainly hangable upon capture. This method of foreign warfare worked brilliantly for the French king, who severely dented the progress and wealth of the Spanish and English at the time, particularly in the Caribbean. In fact, the use of Corsairs also unwittingly had a positive effect on the engineering of boats during this golden age. As the Spanish and English sought to avoid capture from the increasing number of mercenaries, so did their efforts to improve the technology, speed and manoeuvrability of their fleet. Corsairs have been credited with the introduction of the topsail and the gaff rig, and eventually for the designs that led to the Genovese and Bermuda sails.

The golden days of the Corsair had to come to an end, and this was precipitated in 1706 when the Treaty of Utrecht effectively put an end to the Corsair raids in the Caribbean, and although there remained a trend to continue across the world, the change in the French state in 1815 effectively shut down the practice. It wasn’t until the Congress of Vienna however in 1856 that the use of Corsairs was officially ended.

The beer of course still exists, no doubt a hankering back to the romantic swashbuckling age. It started on the wrong foot with the pour, which looked more like pineapple juice – fair in colour and littered with soupy strands of something! It redeemed itself on the palate though, with strong and very fruity overtones. It would have had to have been strong to keep on long journeys overseas, and in the end this effort seemed to have a detrimental effect on the overall experience, which faded from the memory as the beer continued. Like many of Huyghe’s brews outside the Delirium range, this is more a white elephant !

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Huyghe

#57 – Hopduvel Blondine

#57 - Hopduvel Blondine

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 9 %

While we are on the subject of blondes, it seems almost the perfect time to introduce the ‘blond/e beer’. When you have a beer called Blondine and a label with a beautiful blonde on it, I doubt there will be a better time to talk about it. I decided to find a translation of Blondine, and discovered it seems to mean the preparation used to bleach ones hair blond. It sounded synthetic and to be honest, I feared the worst.

I have always felt that brown or amber beers are my personal favourites. Just like I prefer red wine to white. My rationale was that average brown or amber beers, and red wines can be well hidden, but an average blond beer or white wine gets shown up. I still think this is true. A good blonde is a real treat, but its much harder to get right. Whether this is true for the female species I shall leave up to everyone else, although again my personal preference has always been the brunette.

Blonde ales tend to be offered by most breweries. You get the feeling that many brewers secretly share my thoughts above, but feel that there is a definite market out there for blonde beers. Again it is this stereotypical view that most beer drinkers would prefer to drink unimaginative blonde lagers. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate this view, as I thought the Piraat 9 (#15) for example was immense, but there appears to be some degree of truth in there somewhere.

That said, there is much more to ‘blonde beers’ than lagers and pils. There are good basic Belgian ales with medium strength but plenty of flavour. Abdij van Roosenberg (#11) a fair example so far, and then there are the hoppier blondes which have much more bite. Tripel beers don’t scientifically have to be blonde, but most tend to be, and are almost always strong and stylish although most I have tried on this trip so far have been a bit of a let down. Then there are the strong Belgian ales or Golden blondes, such as Duvel (#37) which remain classics in their field, or the more experimental with flavours, such as the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29). The latter seem to represent well the craft brewers of Belgium, who seek to give their drinker more value for their money by either trying new techniques or adding new ingredients.

The Hopduvel Blondine on offer tonight was trying to be the latter, but ultimately failed. It was 9% but it certainly didn’t taste it. She tried to explode on opening (probably a by-product of hurtling down the Alps this afternoon), and I caught the cloudy remnants well in the glass. This was definitely more solid and beguiling than the previous blonde, but there was almost something quite unsavoury in there. Her personality was orangey and bitter, and I really felt that with 9% on the label she would be able to offer a little more. Clearly the gentleman is not preferring this blonde.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#15 – Piraat 9

#15 - Piraat 9

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Feast your eyes on any shelf in a decent Belgian Beer store, and you will find a number of beers dedicated to life at sea. Van Steenberge brew Piraat which of course is Flemish for ‘Pirate’ – essentially defined as ‘one who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a sovereign nation’.

The age-old legend of piracy is one which conjures up images of drunk salty sea-dogs, cutlasses, eye-patches and of course the infamous Jolly Roger flag and is therefore a popular image for marketing beer. Pirates have been around since approximately the 13th Century, and still operate today, famously off the African waters of Somalia.

Beer is long associated with the sea, in particular strong beers like the Piraat 9, which kept well on long voyages. Historically, beer was always known to boost energy and certainly strengthen the morale of sailors stuck on boats for long periods of time – often noted to be at least a gallon a day !

This is actually a fine fine beer. It has a less than exciting aroma and the head is semi-frothy, but the warmth that resonates after every taste leaves you wanting more and more. Its fruity, deep and it stays with you like no other blonde has yet on this pilgrimage. A gallon of this however  would probably not strengthen my morale the next morning !

(Post-Script) – as an example of other sea-faring beers from Belgium please try the du Boucanier Red Ale (#27) or perhaps the Biere du Corsaire (#80).

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Filed under 9, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge