Tag Archives: Rake

#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)

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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.

 

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Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#183 – ‘T Smisje Tripel

#183 - 'T Smisje Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The brewery Smisje has been around since 1995, but began life as the Brouwerij De Regenboog. In fact it was known under this name right up until 2008 when the owner Johan Brandt moved his premises to Oudenaarde.

Brandt was born in 1963, and had trained in the graphics world for most of his tender years. He married Christine de Schepper in 1998 and soon had two sons called Stijn and Joris. The couple set up their own printing business which was fairly successful, and everything in the Brandt garden was rosy – yet the call of beer would eventually become too much. Johan was already brewing beer as a hobby, and thus the kit that was beginning to take over his home was the start of something special. Eventually, the beer did take over his life and he gradually reduced his work in printing, although continuing to use the name of his existing business, De Regenboog, which translates as ‘The Rainbow’.

The first beer produced at De Regenboog was simply known as ‘T Smisje, and was largely experimental in its nature. Brandt was also a bee-keeper and thus plenty of honey was used in this brew. The name ’T Smisje means ‘little blacksmith’, the connotation coming from a local blacksmith’s forge which was adjacent to the location of the Brandt house in Assebroek, a suburb of Bruges. This name was apt in that it in many ways sums up the hand-crafted artisanal nature of this first beer – although to be honest little has changed since. The range of beers from De Regenboog over the years have used a myriad of natural fruits, herbs and spices.

I had heard a fair bit about the beers from De Regenboog, and so when I saw a couple of bottles from the range in The Rake pub in Borough Market, there was never going to be any other choice. I started with the ‘T Smisje Tripel which was absolutely delicious, and bombarded me with the heady sweetness of vanilla and banana, coupled with the seriousness of a Westmalle Tripel (#149). The company was excellent also, bumping into inadvertently another beer blogger by the name of Impy Malting who is considerably further ahead in her writing than my good self. Anybody who travels half way across London to seek out beers of fancy is worth a read in my book.

 

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#131 – XX Bitter

#131 - XX Bitter

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

By now propped at the bar, I had decided that I must have overdone it on the lambic. My gut was making extreme noises, and I had begun to look a little off colour. I spotted a XX Bitter in the fridge and having heard very good things about this beer, decided to finish off my night with a bit of good old fashioned hoppy goodness.

I was attracted to the XX Bitter due to its association with one of my favourite beers. The commercial description suggests this is reminiscent of Orval (#37) in its heyday, and this is true to some extent – Orval certainly used to add more hops to its mash in bygone days. The gentlemen at De Ranke, big fans of Orval, noted this and decided to try and reverse the trend by adding more and more hops. The result is now possibly Belgium’s hoppiest beer!

The process of making a beer this hoppy requires some care and attention from its owners, and this is why Guido and Nino at De Ranke use only hop flowers to make their beers. Almost every brewer in the country has moved towards using hop extracts now, but our protagonists argue that you cannot match the texture and complexity of a beer which uses the flower as opposed to the pellet.

There are a number of reasons why brewers have opted away from the flowers themselves. Firstly, because the flowers are so fresh they have a massive impact on the flavour of the beer. This is great if you have a high quality hop, but very bad if you don’t! It can often be hit and miss, and expensive to get the best hops. Hops are also seasonal and so you have to buy the optimal amount at the start of the year, and then it is also very expensive to continue to keep them fresh. This requires refrigeration which is expensive on a grand scale. Finally, hop flowers require a lot of cleaning due to their propensity to stick to anything after being cooked. If you opt for hop flowers, then you can pretty much kiss goodbye to automatic production.

De Ranke remain committed to making beers this way, and only tend to use the highest quality hop flowers from Poperinge. If the XX bitter is an example of a beer made this way, then I only wish I was born in the pre-pellet era. The bitterness of the XX was staggering, yet it was full of flavour and attitude. I nursed it like the last beer I was ever going to drink and eventually the bar staff had to kick us out.

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#130 – Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

#130 - Oud Beersel Oude Kriek

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

The striking feature of the Oud Beersel Oude Kriek label is the elegantly designed illustration of a castle. This Kasteel van Beersel is the most striking tourist attraction of the town of Beersel from which the beer/brewery derives its name. It was built approximately 700 years ago by Jan II, the Duke of Brabant as part of the defensive base for Brussels – the capital sits just 12km to the north east of Beersel.

The castle has been a key part of the towns history, being damaged in the War of Succession of Brabant (1356-57), during the rebellion against Maximilian in 1489, and then finally being left to the ravages of desolation during the 18th Century when it was left unoccupied. A cotton factory was initiated in the building in 1818, and eventually passed through a series of local families until it was donated to the League of Friends of Beersel in 1928, whereupon it was beautifully restored to its present glory.

Beersel is also the home to two famous breweries. Drie Fonteinen, and of course Oud Beersel. Both are renowned for the quality of their lambic beer in a region which is famous for it. Once you have climbed the castle and taken in the stunning views across town, you can wander off to any bar and have the pick of some of Belgiums finest beers. Be sure to make sure the service includes ‘boterham met plattekaas en radijzen’ (bread with white cheese and radishes) and ‘mandjeskaas’ (white cheese in small baskets) – both are tasty traditional snacks of Beersel and which accompany lambic beers perfectly apparently.

This was to be my third lambic of the night in the Rake. It was extremely sour still, but after the abomination of the Cassisframbozenlambic (#129) I wasn’t complaining. It was more subtle than other Krieks I had tried, which I put down to being from a professional brewer/blender. There was definitely a cherryness deep in the brew but you had to work hard to get there while the acidic dryness rebounded all round your lips. It was perfect to sip while pulling up a bar stool and catching up on old chat, and peering into the well stocked fridges to see what to choose next.

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Filed under 7, Lambic - Fruit, Oud Beersel

#129 – Cassisframbozenlambic

#129 - Hanssens Cassisframbozenlambic

Size: Cask

ABV: 4 %

There was a damn fine reason to be in The Rake pub this evening, which was the highly vaunted and much anticipated Lambic beer festival. I had started the evening on a high with the bottled Oudbeitje (#128) strawberry lambic, and my confidence had risen. I thought it was about time I tried the real stuff on cask. Being still somewhat of a novice on all things lambic I decided that the Hanssens Cassisframbozenlambic which was brooding in their cellar would be the perfect choice. ‘How can you possibly go wrong with a fruit beer?’ were the fateful words uttered by my other half.

It was with these words ringing in my ears, that I strode purposefully back to the bar and ordered two halves of the Cassisframbozenlambic. Priced at £9.90 a pint, it certainly failed to qualify as a bargain, but then how often do you get a lambic beer festival in London? After a short wait, two glasses of a rich red torpid liquid were placed in front of me, while a gentleman to my left nodded manfully with approval. It would be probably the only time in my life where the purchase of a fruit beer would be so professionally acknowledged. Having sorted out the Vedett drinkers in our round, we both dived into the extremely pungent brew.

This was to be no ordinary fruit beer. Never since accidentally drinking rancid milk as a child I had been so offended by a drink. While my face told the story, and I tried gainfully to get through it, Tash had surrendered the most expensive drink I had ever bought her to the bar, demanding something, anything to wash away the flavour. I returned to the couple of locals who had been so impressed with my purchase, who reassured me that the ¾ of a glass I had managed to drink was quite an achievement and that this stuff is normally only used for blending, not for drinking.

Incredibly though when I searched the ratebeer website to check others opinions, I found people rating this monstrosity at high 3s and in some cases over 4. I will leave you with two separate reviews from the evening, both which perfectly highlight how either people are able to develop their palates over time, or that some people simply think its cool to like having their throat burnt at £9.90 a time.

The Good – “Shockingly sour to a point of acidity, suggesting more raspberries and rhubarb rather than blackcurrants. Maybe this wrecked my palette but all the other lambics that I sampled subsequently, tasted rather tame! I kept returning to this little beauty and ended up finishing the evening off with a pint of it. It’s a very difficult drink to rate: certainly not a great deal of finesse but heaps of attitude. I would be intrigued to experiment with this beer in the kitchen, perhaps even using it to make a sorbet. My rating reflects how keen I would be to obtain it again rather than the beer’s technical merits. Many thanks to Tom for assembling and hosting what was probably the finest exhibition of lambic beers ever held outside Belgium

The Bad – “God that is horrible, stale and one of the worst beers I’ve tasted. Total doubling over of the body vile. Weird aftertaste. Clearly one of the most acidic beers I’ve drunk. Like drinking mould. Aroma is a 6 but every thing else is awful

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Filed under 1, Hanssens, Lambic - Fruit

#128 – Oudbeitje

#128 - Oudbeitje

Size: 375 ml

ABV: 6 %

Oudbeitje gets your mouth into a twist in more ways than one. At the bar at The Rake pub in South London I attempted to pronounce it, but after the third miserable failure coupled with exponentiating quizzical looks from the barmaid, I opted to point and mouth ‘strawberry beer’ over the din of the evening punters. I needn’t have been so ashamed as there is no Fruli (#24) to be found in this cracking little pub, and I was eventually served with a beer I had wanted to try for ages.

Oudbeitje can be rather easily translated from the Flemish for ‘old berry’ – in this case old, rich pungent strawberries, which are added to lambic beer during the summer months. During the winter the whole lot sits and matures, waiting for the bottling which will take place in Spring. Unlike a Gueuze or a Kriek, there is no need for blending of old and young lambics, as the typical characteristics of the strawberries cause the lambic to react as Gueuze would. This has an impact on the secondary fermentation which is far less spirited and therefore contains far less carbon dioxide. It is this reason that the Oudbeitje is so flat.

There were a number of surprises about this beer. Firstly the price – Although I know good lambic beer does not come cheap even in Belgium, I was a little unprepared for the savage looks I was getting from the friend of a friend who had offered to buy the first round. I just nodded and pretended to look like the beer geek I was starting to become. The second surprise was the colour. Anybody who has drunk Fruli will know that it almost certainly turns your stomach scarlet – the Oudbeitje however was a pale golden colour which was so innocuous it could almost have been a Gueuze. The taste though was as pongy as one might expect from real lambic, but it was imbued with the faint taste of bygone British summers in front of the tennis. Despite the tart flatness, and the fact that the next round cost me even more, I will still remember this beer fondly.

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Filed under 7, Hanssens, Lambic - Fruit