Tag Archives: Schelde

#219 – St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

#219 - St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru

Size: 500 ml

ABV: 7.6 %

It’s pretty hard to miss the St. Sebastiaan beers in their 500 ml coloured enamel crocks – which is exactly what the Sterkens family would have wanted. With hundreds of Belgian beers to choose from in the Beers of Europe warehouse the St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru stood out a mile. Even if I didn’t like the beer, the bottle would look great on my shelves.

We have already established that Stan Sterkens was the original father of this range of beers but that the actual brewing now happens elsewhere. When I had previously drunk the St. Paul Double (#177), this was under the remit of the Scheldebrouwerij in Meer, although all beers are now picked up by Duvel Moortgat on behalf of the Sterkens brewery. The Scheldebrouwerij still use the name of the beers though which only further adds to the confusion.

The significance of St. Sebastiaan on the world of beer is unclear, and his story can wait for another beer, however Stan Sterkens clearly likes a saint or two. He is perhaps best known for his St. Paul range of beers, and the family brewpub which opened in the US in Spring Hill was also known as the Saint Sebastiaan Microbrewery. The idea was to showcase to the local population the Belgian way of brewing although to be fair it would all eventually fall on its feet. The location wasn’t ideal and subsequently the beers were perhaps a little ahead of their time for the US Market. The Sterkens family eventually fled back to Belgium and the original Saint Sebastiaan sat empty. I hear it has since been renovated into a stereotypical chain restaurant/bar with no hint of any Belgian beers or a saintly name.

The St. Sebastiaan Grand Cru, or the St. Sebastiaan Golden as it is perhaps more commonly known abroad is a limited edition release. A single batch is made every year to a secretive Sterkens family recipe. It is also brewed in line with the Bavarian Purity Laws which I had explained a while back when drinking the Corsendonk Pater (#35). The Grand Cru was another beer that I shared with my sister although this one didn’t quite have the WOW factor that the bottle would have you believe. It was your average Belgian style tripel which was pleasant to drink but that couldn’t deliver above and beyond expectations. If you like a pale citrus flavour then maybe this is for you, but for me all that glitters in this case was definitely not golden.

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Filed under 7, Golden Ale, Schelde

#177 – St. Paul Double

#177 - St. Paul Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.9 %

The range of beers named St. Paul are currently brewed at the Scheldebrouwerij, however it hasn’t always been that way. As noted on the St. Paul Speciale (#143) these were once part of the Sterkens family of beers. To all intents and purposes they still are really, since Sterkens just use the brewing facilities at Schelde to produce the beers. Sterkens still market and export the beers as if they brewed them, and a visit to their website gives little away of this secret.

The move away from brewing their own beers has been a gradual one for Stan Sterkens, the fourteenth generation of brewmeister since the family began brewing way back in 1651. He has been very successful in setting up brewpubs for interested parties. They provide the money, and he puts in the equipment and expertise. One such enterprise was with his daughter Leen Sterkens in Spring Hill, USA. Others have been set up in places as far afield as Taiwan and Japan.

The whole idea of going foreign has worked very well in fact, where the export market has proved exceptionally lucrative for the Sterkens clan. Until 1990 the brewery mainly distributed to over five hundred restaurants and pubs in Belgium. Now however, up to 95% of production is sold abroad. You are far more likely to see a bottle of St. Paul in a US bar or beershop than you would in Belgium. It was for this reason that when I saw a selection of the colourful odd shaped bottles in a Belgian beer shop at Christmas last year I snapped them up.

The St. Paul Speciale was hardly a classic, and to be honest I didn’t really get much joy from the St. Paul Double either. To be fair the beers may have been rebrewed, and it looked like I may have an older selection of the range, but I would expect more from a beer firm who are seemingly pleasing the US market. The craft beer scene in the US is probably second only to Belgium in the world, and as you would expect with the Americans it probably won’t be long before they are knocking the spots even off the Belgians. This beer was thin, bland and boring. I still await my epiphany.

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Filed under 5, Abbey Dubbel, Schelde

#143 – St Paul Special

#143 - St Paul Special

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

St. Paul has done rather well for himself in the modern world, honoured by London’s stand-out Cathedral, and the biggest city in Minnesota, USA. He would probably be most impressed however to have had a range of Belgian beers named after him; something to which even I still aspire.

St. Paul though is most famously renowned in the teachings of the Bible. He was the main protagonist of the book Acts, and is credited with writing an astonishing 13 books of the 27 in the New Testament. The story in Acts, tells of a man who while living as a diaspora Jew in Tarsus (modern day Turkey) rejected the teachings of Jesus, claiming that nobody suffering the indignity of crucifixion could ever be the Messiah and son of God. Something happened though on the road to Damascus which turned Paul’s head towards Jesus, and he spent the rest of his life turning the words of Jesus from what was then a small sect of Judaism into what most of us now know as the modern worldwide faith of Christianity.

Paul spent the rest of his life on the road, preaching as a missionary and spreading the word of Christ. He undertook three main journeys which took him around Turkey and the Middle East, and eventually to Rome where he would eventually lose his life, beheaded after two years’ incarceration in chains.

Let’s not get carried away here though; while St. Paul is clearly a very important historical character, he was never really famous for beer, and the beers for which he is known are not exactly impressive. While the bottles are uniquely shaped, the contents are distinctly average. The St. Paul Special was weirdly herbal, and extremely dark but nothing your discerning Belgian beer drinker would ever go looking for. Even though these beers are no longer actually brewed by Sterkens (for the story see St. Paul Double #177), I am not particularly worried about seeking out the remainder of the range. It will take more than this to convert me!

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#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.

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#96 – Kastaar

#96 - Kastaar

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

The label of Kastaar is adorned by what looks like a king, but I was struggling to find out just who this fellow was. In the end after some poking around on the internet I contacted the right people, and I am mightily pleased that I did. Forget the Olympic Games in London in 2012. I’m off to Biervliet in the Netherlands to join a crowd of eccentric villagers recreating wars and stealing city monuments !

Biervliet (apparently) has always been an important place in history, mainly due to its strategic location on an island in the Westerschelde river between Ghent and Antwerp. It’s population have been historically recognised for their efforts in the Middle Ages during the Crusades, and more recently during the Eighty Years War for Dutch independence. In 1573 while under Spanish control, William of Orange and the ‘gueuzen’ (essentially the French peasantry), fought a terrific battle to win back the area and liberate Biervliet. This was no doubt consigned to the back of the history books until in 1973, exactly 400 years since the liberation, the people of Biervliet decided to celebrate this event with a festival.

The idea is to pick a story from the rich history and to recreate this in the form of a parade over a long, and more often than not, boozy weekend. In 2007 this recreation took the form of the story of Kastaar, the bastard son of Count Lamoral of Egmont (#22). There may be a certain amount of spin to this story, and many would argue that it is questionable as to whether he really ever existed, but the story goes that when Lamoral was imprisoned in the Gravensteen castle in Ghent, Kastaar was knee deep in resisting the Spanish in Biervliet. Learning of his fathers predicament he rallied his troops to Ghent and successfully stormed the Gravensteen. Stopping only to celebrate with a raucous party, he returned to Biervliet and routed the Spanish – a victory which was to largely determine the successful restoration of independence from the infidels.

Thus in 2007, the modern day revellers numbering around fifty descended on Ghent in full costume and armed with weapons, and plenty of Kastaar beer to storm the Gravensteen. These adventurous pilgrims – not content with a quiet few pints – also have a history of kleptomania, in the name of avenging the cities who once sullied the name of Biervliet. In this case they stole the twelve ton cannon which sits peacefully in the centre of Ghent. This cannon is called the Dulle Griet, which is also the name of another beer by the Schelde brewery, and thus is another tale altogether.

If I had to imagine a weekend of high octane drinking of Kastaar I can imagine myself being led to high jinks in this manner, assuming of course I didn’t fall over drunk first in the cobbled gutters. At 7% this is a powerful beer, and felt like a bit of a cross between a blond and a brune. I merely sipped mine from the safety of the sofa while the football was on, and imagined rampaging the streets of Ghent. A good beer and an even better story !

(Post-Script) – the people of Biervliet have had quite an impact on history; even during the Crusades they played a brave role (#145).

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Brewers, De Block