Tag Archives: St. Bernardus

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

1 Comment

Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix

#182 – St. Bernardus Prior

#182 - St. Bernardus Prior

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

I’m running out of superlatives and stories for the St. Bernardus beers – this is the fourth of my Odyssey, after the Abt (#46), Wit (#100), and Tripel (#106). I have talked a lot about the history of St. Bernardus, but not a great deal about the recent stuff.

It was 1992 when the brewery split asunder from St. Sixtus (#46) and was politely asked to drop the Trappist nomenclature. This transition had been managed by Guy and Bernadette Claus, the son-in-law and daughter of Evarist Deconinck. Both had both been in place for over thirty years since 1962, when Guy took over the brewing from Deconinck. It was only in 2003 that he retired as brewmaster at St. Bernardus, but both he and Bernadette continued to stay on and run the St. Bernardus guesthouse.

The ‘T Brouwershuis bed and breakfast has long been something of an institution in Belgium, and is often listed among the top places to stay in the country. It currently comprises twelve immaculate rooms which are set fairly uniquely within the grounds of the St. Bernardus brewery grounds. Bernadette was actually born in this rambling property, and for those that are lucky enough to stay here, it really does feel like a home away from home. The attraction for beer lovers is to spend time chatting with the family, in the midst of a famous brewery, and of course not to forget the cabinet stocked full of a wide range of St. Bernardus beers. The beauty also is that even non beer geeks will get something out of a visit here. The breakfast is apparently sumptuous, guests have a free run of the house, complete with full library and solarium, and the welcome from the owners is second to none.

Reading about the guesthouse has done enough to convince me. I have resolved to head over in the spring with Mrs Beershrimper for a couple of days pampering ourselves on fine beer and conversation, in front of the roaring fire. I will be more than happy to accept a St. Bernardus Prior on my arrival. This beer like all the others from the range is made with water that has been pumped from as deep as 150 metres underground. Scientists even claim that the water from the St. Bernardus well originated as rainfall from the time of Joan of Arc which has seeped through hundreds of years and layers of Watou rock from the St. Omer region of France. It gives you a warm glow reading things like this as you look deep into your beer. The beer as usual with St. Bernardus looked the part, thick and velvety, and it was a similar experience on the tastebuds, with plenty of malt and fruit.

4 Comments

Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, St. Bernardus

#154 – La Trappe Quadrupel

#154 - La Trappe Quadrupel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

It was a fleeting visit to Bruges this weekend, and the drive back on the Sunday afternoon was made particularly difficult due to the debilitating hangover which surfaced as I did. As I grimacingly pulled the duvet back over my head I tried to recount our steps from last night. Everything was on track from the Staminee de Garre (#153), whereupon we found a small regional restaurant with a poor beer selection. It was only polite to polish off a few carafes of red wine, and we were then heading for a decent bar to finish off the nights proceedings. I vaguely recall a couple of St. Bernardus 12’s crossing my lips, but the final nail in the coffin came from the deadly La Trappe Quadrupel.

I started to try and sum the amount of ABV I had drunk the previous night, and there was a common thread emerging – every beer was over 10%. The Quadrupel that I finished with was almost symbolic of a night of super-strength Belgian beer. The term Quadrupel isn’t a definitive one, but follows in the footsteps of our introductions to the Dubbel (#16), and the Tripel (#149), in that it is conversely related to the strength of the beer. It is itself a much rarer proposition, and the Beer Advocate website only lists about 90 individual examples, including the Westvleteren 12 (#66), and the St. Bernardus Abt (#46). I must admit, I try not to get too caught up in the whole beer definition thing, but it does make life a little easier sometimes when talking beer. As may be apparent by now, I am not a big fan of recreating the beer sampling websites on here.

Many definitions of a Quadrupel, historically have centred on the link to Trappist style, or Abt (Abbot) style beers. This was kind of fine until the strict designations were made as to what could or couldn’t be officially called a Trappist beer (#7). The Quadrupel terminology now exists really to fit in nicely with the innate desire to pigeon hole beers into categories. Beer Advocate and Ratebeer will have their views, but for me a Quadrupel is simply over 10%, full bodied and of the darker variety. What else do you need to know?

My only recollection of this particular Quadrupel was that it was a deep reddy brown colour, very strong and as I recall particularly delicious. Well, apparently that’s what I kept saying. It turns out I may also have had more than one! I was led home before I could go clubbing (something I normally despise), stopping at random strategic intersections to release the pressure on my saturated bladder. I apologise to the people of Bruges now, and hope I can make it up to you on my next visit.

3 Comments

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#113 – Helleketelbier

#113 - Helleketelbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

I had just tried my first beer from De Bie, and as another one of their beers looked remarkably past its best before date, I thought it might be wise to try another. Where I was reasonably satisfied with the Hellekapelle (#112), I was much less impressed with the Helleketelbier or as it translates into English, the Hell’s Kettle Beer – clearly the cauldron wonderfully depicted on the label.

On first glance you might begin to associate beers from De Bie with witches, broomsticks, fire and brimstone, however many of their other beers seem more closely associated with bees, which is exactly what the name of the brewery translates as. Stef Orbie, (there is a clue in the name somewhere) the chief brewmaster started to brew beer at his farmhouse in Watou in 1992, and eventually converted his property into a fully functioning, yet wholly rustic, brewery. You will have heard of the town of Watou before as this neat little brewery lived just down the road from Van Eecke (#108) and St. Bernardus (#46). Things have moved on since then however, and De Bie moved out of Watou and to nearby Waregem where they have upped the stakes in terms of the quality of the beer produced.

It may have been I had tried one of the older batch as I was not at all impressed with this brew. The pour was my first concern in that the sediment that sunk eerily to the bottom of the glass was definitely green and not unlike mucus. It was so bad in fact that I decided to strain it back into another glass which served only to dilute the gunk into further grimness which in turn diluted into the beer. I let it settle for a while, although am sure this did the beer no favours whatsoever. Once I got round to tasting it I had quite lost the desire. It was largely flat and uninspiring, tasting as if it might have been diluted with water. It was akin to a weak English summer ale, which at 7% I was not expecting. The sediment had caused the beer to cloud, and I struggled gainfully to finish it. Not good at all; although if I see it again, I am prepared to give the newer batch another go.

2 Comments

Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Cat, De Bie

#106 – St. Bernardus Tripel

#106 - St. Bernardus Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

I was able to begin the account of the wonderful St. Bernardus brewery after drinking the awesome St. Bernardus Abt (#46), but there’s certainly a bit more to the story worth reading about. The initial account explained how St. Bernardus had had to split from St. Sixtus in 1992 and cease to promote their beers as Trappist. It was not to be a simple process!

While the monks and workers at St. Bernardus were happy to continue in this fashion, cafes and restaurants continued to market and label the beers as Trappist, such were the benefits associated with these wonderful beers. This led to a period of confusion and of course eventually a legal challenge, and the powers that be at St. Bernardus responded by tinkering with the label. The old label associated with St. Sixtus portrayed a monk in full religious garb, while the new label was altered subtly to depict the same gentlemen now in a medieval robe. Never had a man who had just been so unceremoniously excommunicated looked so pleased about it.

St Sixtus - the happy monk

It was an inspired move as the St. Bernardus beers have never looked back since 1992. What might have been the death knell was the catalyst for a future strategy based on simply ensuring the quality of the beers.

The St. Bernardus Tripel was probably the beer which when launched really hit home the fact that St. Bernardus meant business; and to stay in business. This was regarded as a top notch tripel when it was launched and it still is today. It is a pristine amber with a deliciously creamy head which puffs up perfectly for the first swig. It is both hoppy and fruity and even after three beers I couldn’t help but be impressed by the flavour. I would like to try it again and am actively seeking out the 750 ml bottle for my collection on my next trip overseas.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, St. Bernardus

#101 – Urthel Samaranth

#101 - Urthel Samaranth

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11.5 %

Two very special people are behind the range of Urthel beers – Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden. Hildegard is the brewmaster and Bas manages the affairs and illustrates the beers, including the impressive website. Proving that even I can be a sexist male at times, I was surprised to find that Hildegard was the lady of the house.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Hildegard actually began studying industrial engineering in Leuven, specialising in all things ‘brewery’. After about four years teaching young engineers and leading them around various breweries, she let her entrepreneurial nature lead her to create a range of high quality Flemish beers with her partner Bas. Since the spring of 2000 the Urthel beers have been going strong, surprising people with their quality, and introducing the world to a myriad of strange stories and characters. These are predominantly the domain of artist, illustrator and storyteller Bas, who still romanticizes over a world of miniature gnomes.

The Urthel beers were originally brewed for Hildegard and Bas by the Van Steenberge brewery, however they have since moved these north of the border into the Netherlands at the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven, where our intrepid couple both worked and met. The spiritual home of the beers though is in Ruiselede in Belgium under the company name de Leyerth. Certainly by the time I had started my adventure these beers were brewed in Belgium, and if anyone cares to argue I will just drink extra at the end!

Hildegard and Bas, though based in Ruiselede, can often be found showcasing their beers in North America where the Urthel range is extremely popular. There are also plenty more Urthel beers to come and thus I will eventually get round to detailing the adventures of the Erthels from the Valley of the Ley, behind the mountains of Rooverth.

As for the Urthel Samaranth, this was actually a beer created and brewed specifically to celebrate the wedding of Hildegard and Bas in September 2002, and is because of its strength known as a Quadrium in the folklore of the Erthels. Whatever possesses anyone to drink beer this strong at a wedding certainly defies belief as my tasting will testify one quiet night indoors, miles away from the land of the Erthels.

Samaranth clearly is an Erthel with a reputation; an elder, just like the mate of your dad who can stand at the bar and drink eight pints in the last two hours like its water. He is most definitely somebody to look up to. I had already supped the St. Bernardus Wit (#100), and uncapped the Samaranth as I reclined on the sofa, eyes fixated on a Frank Capra movie. It was to be a critical error of judgment as twenty minutes later I was still on my hands and knees scrubbing Vanish into the sofa and carpet. This truly was a badboy!

Once I finally got down to drinking it, I can honestly say it blew me away. In no word of an exaggeration for every mouthful (or should I say sipful) a plume of fumes would emanate from my nose. I am not a big fan of brandy which this reminded me of, and while tasting a little medicinal and lacking the finer qualities of say the St. Bernardus Abt (#46), it certainly outshone the similar strength Bush Ambree (#3). I would definitely get this again, as any beer that has the temerity to bully me in my own house is something to be treasured.

(Post-Script) – the fumes that emanated from my nose was an interesting was of semi-interest, as I later discovered that the character Samaranth was a dragon in a fantasy novel by James A Owen.

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Abt/Quadrupel, Brewers, de Koningshoeven

#100 – St. Bernardus Wit

#100 - St. Bernardus Wit

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

Beer experts tend to say that if you want to try a beer that tastes like Hoegaarden (#81) used to then there is no better exponent than the St. Bernardus Wit. This comes as no surprise as the beer was actually developed in co-operation with Pierre Celis, who of course was the mastermind behind the success of Hoegaarden. The main difference is that the St. Bernardus gets the traditional Belgian secondary fermentation in the bottle which just adds to the steely quality.

The term wheat beer is something of a misnomer, as these beers are not made 100% from wheat – in fact probably only about 30-40% of the mash. The rest is more likely to contain forms of pilsener malt. It is this 30-40% though which gives the wheat beers their hazy milky glow, which in turn has tended to coin the appellation ‘white beer’. Hops are generally used less frequently as they tend to impair flavour, and brewers such as Celis have traditionally been more subtle with spices such as coriander, or fruit – most commonly the peel of an orange.

It is surprising that white beers are not more common in Belgium as wheat tends to be in greater abundance than barley and is therefore cheaper to produce. Wheat beers tend though to be somewhat lower in strength than dubbels, tripels and typical Belgian ales, which may go some way to explain why these beers are more popular in Germany or the USA. Others argue that wheat tends to clog up the brewers equipment and is therefore more painful to brew due to the rigours of keeping the kit clean and free from infection.

Either way I’m not really a wheat beer man, or I wasn’t until I tried the St. Bernardus Wit. It was altogether more robust, with extra colour and fizz, and it was both crisp and sharp with a flavour that actually challenged your taste-buds. I could actually taste the hints of orange peel and coriander which is saying something. I think this is best suited to a warm summers day in Flanders, but all in all a pretty impressive way to bring up the hundredth beer!

1 Comment

Filed under 8, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, St. Bernardus