Tag Archives: St. Feuillien

#124 – Winterkoninck

#124 - Winterkoninck

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

As we have already ascertained, the Antwerp beer scene is synonymous with De Koninck (#122), although it would be most useful to find out quite how this happened with another history lesson.

The De Koninck story begins as far back as 1827 when a certain Joseph Henricus De Koninck purchased an old coach house which straddled the border post between Antwerp and Berchem. The border was marked by a solitary stone boundary post, on which was sculpted an open hand. The coach house, known as the De Plaisante Hof, was a popular stopping point for travellers who would pull up at the sculptured hand and pay a toll to cross into Antwerp.

Joseph Henricus sadly though was not long for the world, and no sooner than 1833 his widow Elisabeth Cop had remarried a warehouse foreman named Johannes Verliet who decided to convert the coach house into a brewery. The inspiration was the stone boundary post on the roadside, and the new venture became known as the Brouwerij de Hand. Since that very day, the same hand has graced the labels of the beers that have come from this historic brewery.

The fact that the brewery is not known as Verliet may have something to do with the fact that in 1845, Carolus De Koninck, the eldest son of Joseph Henricus took over the business. The place has been in the family ever since, and since 1912 has been called the Brasserie Charles de Koninck. The story of the next hundred years I will happily retell on a later beer, but anybody keen on dropping by the brewery can still see the original stone post which after years gathering dust beneath the Vleeshuis is now proudly and rightfully on show in the brewery courtyard.

If the previous tipple, St Feuillien Noel (#123) was the epitomy of an idyllic white Christmas, then I am afraid the Winterkoninck was of the regular overcast Christmas variety, complete with grey skies and miserable relatives. It had a very dreary amber complexion, with a tacky synthetic aftertaste. While not being horrible in any way, I was just disappointed to follow the St. Feuillien with this. It really was the slushy mess that follows a white Christmas.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Christmas Beer, De Koninck

#123 – St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

#123 - St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

We already know who St. Feuillien was (#29), and that beer was brewed in the Abbaye St-Feuillien du Roeulx in his honour. Production did stop here in 1796 though when the French Revolution did its worst, but the story and beers of St. Feuillien continue to live on, and that is largely due to Stephanie Friart who resurrected the St. Feuillien brewing tradition in 1873 in a new set of premises on the edge of Roeulx. The Brasserie Friart was born.

The brewery held on to this title for well over a century until in 2000 the fourth generation of Friarts decided to revert back to the monastic title of Brasserie St. Feuillien, to match the name of their popular signature beers. It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, with the brewery being shut for production between 1980 and 1988 when all brewing was undertaken on their behalf at Du Bocq. I can verify there is still a working relationship taking place between these two, as on a visit to the Du Bocq brewery recently the main beer in production was the St. Feuillien Blonde (#29).

The recent success of the brewery since re-opening has been clearly evident in sales, especially at a time when the powerhouses of beer production in Belgium are putting pressure on the independent brewers. Much of this success sits with the industry and application of the founders great-grand niece, Dominique Friart who in her role as Managing Director for the business has kept the home fires burning while travelling the world and marketing the beers. If ever there was an example of a successful family run business – this is it.

Anyway, I was thirsty, and on my third or fourth beer of the evening when chance led to the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel cooling nicely in the fridge. I had for some reason expected this to be a run of the mill addition to the evening, but I was completely mistaken. This was easily the best Christmas beer I had drunk yet. Dark, thick and warmly satisfying – the perfect addition to a winter’s night. It wasn’t perhaps as complex as a Trappistes Rochefort, yet was equally as nourishing. I will be seeking this out by the crate-load on my next Christmas jaunt to the continent.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, St. Feuillien

#119 – St. Feuillien Brune

#118 - St. Feuillien Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I was having a rough day and I needed to get out of the office. I don’t tend to take lunchbreaks that often but if I ever do, then it has to be somewhere special. That place is more often than not the Dovetail. I have already told the story of St. Feuillien (#29), and there are plenty more varieties from this brewery sitting waiting, so please permit me the chance to talk about the Dovetail – almost certainly the best Belgian beer bar in central London.

It’s a hard place to find, wedged into a small alley hidden away in atmospheric Clerkenwell. There are many good pubs around here, including the Gunmakers and the Crown, but none of these come close to offering the breadth of choice that the Dovetail can. The website claims to offer over a hundred different Belgian beers, although experience tells me that what they offer, they don’t always have in stock. Even so, any bar outside Belgium where you can sit and be waited on and choose your beer from a menu is a treasure for me. The food is pretty good also!

Timeout magazine labelled the Dovetail in 2007 as ‘The kind of place everyone wishes they had as their local’, which in a sense it is to me. I have been popping in here on and off for the last eight years; and in terms of appearance the place has barely changed. The décor is a mix between an Abbey refectory and beer museum, with the walls adorned with the kitsch tin beer plates which never cease to fascinate me. If you can wedge yourself in early, whether it’s a lunch-time or an evening, you can normally escape the feeling of the growing crowds and get carried away with the feeling you might just be outside of the UK.

As I sat and drank my St. Feuillien Brune though, the conversation soon revolved around to the place, and perhaps it isn’t just me nowadays that thinks the place is losing some of its charm. While it hasn’t sold itself out completely like the Lowlander in Covent Garden, the overall feel-good factor has certainly dissipated. I may have been spoilt in Belgium, but I do still expect the right glass, believe I have the right to be served with a smile, and not to have to pay a deposit for my glass on a Friday night. There also was a time when the bar staff were knowledgeable about the beers on offer but I guess those days have long gone with the preference for cheap labour. Nostalgia though just isn’t what it once was, and I should be grateful for what I have on my doorstep – which is still excellent beer.

The St. Feuillien Brune was no exception to this. It poured a majestic muddy chocolate colour, lighter than most brown beers, but finished with an exceptionally creamy fluffy head. If I hadn’t known where I was, I might have just assumed I had been brought a glass of cocoa. There was something somewhat comforting in the taste, hints of chocolate and malt, but as you finished her off she tended to lose her way a little. That said a very pleasant beer to spend on your lunch break, and as per usual I was dribbling and nodding off at my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

(Post-Script) – For a bit of family history from St. Feuillien see the review on the St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel (#123).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, St. Feuillien

#76 – Sloeber

#76 - Sloeber

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

You could at the end of a long evening on the Belgians easily mistakenly pick up a Sloeber, thinking you were going for a Duvel (#34). The colours of the labels are fairly similar, and with the slurred bottle design probably looking fairly normal under these circumstances, it is just possible you could be mistaken. It is probably likely that the marketing men at the Roman brewery had devised a cunning plan in order to jump on the successful Duvel bandwagon.

The name in Flemish kind of means ‘bad boy’. Any dictionary search throws up a hatful of possible translations, but perhaps the most likely is that of an epicure – somebody who tends to like the good things in life in a slightly hedonistic, yet mischievous way. It might perhaps represent well the man who likes to drink the finest beers in the world but that just maybe does not know when to stop !

It has become clear that this Belgian Beer Odyssey isn’t just teaching me about beer and about Belgian history, but also about the art of drinking. As age begins to wither me in my mid-thirties, I now have half my mind on the waistline, and the recollection of how bad the last early morning meeting was on a Thursday after one too many Abbey tripels. It hasn’t however always been that way. Please permit me the licence to stray a little off track and use my own personal example of how beer can sometimes make a Sloeber of us all.

I once played for a football team in Devon, and that football team went for end of season drinks as football teams tend to do. Fifteen or so fellows together normally spells mischief but I can sadly and unremittingly point to myself as the main Sloeber of the evening. After the night had ended down in Teignmouth harbour, there were a number of us who wanted more. There was a party across the estuary at Shaldon and we could hear the music, and the laughter resonating across the quiet April night. As luck would have it we were walking past a boatyard and an idea sprung to mind. Boat… water… party.. ‘With no means of propulsion’ aptly reported on the front pages of most of the local media the next day, six grown men sailed into the night, into one of South Englands most strongest currents, and then in a matter of minutes found ourselves many miles out to sea. I can rarely recall ever seeing as much fear etched on drunken faces as I did that night.

Clearly I am here to the tell the story, but only thanks to the Royal National Lifeboats, the Devon Coastguard and one solitary man by the harbour side who had the good sense to raise the alarms. It is worth remembering that mobile phones had not been invented, and we were all wearing t-shirts. Had we not have been picked up we would have frozen to death, even if the weather hadn’t turned the boat over before. I always remember the 26th of April with a great deal of humility.

Had Sloeber been the beer of choice on that fateful night we would have all had passed out long before we passed the boatyard, as this is a pretty powerful beer – full of Belgian guts! It looked like the Duvel on the pour, and yet had the reminiscent lemony taste of the St Feuillien Blonde (#29), although somehow less distinctive. This was certainly not a beer to dislike, but unlike the Dirty Duvel, the Sloeber ran out of energy in the final third. Bad boy indeed.

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Filed under 7, Belgian Strong Ale, Roman

#64 – Deugniet

 

#64 - Deugniet

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Deugniet tends to have three English translations. Originally this would mean a good-for-nothing, usually it would mean a rascal or a scamp, and occasionally it might mean a knave or a jester. If you look at the label of this beer it becomes fairly evident that Du Bocq almost certainly focussed on the latter.

I chose this beer at the end of my first brewery tour in Belgium. I had previously done a tour of Carlsberg in Copenhagen as a student, but that was more for the free beer than it was for the insight into brewing, although I really needn’t have bothered too much as we ended up on the Flemish/French tour. We thought we might get by as I learnt a bit of French at school, and Tash spoke some Afrikaans, however we may as well have just done the tour in Swahili. I managed to understand some of what was going on using the English pamphlet I was so considerately given, but apart from key words such as ‘biere’, ‘Du Bocq’ and ‘bonjour’ everything else seemed to drift in one vacuous ear and out the other.

If you asked me to sum up the brewing of beer however from what I learnt at the tour, then… Men in white coats choose their ingredients, and then after messing about with the grains, they boil everything up in these big copper funnels in a very pretty rural set of buildings. After a while – probably an hour or two – the residue is left to filter and then the men in white coats add hops and spices in big vats for cooling and more filtering. After a number of rickety staircases, the porridgy mixture is transferred to another bigger vat where it is left to ferment (and stink the place out) for about a week. The resultant beer is then left to condition, and in the case of these bottled beers further conditioned in bottles by adding yeast. Once they are ready they end up in the conveyor belt room, which looks like something out of a Willy Wonka film, and the labels and bottles end up in crates on a fork-lift truck. In the case of todays visit, this was St Feuillien Blonde (#29) which DuBocq brews on behalf of St. Feuillien most of the time.

I did get the time to ask a few questions in the Brewery Tap at the end as I tucked into my Deugniet which I will share another time (#210), but now for the beer itself. Served in the appropriate glass, it was cool, golden blonde and high in carbonation. It immediately slaked my thirst from walking round confused for an hour and certainly had a bit of kick to it. There were some hop flavours, but I really couldn’t put my finger on any others. A run of the mill blonde I would say, from a run of the mill brewery.

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Filed under 6, Abbey Tripel, Du Bocq

#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