Tag Archives: summer

#81 – Hoegaarden

#81 - Hoegaarden

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.9 %

Everybody has heard of Hoegaarden – certainly since Interbrew exported it around the world. In terms of white/wheat beers there are probably none more famous. The beer gets it name from the town in which it is brewed, and although it is brewed to a traditional recipe that dates back to 1445, this actual beer has only existed since 1966.

The original wheat beer recipe was largely engineered by the monks of Hoegaarden in the middle ages, where they had access to spices such as coriander and curacao due to the Dutch trading influence. So successful was the result, that at one point there were over 30 independent small farmhouse breweries in the tiny town – although by 1957 there were none left! The rise in popularity of mass-produced lager and the asset-stripping that occurred during both world wars had taken its toll on this cottage industry.

In 1966 however, a local milkman with a fond nostalgia for the older white beers decided to reinvent the style. He set up de Kluis (the Cloister) brewery with a few close friends and the rest is history as they say. We have already met this milkman Pierre Celis (#20, #21), and doubtless we will again.

His white beer was a remarkable success over the next twenty or so years, with production growing from 350 hectolitres in 1966 to 75,000 in 1985. Sadly the Hoegaarden plant was completely destroyed by a terrible fire in this year, and Celis was forced to take extra investment from Interbrew, who inevitably were able to influence a take-over of the brewery in 1987. The amount of hectolitres produced would rise to 855,000 over the next ten years, but by then the standard of the beer had fallen sharply. The fact was that by now Hoegaarden was a worldwide commodity, and most people drinking it on a warm summers afternoon had no concept of what this beer once was. The final knife in the back came in 2005, when AB/InBev, who by now had taken over Interbrew, decided to move all production to Jupille, near Liege. Suddenly Hoegaarden was merely a brand, and the village just a memory. Such an outcry followed for the next couple of years that in 2007 brewing returned to Hoegaarden, but sadly the quality has never returned.

I had clearly tried Hoegaarden on and off over the years, but this was the first wheat beer to pass my lips on the Belgian Beer Odyssey. I had brought back a 250 ml bottle from a jaunt to Belgium, and thus was not drinking it from its traditional hexagonal glass*, however it really didn’t taste as I remembered it to be on those warm summer afternoons. Traditional Hoegaarden was famous for being unfiltered, but this was almost translucent, and much too gassy. It looked anaemic and to be fair, if there is still coriander and curacao in this, then it has long since been tastable on my palate. I am not going to bad-mouth the name, because the Hoegaarden Grand Cru is still a mighty fine beer, but this one remains a lesson to us all that we should stand up for the little men amongst the craft breweries of Belgium.

* Did you know? – that the traditional hexagonal glass was supposedly designed to be prised out of ruined drinkers hands at the end of a long night by a spanner.

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Filed under 5, Belgian White (Witbier), Hoegaarden (InBev)

#71 – Saison Dupont

#71 - Saison Dupont

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

I spent the evening in the Lowlander near Fenchurch Street (now sadly closed) in London for a spot of dinner and took the opportunity to get my hands on another couple of beers that I didn’t have in my cellar. I started proceedings with the Saison Dupont – something of a classic apparently. In fact in the magazine Mens Journal in July 2005, it was named ‘the Best Beer in the World’.

Saison Dupont is traditionally a seasonal beer from French-speaking Wallonia – the saison in the title is the french term for ‘season’ – and refers to the fact that in olden days these types of beer were traditionally brewed in autumn or winter, but only for consumption during the summer months. These were your real working class beers, in that they were brewed for the farmhands to drink while working in order to quench their thirst. For that reason they needed to be low in alcohol and able to be stored throughout the winter. While our modern day farm hands would probably reel at the thought of working in the fields and drinking alcohol all day, it is worth remembering that the water in rural areas in the 1800’s was of a dubious quality.

It is also worth noting that in the past, refrigeration was the luxury not of the poor, and so during the summer the beer would likely spoil, and so Autumn and Winter were the best seasons for producing the workers’ beer. It had to be strong enough not to weaken over the next six months, yet as we mentioned before, moderate enough not to inebriate the workforce. The beers were also highly hopped so as to ensure they preserved as long as possible.

There is no official style to describe a saison beer, although of the various breweries that do indeed produce one, they all tend to try and copy the success of Dupont. The saison of the 21st century will still tend to be well hopped and dry, yet much stronger. Without the refrigeration issues faced by the traditional ‘saisoners’ most saisons are bottle fermented now, where complicated styles of yeast are added to give their beers the unique flavours, which is where the Saison Dupont leads from the front.

The beer itself certainly quenched my thirst after a long day at the office, and I can only echo the views of the masses in that this beer is delicious. It poured a cloudy amber, and smelt remarkable, with plenty of fizz and head. There were hints of citrus and other unnameable fruits to accompany the hops, and I found it hard to concentrate on the conversation with this little beer at my side. I vowed next time to drink this alone on a warm day outside and really get to grips with it.

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Filed under 8, Dupont, Saison