Tag Archives: TinTin

#105 – Duchesse de Bourgogne

#105 - Duchesse de Bourgogne

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.2 %

My third beer of the night, and something of a switch after two heavy tripels. I had heard a lot about the Duchess of Burgundy, and was served this one up by Andrew in its rightful glass. I had only possibly drunk two Belgian beers loosely named after a woman. One was a statue in a Park in Ostend (#43), and the other was a witch (#79). Surely here was a proper Belgian heroine?

Before my infatuation with Belgium I would often struggle to be able to name many famous Belgians, let alone a female one. I’m still trying to think of one now. Even TinTin and Asterix were completely male orientated! Ask any Belgian however, and many will point to the good Duchesse – and with good reason.

Mary of Burgundy was born at the Castle of Coudenburg in Brussels in 1457, to be the only child of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and his wife Isabella of Bourbon. She was instantly the heiress to a vast swathe of Burgundian land stretching from the Low Countries deep into France. She instantly became a hit with the fellas, even at the age of five when her hand was sought for the future Ferdinand II of Aragon. Later suitors included King Louis XI of France on behalf of his son, the Dauphin Charles. Mary managed to hold off the attention, although things came to a bit of a head in 1477 when her father infamously died at the Siege of Nancy. France suddenly saw an opportunity to secure the inheritance of the Low Countries through the union with the 19 year old Mary.

It is perhaps fair to say that the Duchesse de Bourgogne is so popular in the modern era due to her snubbing of the French. Later that year, she opted to take the hand of Archduke Maximilian* of Austria, aligning herself to the Hapsburgs and changing the fate of history for the Low Countries. What followed was about two hundred years of relative peace. The French were spurned, and civil strife was abated. It wasn’t something however that Mary could spend her later years looking back on fondly. Tragically just five years after marrying Maximilian she was thrown from her horse while falconing and trampled. It was to break her back and she survived no more than a few days. The artwork on the label is a famous Flemish portrait of Mary and her falcon photographed by Hugo Maertens.

The beer itself is a Flanders sour red ale with plenty of bite, which gets its unique flavour through a primary and secondary fermentation, followed by eighteen long months maturation in oak. The final mix is then blended with a younger eight month beer. Its well worth the wait, but like anything in 250 ml bottles its over in the shake of a lambs tail.

* You may remember Maximilian from drinking Brugse Zot (#36) – he suggested that the people of Bruges were all mad fools !

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Filed under 8, Sour Ale, Verhaeghe

#75 – Hercule Stout

#75 - Hercule Stout

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Stout. It doesn’t sound quintessentially Belgian, although the Brasserie Ellezelloise actually define the beer as ‘Belgian Stout’, and there certainly aren’t many of them. I’ll save these discussions for later as there are plenty of stouts around in the low countries these days, but clearly I can’t leave this beer without talking about its namesake – Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie was not much of a beer lover by all accounts, but Philippe Gerard, the Master Brewer at Ellezelloise has cleverly picked up on the fact that Monsieur Poirot was most likely born just down the road. There isn’t a great deal of evidence in the actual books themselves as to the heritage of Hercule, and it has been left to fans to pick up and solve the case. In 33 novels and 51 short stories between 1920 and 1975 only one book, the watery ‘Taken in the Flood’ pays reference to his family, suggesting he was born as an orphan and raised by nuns. How very Belgian. ‘The Big Four’ goes on to refer to the town of Spa in the Ardennes as a setting for his life, and Christie has since revealed that nearby Ellezelloise was the small village she imagined her famous character living and working.

The ageless detective is one of Belgium’s most well known individuals, which is slightly damning when you consider that both TinTin and Poirot aren’t even real, however what the Belgians may lack in superstars, they clearly make up for in their beer and beer culture. Here a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere has not only created a beer based on a legend, but nurtured a stout that many conclude to be one of the best in the world. It is this which makes Belgium special, and unless you begin to get out there and find out for yourself you can easily miss the pulse which throbs beneath this wonderful country.

The Hercule Stout is not my ideal drink, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the experience. From the swing-top bottle with the porcelain stopper, to the taste of spruce (well according to the brewers it does. Our long deceased family dog was the only living thing I knew who devoured Christmas trees!). My clothes and soft furnishings have had some bad experiences with swing-top bottles (#28, #54) and I was prepared for this one over the kitchen sink. It merely popped and just a wisp of smoky vapour escaped. It could almost have contained a genie. The smell was genuinely mysterious just like its benefactor, and the flavour dark, sweet, bitter and very malty. I had always known stout as Guinness, and it’s fair to say this was nothing like it really. Drink this and grow your little grey cells !

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Filed under 7, Ellezelloise, Imperial Stout

#72 – Gordon’s Highland Scotch Ale

#72 - Gordon's Highland Scotch Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

I was fairly uneasy talking about this beer as part of the Belgian Beer Odyssey. The commercial description says everything about how un-Belgian this beer is – “Gordon Scotch Ale was born in the limpid highlands among isolated lochs and haunting Scottish castles”. Then if you consider the tartan and thistle on the label and bottle, and the fact the glass is shaped like a thistle you quite wonder how this can possibly be continental? There isn’t even the faintest hint of its intended market in the title, and yet the brewers John Martin (an equally non Belgian appellation) started to brew this beer in Belgium as early as 1924 in Antwerp. Maybe it is here that I should stop a while and consider the term ‘Scotch Ale’, which might help to begin easing my discomfort.

A Scotch Ale is one of many types of Pale Ale, which is a bit of a convenient catch-all for a variety of beers of low to medium strength which utilise ale yeast and pale malts. These could include IPA (India Pale Ale), Red Ale, American Pale Ale and good old English bitter on which I was raised. Some of these pale ales are made stronger (normally above 7%), and Scotch Ale is an example of this. There are a couple of convincing reasons why the term ‘Scotch Ale’ came about. Some say it is due to the fact that it originated in Edinburgh in the 1700’s which seems a reasonable claim – others suggest it is due to the fact that the Scots tended to use smoked malts while brewing which gave the beer the flavour of whisky or scotch.

None of this explains however why this is a Belgian Beer by designation, or why a brewer in Antwerp wanted to create this beer outside of its obvious surroundings. Well, sadly the answer is probably that Belgians (and Americans where this beer is also very popular) have a particularly sweet tooth. The beer in question was known in the UK as McEwans Special Export, a drink normally associated with the unkempt who frequent railway arches at night. Because the Belgians enjoy this kind of drink and have learnt the art of drinking in moderation, an even stronger version of this beer was introduced to the market where it has remained remarkably popular as a heavy aperitif or nightcap on winter nights. The fact that you are unlikely to find it in Scotland amidst the wispy lochs and limpid highlands satisfies my concerns for now.

The beer itself was on the menu of the Lowlander at Creechurch Street (now sadly closed), and ended up on my table only due to the fact that about another four beers were apologetically not available. It was dark, very dark, with a surreal red glow permeating through it when any light source caught it. The flavour was heavy and sweet, and not distinctly unpleasant, but at the same time not a drink that I would eagerly seek out again, unless of course they surrounded it in a label of the Belgian flag or stuck TinTin eating a waffle on the front.

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Filed under 6, Brewers, John Martin, Scotch Ale

#63 – La Gauloise Brune

La Gauloise Brune

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.1 %

My second beer in the Purnode campsite was another local brew from just across the way – La Gauloise Brune. This is a beer that celebrates the many Gallo-Roman sites in the locality, and which when first brewed back in 1858 by Du Bocq, attempted to recreate how those residents of ancient Gaul would have brewed beer. The strapline of the beer echoes this – ‘La biere de nos ancetres’. These ancestors funnily enough were known as Gauls.

Gaul is the historic name used by the Roman Empire to refer to the region of Western Europe that was what is now largely France and Belgium. In fact, Julius Caesar went as far as to break Gaul down further into three distinct ethnic groups – The Aquitani in the south west, the Celts in the middle, and the Belgae in the north between the Rhine and the Seine.

Gaul was eventually conquered by the Romans during the Gallic wars, where at least a million people died, and a further million were enslaved (totalling almost a half of the entire Gallic population). three hundred tribes were subjugated, and eight hundred cities destroyed. The tribes never really had a chance to be fair, as more often than not they were fighting amongst themselves, even when Julius Caesar became the common enemy. Their principal religion tended to be animism, in which animals were worshipped, and they tended to follow the political inclinations of the Druids, who had particularly strong beliefs in not recording the Celtic wisdom and literature into writing. It is often said that this is the reason the language of the Celts has virtually disappeared without trace except for parts of Brittany. For anybody seeking further information on the Gauls I would suggest reading Asterix. From what I have read on Gaul so far, it remains remarkably coherent in its portrayal of life at this time.

I was served the beer in a cracking little tankard with the newer logo on it, and after pouring I held it up to the light, to see a chestnut brown infused with ruby red. It looked the business, especially with its sepia head remaining pert on top. The aroma was intensely malty, and the taste was smooth and strong, echoing even more maltiness. It was a pleasant drink right to the end, but just didn’t go far enough to earn a better rating. Anyway, it has inspired me to go back and read Asterix, which of course I will do once I finish Tintin.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Du Bocq