Tag Archives: Tripel

#217 – Grimbergen Tripel

#217 - Grimbergen Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Only beer #217 and it was with some relief that I reached the end of the Grimbergen range with the Tripel. I’m not saying that these beers are awful in anyway, but if ever there was an example of mass marketed mediocrity then this is it. This is an accusation often levelled at Leffe, but to be fair I’d take the Leffe Blonde (#41) over any of the Grimbergen beers any day.

It was only a few beers ago when I went exploring the Grimbergen website to search for the Goud/Doree (#212) and it was there that I found something most peculiar. Everything was in order on the Belgian version of the website, but somehow I had also managed to end up on a slightly different version of the website which presented me with what could only amount to a parallel universe. Where I was previously perusing through the Grimbergen Blonde (#8), and Grimbergen Dubbel (#9), I suddenly found myself at the end of a long dusty wardrobe staring out at an alien wintry landscape – there in full Grimbergen regalia stood a Grimbergen Blanche, and a Grimbergen Rouge. I rubbed the centre of my eyes to dramatic effect and looked again only for a Grimbergen Ambree to bounce into view. I really had entered some awful version of Beer Narnia.

With the horrific realisation that I might have to try more Grimbergen beers, I panicked and stumbled back through the wardrobe grasping at the fur lined coats and gasping for breath. As I sat in a puddle on the floor I tried to make sense of what I had just seen. I tried the website again. Nothing. I searched for Grimbergen. Nothing. I even checked with the O’Mighty one at ratebeer. Still confused. I looked back through the wardrobe and there was nothing but a sturdy oak panel. Christ, what did they put in that Val-Dieu Tripel (#216)?

Once my mind was straight(er) I was able to eventually find my way back to the reality which all stems from the history of takeovers which have punctuated the existence of the Brasserie Union; from its days as Alken-Maes, to the takeover by Carlsberg, and now where it sits under the watchful sentry of Kronenbourg. The latter of course are a monolithic beer producer in France, and all the apparitional beers which clouded my judgment do exist but more notably for the French market. There is even a Grimbergen La Reserve which I’m still working out whether I need to consider adding to my Odyssey. For now though I’m drinking the Grimbergen Tripel with the view that this will be my last for quite some time.

In fairness this may not have been that bad a beer. Although the pour was particularly flat with little sign of any lasting head, and that there was a certain flatness to the carbonation – the taste was quintessentially Tripel. There was some medium spicing and a good level of alcohol which you would expect from a beer of 9% ABV. I would go as far as saying this was the pick of the range that is marketed in Belgium – and I will leave it there for now. I have grudgingly accepted that that there is no quelling that damned Phoenix.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Alken-Maes, Phoenix

#216 – Val-Dieu Triple

#216 - Val-Dieu Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Brasserie de L’Abbaye du Val-Dieu is in actual fact the only non-Trappist brewing Abbey in Belgium. I won’t go into the history of the Abbey as I covered that when christening the Val-Dieu Biere de Noel (#127) but that opening gambit is certainly an interesting enough nugget of factoid to whet my appetite for the Val-Dieu Triple.

The whole rules and regulations thing which governs becoming ordained as a Trappist brewery has been covered before (#7) although I will need to refresh slightly to explain how the Abbey at Val-Dieu was left high and dry. Firstly in 1997 the brewery at the Abbey ceased to function as a fully operational monastery – there were simply not enough monks remaining. Today at the brewery all the main duties are carried out by laymen, and it looks likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future, despite the fact the Abbey remains a fully functioning religious institution.

The other issue, which is much more complicated is that which relates to the subtle differences between Trappists and Cistercians. For a starter explanation have a read of the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) but essentially the Cistercians were a splinter group from the Benedictines, and the Trappists were a splinter group from the Cistercians. It’s very loose, but essentially the Trappists are actually known as ‘Cistercians of the Strict Observance’, and they focus far more attention on being contemplative. This aside – the bottom line is that the Abbey at Val-Dieu is Cistercian and always has been.If this religious pendancy wasn’t quite so rigid we would see far more designated breweries across the world than the Magnificent Seven we have in Belgium (and the Netherlands). In particular in Germany there are many non-Trappist monasteries producing beer just like the one at Val-Dieu. Its just they aren’t Trappist.

Anyway, the beers in question that are produced at Aubel are based upon an original recipe from the Val-Dieu monks, and they bear the hallmark which designates them as Authentic Belgian Abbey Beer. The Val-Dieu Triple regardless of its designation was a particularly decent beer – as standard a tripel as I could describe in terms of looks, aroma and taste. It was sweet, strong and quite dry on tasting but it didn’t jump out in any way from its competitors. In many ways, just as all the above will confirm, it really is the nearly-man of Belgian beer.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Val Dieu

#184 – ‘T Smisje Dubbel

#184 - 'T Smisje Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

I continued my adventure in the Rake with another beer from ‘T Smisje. The Tripel (#183) had been so good that I opted for the darker double, and am therefore quickly able to continue the story of Johan Brandt following his move of premises to Mater in Oudenaarde.

Between 1995 and 2008 as De Regenboog, the brewery was famous for an extensive range of experimental beers in the traditional style, pulling on interesting and distinctive ingredients, fruits, herbs and spices. Brandt had tried beers made with mustard seeds (Wostyntje), valerian root and lemon balm (BBBourgondier), honey and raisins (Guido), and sloes (Sleedornbier). Brandt had also worked his magic on maturing an ale for six months in Calvados barrels (Calva Reserva), very much in the style of similar beers from de Struise, Alvinne and de Dolle breweries.

In 2010 however it was with regret that I heard that Brandt had decided to take a break from the wide range of beers, and to concentrate his efforts on one or two house beers. Only a new blond hoppy ale called Smiske survives, with a seasonal variant at Christmas to be produced. He hasn’t closed the door entirely though, and has given beer lovers the chance to still get their hands on one historic recipe per year if ten thousand people on Facebook will sign a petition for it. This has recently worked for the Duvel Tripel Hop, although I would hope in keeping with his fine traditions, Brandt doesn’t rip off his customers at 15 Euros a pop, as Moortgat did.

So it is with regret that this ‘T Smisje Dubbel was possibly the last one I would ever taste. In true Brandt fashion, this was no ordinary dubbel, having been made since 1997 with fresh dates and honey. At 9% strength it is also clearly no run of the mill double, abounding with plenty of guts and a sweetness that simply blows you away. I still probably reckon this is about the best beer I have ever had the pleasure of trying in a bar. My only regret was that I had taken the only one left in the overstocked refrigerators of The Rake. I will continue to look for it on my journeys into Belgium in the older and more eclectic beer stores, or else I may just have to hope a petition of like-minded souls can coerce Mr Brandt to somehow recreate this masterpiece.

 

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Filed under 9, Abbey Dubbel, Dog, Smisje

#183 – ‘T Smisje Tripel

#183 - 'T Smisje Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The brewery Smisje has been around since 1995, but began life as the Brouwerij De Regenboog. In fact it was known under this name right up until 2008 when the owner Johan Brandt moved his premises to Oudenaarde.

Brandt was born in 1963, and had trained in the graphics world for most of his tender years. He married Christine de Schepper in 1998 and soon had two sons called Stijn and Joris. The couple set up their own printing business which was fairly successful, and everything in the Brandt garden was rosy – yet the call of beer would eventually become too much. Johan was already brewing beer as a hobby, and thus the kit that was beginning to take over his home was the start of something special. Eventually, the beer did take over his life and he gradually reduced his work in printing, although continuing to use the name of his existing business, De Regenboog, which translates as ‘The Rainbow’.

The first beer produced at De Regenboog was simply known as ‘T Smisje, and was largely experimental in its nature. Brandt was also a bee-keeper and thus plenty of honey was used in this brew. The name ’T Smisje means ‘little blacksmith’, the connotation coming from a local blacksmith’s forge which was adjacent to the location of the Brandt house in Assebroek, a suburb of Bruges. This name was apt in that it in many ways sums up the hand-crafted artisanal nature of this first beer – although to be honest little has changed since. The range of beers from De Regenboog over the years have used a myriad of natural fruits, herbs and spices.

I had heard a fair bit about the beers from De Regenboog, and so when I saw a couple of bottles from the range in The Rake pub in Borough Market, there was never going to be any other choice. I started with the ‘T Smisje Tripel which was absolutely delicious, and bombarded me with the heady sweetness of vanilla and banana, coupled with the seriousness of a Westmalle Tripel (#149). The company was excellent also, bumping into inadvertently another beer blogger by the name of Impy Malting who is considerably further ahead in her writing than my good self. Anybody who travels half way across London to seek out beers of fancy is worth a read in my book.

 

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Dog, Smisje

#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.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, St. Bernardus

#181 – Kasteel Triple

#181 - Kasteel Triple

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 11 %

This is the second and penultimate beer from the Kasteel range which has found its way down my throat. The first was the dark sweet cloying beast that is the Kasteel Donker (#93), where I had previously told the story of the history of the famous castle in Ingelmunster, up until 1986 when the brewing siblings Luc and Marc Van Honsebrouck moved in.

It hasn’t all been good news though since. In 2001 the beautiful moated building was devastated by a terrible fire. Work has been done ever since to restore the castle however so immense was the damage that at least two thirds are no longer open to the public. The structure does though remain, and has been bandaged up over the years to at least look better on the outside, but the heart and soul has literally been ripped out of this historic building. This is no better exemplified than by the loss of almost everything inside – family furniture, tapestries, sculptures and paintings all perished forever one September evening.

It also isn’t the first time that the castle has burnt down. This jinxed building and in fact the whole village of Ingelmunster was completely razed in 1695 following hostilities between English, French and Spanish soldiers. The rebuilding which followed under Hapsburg rule has led to the current design which has only just hung onto existence by the very skin of its teeth. In fact, the only area now safe for the public to enter is the Kasteelkelder, the atmospheric name for the castle’s basement. It is here where tourists and beer fans can enjoy tasting the famous Van Honsebrouck beers in their traditional castle shaped glasses.

The Kasteel Triple is another megalith of a beer. Weighing in at 11% you would need to ensure you had a designated driver if you were stopping in at Ingelmunster for a quick tipple. Somebody recently suggested to me that this beer is similar to the Bush Blonde (#164) by Dubuisson, and to be fair they aren’t too far wrong in terms of appearance and potency, however I feel the Kasteel Tripel has just a little more panache in the finish. There is some fruit in there, some spice and whatever that something is that just urges you to want another. This is by no means a professional ground-breaking brew, but it deserves its place as one of the better super-strength triples.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Tripel, Van Honsebrouck

#180 – De Block Speciale

#180 - De Block Speciale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

De Block is a solid little brewery tucked away in the Flemish Brabant region of Belgium. I had already tried their Dendermonde Tripel (#47), and Kastaar (#96), each of which had a unique story to tell, but as yet the story of De Block has gone untold. They don’t produce a wide range of beers so I will take my opportunity now.

It’s another great family tradition that has endured for well over half a millennia. The actual brewery was initiated by Louis de Block who was a local miller and farmer, who married the daughter of a brewer from Baardegem. This was particularly handy for Louis as he had inherited a right to brew beer from his immediate family. Henricus de Block way back in the 14th Century had been bestowed this privilege for his contribution as a vassal of the Duke of Brabant and Burgundy. Whether Louis had chosen his bride out of love, or for her specialist brewing knowledge is now immaterial.

As is common in the lowlands, the family tradition has been to hand down the baton of brewing to the next family member, and the De Blocks are no exception. We can trace the family history right the way back. The most recent beneficiary is Paul Saerens who married into the De Block family. He has been keen to ensure that the De Block name continues despite the apparent void of male heirs. It has been under Saerens that De Block have widened their scope in the export market. Flemish Brabant is not shy of a few breweries, being one of the most condensed areas in Belgium for beer production. Saerens spotted this and opened up De Block to the rest of Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, and now almost 80% of current production leaves Belgium for foreign shores. Perhaps the most recognisable brand is that of the Satan beers which dominate the brewery’s marketing.

You might be mistaken for thinking as I was that, that the De Block Speciale is a staple house beer. It is far from that! The unique taste of this attractively packaged beer is certainly one to divide opinion. It is actually a brew blended from both young and old beers, and is flavoured with pomegranate and elderflowers. This certainly accounts for the bizarre medicinal floridity which is definitely one of the most unsubtle kicks I have had so far on this journey. Although on first appearance the De Block Speciale looks like a traditional golden ale all comparisons thereafter can be written off. This is a particularly carbonated fruity sour ale albeit with a redeeming bitterness. It is certainly unique, although after about half a glass becomes somewhat tiresome. I guess this is one of those beers you would have little chance of not recognising blindfolded, and I am still trying to work out if that is a compliment or not.

(Thanks to Andrew at 40 Beers at 40 for the excellent photograph)

 

 

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, De Block

#161 – Achilles Serafijn Tripel

#161 - Achilles Serafijn Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

The Achilles brewery was once just a hobby for Achiel van de Moer, who spent seven long years trialling a number of different efforts before finally deciding to open this great little microbrewery in 1999.

Achiel, after whom the brewery is named, now sustains his full income from brewing beers, having retired from his previous job as a music teacher. Having said that though the operations are still tiny – just three truck loads of beer are brewed every year! Despite the professional look of the bottles on the range of Serafijn beers, it is even more remarkable that this microbrewery is wedged into a crowded garage in the placid and unremarkable town of Itegem. Even if you manage to locate the town, it’s even less likely you will find the brewery without the latest state-of-the-art GPS system – there are no signposts.

At home, Achiel has, like many microbrewers in Belgium, converted his living quarters into his office and factory. Squeezed into every nook and cranny lie the kettles and tuns, and even a bottling line just waiting for the next batch. Achiel has even made room for a small beer bar/café in what used to be the family’s front room. It is extremely popular with the neighbours and local populace, and the extra revenue generated helps to support this great venture.

I caught up with Achiel on his stand at the Bruges Beer festival, and was happy to oblige in taking almost the whole range of his beers away for future drinkage. It wasn’t long until the Achilles Serafijn Tripel passed my lips though, and what a fine beer to start off with. It is generally heralded as the pinnacle of the series – a typical golden honeyed tripel, complete with a hoppy backbite which leaves you desperate for more. I am very much looking forward to finishing off the collection, and perhaps a trip out to the Serafijn Cafe.

(Post-Script) – The brewery is sadly currently up for sale, although there don’t appear to be many takers !

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#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.

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

#153 – Tripel de Garre

#153 - Tripel de Garre

Size: on cask

ABV: 11.5 %

We started our Saturday evening on the tiles in a highly recommended bar, wedged into a tiny alley, just a stones throw from the main square in Bruges. The Staminee de Garre in fact sits on the shortest road in Bruges, De Garre, and it took us more than a little while to actually locate the place. Once we did however, we found it even more difficult to leave.

Our visit was largely down to the dramatic owner of the guesthouse in which we were staying. On our arrival he had welcomed us with a free round of Brugse Zot’s (#36) – the staple beer of Bruges, and I was keen to see whether he had any more adventurous taste in beer than the Zot. He pulled us closer in a conspiratorial huddle, looking sheepishly around for witnesses, and told us in a hushed whisper of this bar in town, that serves a beer so strong, that they have to ration you. He claimed it was his favourite beer, and was gone as if in a puff of smoke. He was back two minutes later, armed with a map and a pencil, and thus our plan for the first drink of the evening had been hatched.

It was a small intimate bar, set on two rustic floors, which creaked with character every time you lifted a foot or moved on your chair. It was completely packed on arrival, yet within minutes we had squeezed into a gap upstairs, and were ordering the special house beer. The Tripel de Garre is only available here, although is brewed especially for the bar by Van Steenberge. It is a potent 11.5%, and the thick orange coloured brew is served up in a unique thickset goblet, which serves to preserve the wonderful thick white frothy head. As if that wasn’t enough, each beer is accompanied by meaty chunks of the house cheese, and enough celery salt to dry out a table full of beer stains.

All in all, I look very fondly back on this beer. As a strong fruity thick sweet beer it was always going to score highly for me, but to drink this in a great bar with family helped to make the occasion. It is often true that a good beer tastes even better in the right atmosphere. Even my old man, who is a bona fide English ale drinker couldn’t argue with this one. We were all able to neck a couple each before we headed off to dinner, and so were unable to put the rationing to the test. I am reliably informed that the limit is 2 or 3 Tripel de Garre’s per person – although I am sure in these hard financial times, that the bar staff might avert their eyes once in a while.

To find the Staminee de Garre, click here

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Van Steenberge

#149 – Westmalle Tripel

#149 - Westmalle Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5 %

Just as Westmalle symbolises the ultimate Dubbel (#16), then look no further than Westmalle for the archetypal Tripel. I often get asked by new recruits who I drag to London’s best pubs for a Belgian brainwash, what is a Tripel? This is best answered I think with an elegant glass of this in your hand.

The term Tripel is mainly used in Belgium and the Netherlands, and now commonly in the USA, to describe a strong pale ale, exemplified in the style of the Westmalle Tripel. The origin of the term is still argued about today, but it almost certainly was a measure of the brews’ strength in the early days. Casks used to be marked with a series of notches or crosses, usually X for the weakest, XX for a beer of medium strength or XXX for the strongest. This makes perfect sense, as does the theory that it was in reference to the original gravity of a beer, which tends to correspond with the 3%, 6% and 9% ABV of beers. You tend to find most Tripels are strong, around the 9% mark, although of course this is no definitive yardstick.

Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star) argued that the first real Tripel was born in the early 1930s in the Drie Linden (Three Lindens) brewery. The head brouwmeister Hendrik Verlinden had been looking to compete with the strong pale lagers and pilseners coming out of Czechoslovakia, and teamed up with the Trappists at Westmalle to share ideas. Westmalle released the strong blonde ale Superbier, which they labelled a Tripel, and Verlinden followed with the Witkap Pater. This would later become the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) brewed at Slagmuylder, and the Superbier was turned into the Westmalle Tripel in 1956 with the addition of plenty more hops. It has remained essentially unchanged ever since, and to this day is the paragon of virtue for all Tripels.

I had a number of these in my cellar at home, but chance had not thrown one my way as yet, and thus on my first night in Bruges on a boozy weekend, I couldn’t resist one or two of these over a sumptuous meal. Many modern day beer geeks suggest the Westmalle Tripel isn’t quite the beer it once was, but for me it’s a great beer. It always pours rich and golden, with a thick lemony head, and hits you with attitude on the first bite. By the time you have finished at least two of these off, you are definitely ready to go plonk yourself in the corner of a bar and drink yourself into oblivion.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Trappist Beer, Westmalle

#139 – Moinette Blonde

#139 - Moinette Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

There could be a handful of reasons why Dupont chose to name their popular beer Moinette Blonde. I’m happy to run through a number of hypotheses and let you play detective (#75).

1. Well its obvious really. The word monk in French is moine. The success of Abbey beers led to the association. The little monk beer.

2. The original name of the beer created in 1955 was the Abbaye de la Moinette. It was the showpiece beer from Dupont, and again was paying lip service to the sellability of Abbey Tripel style beers on the market. The name was changed to Moinette in 1980 due to the fact there is no Abbaye de la Moinette.

3. The Dupont brewery is situated in a swampy area renowned for its marshland. The modern French term for swamp is marais, whilst the ancient French term was moene. The beer was therefore named Moinette, as it was from the Moene region.

4. In the tiny village of Tourpes, which is the home of Dupont, there used to be an old mill, and a farmstead which belonged to the long line of Dupont ancestors. This farmstead was known as the Cense de la Moinette. The name of the flagship beer was chosen as a sentimental reference to the good old days.

It’s safe to say that all the above are pretty much a minor variation on a common set of truths. The one common factor that is beyond doubt however is the general appreciation of this beer. Aside from qualifying in the Top 100 Belgian Beers to try before you die book, the label and style of this beer reeks of professionalism. The beer itself was similar with a classy velvet finish. The flavour was smooth without being stunning, and yet had all the hoppiness I have come to expect from Dupont. It’s a great beer, but isn’t necessarily the kind of style that I get overly excited about.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Dupont

#137 – Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

#137 - Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

This is the second dabbling I have had with the beers of Tongerlo, my first stop being the Tongerlo Tripel Blonde (#30) which gave me a chance to introduce the Abbey which so elegantly adorns the beers labels. The abbey is famous for its Norbertine traditions, but just what sets aside a Norbertine from say a Cistercian, or a Trappist?

It all stems funnily enough from St. Norbert, who was a migrant preacher that founded the religious community of Premontre in France in 1121. The influential teachings here spread like wildfire, and the Norbertines or Premonstratensians were soon involved in the beginnings of Tongerlo Abbey in 1133. You may also recall he was the founder of Grimbergen Abbey (#8).

The main difference in the Norbertines of the Premonstratensian order was that they weren’t exactly monks, they were canons regular. It’s a subtle difference, one in which I am trying manfully to get my head round – especially as the orders and expectations manifest themselves so differently through time. Essentially the Norbertines originally based their traditions on the Cistercian (#94), and Augustinian ways, in that they were seeking a more austere way of being, but fundamentally they acted as canons regular, and therefore did not lead the true monastic contemplative life. They had far more responsibility in looking to minister to those outside the abbeys, and were if you like, the link between the inner sanctum of the monks, and the wider secular clergy. A subtle difference but one which saved the canon regulars from the long choral duties, and systemic moral reproofs which characterised the monks lives.

At the end of the day though, they were bonded by the brewing of the beer, and I say amen to that. The Tongerlo Dubbel Bruin itself was a safe brown. Thinner and fizzier than I expected, but with the subtle maltiness that you expect from a decent brown beer. At 6% it didn’t have the kick of some darker Belgians but is one I wouldn’t have a problem drinking again.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Haacht

#111 – Maredsous 8

#111 - Maredsous 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

A fair way back on my Odyssey I got to try the Maredsous Tripel 10 (#44), and touched a little upon the history of the wonderful Abbey hidden away in the Namur countryside. I was able to pay a visit while wandering around Belgium looking for more beers for the cellar, so I thought I might as well bring the history bang up to date, as I failed to mention before that the Abbey at Maredsous has more to its history than just religion, beer and cheese!

In 1903 the St. Joseph School of Applied Arts and Crafts was officially opened. It seemed originally intent on serving as a repository for poor local children to hone their skills in a number of vocational trades, such as carpentry, cobbling or plumbing, but it ended up being purely a centre for fine arts and crafts. High quality works were produced and displayed here at first, leading on to the commissioning of pieces of art for paying customers. Although the 1914-1918 war had a profound effect on the business it did continue on, though changing its focus more to the training of artists rather than skilled craftsmen. The international reputation started to flourish and eventually the eclectic school merged to form the IATA (Technical Institute of Arts and Crafts).

This daily activity still lives on now in the buildings of the Abbey, and anybody passing by is well advised to pop into the St. Joseph visitors centre and have a quick nose around. It certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but at least it’s a welcome diversion from the oh-so-expensive gift sets of Maredsous on sale in the predictably tacky beer shop. I would recommend the cheese though – but that’s probably another story I will save for the final Maredsous beer.

This little Saturday evening tipple was a very pleasant surprise for me after my original disappointment with the Maredsous Tripel. She was rich and dark and full of good old fashioned spicy twang. I would go as far as calling it delicious. It was strong in all the right places and stuck there right to the end. I thought that with the hangover I had today that I would be making a mistake drinking this, but if ever a beer qualified as ‘hair of the dog’ this one certainly was going for first prize.

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#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.

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#104 – Brugge Tripel

#104 - Brugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.2 %

Beer two of the night, and another Palm Tripel style beer to follow straight after the Steenbrugge (#103). Andrew my trusty beer companion swore this was an absolute classic and had been long looking forward to introducing me to it, but for me it didn’t taste much different to the Steenbrugge. In that respect it was a nice solid beer, but whether I could tell them apart again – gruit or no gruit – is questionable. Maybe I should have tried them alongside each other but then that would have been far too geeky. We were drinking for pleasure after all. The packaging is similar, the name is missing a ‘steen’ and even the public seem to agree though. The Good Belgian Beer Guide rates both at an unremarkable 3/5, and if you go by the popular ‘RateBeer’ website, the Steenbrugge attracted 3.19 as a rating, as opposed to 3.16 for the Brugge Tripel. If it wasn’t for the drop in 0.3% ABV for the latter, I might be less guarded in restraining my cynicism. There is a bit of history to the beer as well though which is worth telling.

Brugge Tripel is the beer of Bruges,and allegedly the taste of a city, although it hasn’t always been this way. In 1491 Bruges was a dry city, after the Sheriff decided no citizen was allowed to buy beer in Bruges any longer. This lasted for five long years before eventually the citizens rightly rebelled. Prohibition of a kind was lifted, and Brugge Tripel was born – the people were so excited they decided to name it after their great city.

Ironically of course, Brugge Tripel is now brewed by Palm, but it wasn’t always this way – there was a time when it was brewed within the city walls of Bruges. It all began at the T’Hamerken tavern in around the 1580s, which became a de facto brewery for almost four hundred years until the financial demise in 1976, whence it became the Gouden Boom brewery (Golden Tree). From 1902 the current premises in the centre of Bruges were home to a range of local beers, including both the Brugge Tripel and Steenbrugge beers, however the rot set in once the beers were moved out to Palm, and only recently the whole brewery was completely demolished – just the large copper kettle surviving the holocaust. It is worth taking a peek at the photos on the Belgian Beer Board website.

So my final thoughts before memories of the evening become too cloudy. A nice enjoyable Tripel, although having recently enjoyed a weekend in Bruges I am not wholly sure I can totally agree with the brewers view that Brugge Tripel “truly evokes the very best of Bruges”.

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#103 – Steenbrugge Tripel

#103 - Steenbrugge Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Having already told the story of St. Arnoldus and his waffle-stick (#26), its time to talk about another thing Steenbrugge beers are associated with – gruit, and the best way to do that is to take a little journey back in time.

Gruit, or grut as it is sometimes spelt is a medieval mixture of various herbs which were used for bittering and flavouring beer. It was clearly the precursor to hops and could include almost anything that would give flavour and conserve the life of the brew. Again, its worth reiterating that beer was often preferred to water in these days as it was a lot safer to drink! The composition of the gruit could be almost anything, but often included gale, mugwort, yarrow, heather, juniper, ginger, caraway, aniseed – you get the picture.

It was around the 15th Century that hops became the preferred agent used to make beer, and there are a number of reasons that have been cited – some of which are more likely that others.

Firstly, is the association with the Reformation in Europe. At this time the churches were monopolising the beer production, and Protestant princes in Europe saw the advent of hops as a way of cutting down the revenue of the Roman Catholic church. It has also been posited that it may have been a social measure taken by the more austere Protestants to calm down the more stimulating Catholic beers, by ensuring the sedative effects of hops. Although a touch spurious, certainly around this time the Bavarian Purity Laws were in abundance in Europe which as we know (#35) limited the brewing of beer to only key ingredients like malt or barley, water and hops.

Two much more likely reasons remain though. Firstly, there were often ‘incidents’. Accounts abound of beer being spiced with deadly nightshade or henbane. Local governments and lords needed their workers alive and while hops were suddenly in abundance this was much more satisfactory. Another much more likely reason is that hops tend to work much better and more consistently than gruit. This was evidenced in the late 19th Century when India Pale Ale was made with higher concentrations of hops to keep better on long sea journeys.

Either way certain brewers, especially those of the craft variety in Belgium and the USA, have recently experimented with re-substituting hops with gruit mixtures. Steenbrugge beers are one such example. Hops are still used but the Palm brewery has been keen to remarket these beers as containing the famous mixture. To be fair you can hardly say the effect was overly noticeable. I suspect this is a nice little marketing ploy to discern it from the beer I drunk next. It was a pleasant tasting strong tripel which went down extremely well, and it would end up being the first of six new beers I would try tonight, not to mention those home bankers I had already tried. It was to be quite a hangover !

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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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#94 – Witkap Pater Tripel

#94 - Witkap Pater Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I am a big fan of the gentleman who adorns the Witkap beers – after all it’s clear proof that beer-drinking hoodies have been around since medieval times ! The chap is in actual fact a Cistercian monk, and the Witkap name refers to the white hoods that the Cistercians chose to wear. Of course, Cistercians – no different to any monks – seriously enjoyed their beer.

Cistercian monks essentially were a splinter group from the Benedictine monks who felt that they needed to pay stricter homage to the rules of St. Benedict. The name comes from Cistercium, the Latin name for the village of Citeaux where the reformist monks founded their first abbey in 1098. The word spread quickly as by the end of the 12th Century the order had spread throughout France, and much of Western Europe. The result of the Cistercian reversion was the return to stricter austerity and a reproduction of the original days of Benedictism – with particular determination to revert to manual labour – including of course the production of great beer !

Just like the Benedictines though, the Cistercians over time began to sway in their following, and during the 19th century, the Trappists (who we of course know very well these days in Belgium) decided that they also needed a reform to the original teachings and observances of St. Benedict.

Either way, all nuances of the “contemplative orders” mentioned above are categorised by the adherence to silence while within the monastery walls. It is a common misplaced myth that monks make vows of silence, its just that quiet helps to increase the monks ability to communicate and to continue in prayer.

The brewers of this beer, Slagmuylder claim that the Witkap Pater Tripel was actually the first golden Tripel although I would imagine that the monks at Westmalle may seek redress over this point. I have been brought up on the Westmalle Tripel (#149) and the Witkap, despite being eminently drinkable is not in the same league. It poured well, had plenty of bubbles and went down extremely well before a heavy night out, but just lacked the class of the ‘real’ golden Tripel.

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#86 – Watou Tripel

#86 - Watou Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Watou is a bit of a haven when it comes to beer. If you start to plot breweries on a map of Belgium – which lets face it is a perfect thing to do on a quiet Sunday 😉  – you start to notice a batch of them all concentrated in a quiet area of countryside just north of the French border. Westvleteren, Van Eecke, Struise Brouwers and St. Bernardus are within a stones throw of each other, and each are renowned for the quality of their beers. The latter is based in the small village of Watou for which this beer is named.

The brewery claim that this beer was made for the French, maybe as a compromise for the fact that in 1793 this area was designated to fall within Flanders, as opposed to France. It’s odd because the beer sounds French, although there are villages that ended up in France at the carve-up that sound nailed on Flemish such as Steenvoorde and Winne Zele. It just happened that the geographical location of two rivers meant that it ended up in Belgian hands.

Watou generally translates as “watery area”, a direct reference to the rivers that dominate the locality. It only has a population of around 2000 people, but often the streets are bursting with visitors to the Flanders fields, or to a number of annual festivals that take place in the village and surrounding areas. One of these is a choir festival that takes place in St. Bavo church, the one so beautifully recreated on the label of this beer. The church has been a preserved monument since 1939 and contains the tombs of two of the first counts of Watou. Other visitors come to visit the brewery of St. Bernardus and the famous hop farms of Poperinge.

Local hops are used to make this extremely pleasant medium strength blonde. The bitterness of the hops is played off expertly against the zesty fruity tang which accompanies every sip. To be honest it didn’t start off as a great beer, but it grew with every inch downed. Where it began mellow and indistinctive, it ended alive and buzzing with energy. Rarely does a beer start as a six and end as an eight – though you would expect nothing less from a St. Bernardus.

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