Tag Archives: Van Steenberge

#213 – Gulden Draak Vintage

#213 - Gulden Draak Vintage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Although I had previously recounted a version of the legend of the Golden Dragon in my review of Gulden Draak (#145), there is an even more fanciful alternative in a book by Bertha Palmer Lane called ‘Tower Legends’. This anthology details the mystical dragon from Aleppo, and other similar stories related to an assortment of world belfries. It’s more a book for children, and considering children aren’t supposed to be drinking beers and almost certainly should have better things to do than read about beers, I am going to dispel all those myths right here. I did the same whistleblowing recently on the gnomes of Achouffe (#185), and nobody there has come knocking on my door yet.

Despite the fact that the people of Bruges seem to think that their Golden Dragon was stolen by the people of Ghent in actual fact this is complete baloney. It’s hardly surprising they might think this though given that Emperor Maximilian once labelled his own Brugeois people as mad (Brugse Zot #36). We can assume that without the invention of broadband at that time that maybe word of mouth and propaganda was responsible, although the myth has permeated through to the 20th Century. Not only are there still regular requests in Bruges to have the dragon returned, even the people of Norway made a request in 1918 for their claim on the prize. It was after all a Norwegian king who in the legend had first donated the mythical dragon to the Turks. Sigh.

The actual dragon that sits atop the belfry in Ghent was commissioned at the request of the people of Ghent in 1378. It was suggested the dragon would be symbolic of the power and freedom of Ghent at that time, and as dragons are supposed to never sleep, this creature would always look out across the city and protect its citizens. It has often been involved in key historical festivities, notably first in 1500 at the baptism of prince Karel, and on regular occurrences since when it would spit fire (no doubt some sly mechanical sleight of hand in case you were beginning to wonder). It has lain dormant however since 1819; no doubt when the people of Ghent began to realise it was in fact just a copper statue.

Whether you prefer the facts or to lose yourself in the legend, there is no getting away from the popularity of the copper statue and the role it plays in the identity of the city. The two beers made by Van Steenberge are equally iconic; although I haven’t myself quite worked out why as yet. The Gulden Draak Vintage was slightly better than the original beer, but to be honest it wasn’t by a great deal. The Christmas version started badly by viciously exploding on my lap (when will I learn?) and having managed to first decant it into two glasses and then scrubbed the sofa I was able to continue with what was left. I found the remains to be less artificial than the original but lacking in any real flavours which you might expect from a seasonal beer. It packed less of a punch but was slightly more rounded in flavour than the Gulden Draak. I may be in the minority on this one but I’d give both beers a wide berth – once again the truth is less interesting than the hype.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Christmas Beer, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#174 – du Boucanier Dark Ale

#174 - du Boucanier Dark Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV : 9 %

I had already tried the du Boucanier Red Ale (#27), which dealt with the origins of buccaneering. I won’t go into that again, however it would be good to explore the links between buccaneers and their beer. They certainly didn’t mess around when it came to drinking!

These undesirable pirates of the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean had a tradition of drinking a toast while on the deck of plundered ships or harboursides they may have just overrun. Not content with a nice 330ml tumbler or tulip, buccaneers had an altogether different vessel of choice for their strong seafaring ale – their boots! A sobering thought given the hygiene issues many of these vagabonds would have endured. To drink from the boot of a fellow buccaneer was seen as a symbol of brotherhood and a bond of trust between fellow seafarers. It was known as the custom of being “brothers of the coast”.

Modern day acts of brotherhood often include initiation rituals or the sharing of blood. I would imagine all are preferable to swallowing the verrucas and corns of stinking scurvy ridden sailors. This hasn’t deterred the marketeers of the du Boucanier beers though, who have continued the tradition into the modern day world, and sell glasses shaped as half-litre boots. These can be ordered from their website should anybody wish to indulge.

I opted for a half of the dark ale served somewhat more sedately in a Grimbergen chalice. It was not how I would have envisaged real buccaneer dark beer to be though. Although strong and weighing in at a hefty 9%, this beer didn’t have a lot of guts. It was thin and limp, and lacking in any real definitive robust flavour. I enjoyed it, as I do most Belgian beers, however these leaner dark beers often tend to be ten to the penny on the market, and thus this one gets the boot from me I am afraid.

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Filed under 6, Belgian Strong Ale, Van Steenberge

#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

#145 – Gulden Draak

#145 - Gulden Draak

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

If you visit Ghent you will almost certainly have to look up at some point at the majestic Belfry in the main square. You shouldn’t need a telescopic lens on your camera to spot the Gulden Draak sat atop the tower. She weighs almost 400 kilograms, is over 3 metres long, and is so famous they decided to name a beer (or two) after it.

There is a legend to the story of the dragon which dates back to the Crusades in the 12th Century, and involves a certain Norse king called Sigrid Magnusson. He had been fighting hard in the Crusades, and had received such a heroes welcome on entering the city of Constantinople (now of course Istanbul), that he took the gold plated dragon from the prow of his boat and donated it to the Hagia Sofia church. Almost a hundred years later, the Flemish earl Boudewijn IX during the 4th Crusade was crowned Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, taking Constantinople from the Turks. Impressed with the dragon, he dragged it all the way back home, which prompted a succession of bids for its possession, culminating in the Battle of Beverhoutsveld in 1382, where the people of Ghent stole it from atop the St. Donaas church in Bruges.

For anyone who has drunk Kastaar, and read the review (#96), an interesting side note is that the legend details the Dragon was originally donated to the people of Biervliet before the Brugse Zot (#36) wrestled it from them, in recognition of the brave soldiers who in 1204 were the first men to climb Constantinople’s walls. This is of course all legend and I plan to disclose the real facts when I get round to tasting the Gulden Draak Vintage (#213).

I can’t say I am particularly looking forward to it though, as the original Gulden Draak was extremely over-rated. I had looked forward to it all day, but all I got was a ridiculously strong dark beer, with no head, and no redeeming features whatsoever. It was bordering on the metallic and was very artificial. Like the legend above, I was beginning to wonder whether all that shimmers really is gold.

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Filed under 5, Belgian Strong Ale, Dragon, Van Steenberge

#132 – Yersekes Mosselbier

#132 - Yersekes Mosselbier

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

I first saw this beer right at the beginning of my pilgrimage sitting on a deserted dusty shelf in the great beer warehouse that is Beers of Europe. A beer made with mussels, now that needed trying! It was only on a latter trip to Dinant that I began to fully appreciate the Belgian fetish for bivalve molluscs.

Whether the locals truly love mussels, or that they just remain an iconic tourist catch, you will rarely travel anywhere in the winter months and not find them on the menu. Moules frites, or Mussels and Chips to us is something everyone needs to try at least once. The common denominator is a huge pot of steamed black mussels, sitting in a moat of wholesome broth, all served with a side of chips. The classic moules mariniere remains the staple dish, served in a sumptuous broth made with white wine, shallots and parsley, but many mussel houses offer great alternatives, in particular those cooked in traditional local Belgian beer.

It’s important to remember that mussels are seasonal (September to February usually). Outside these months they become harder to find, and certainly the standard usually diminishes. Waiters can get snobby about these things and may look incredulously at you should you try and order in April!

Either way, mussels are incredibly good for you, being an excellent source of selenium, B12, zinc and folate, in addition to being fun to eat, and usually delicious. In Belgium, you are always guaranteed a healthy portion and there is almost always a fantastic selection of beers to wash them down with. My only recommendation is to drink anything other than the Yersekes Mosselbier, unless weak lagery pils float your boat. This beer certainly wasn’t the worst I would ever drink and at least it didn’t taste of shellfish.

Trivia: Yerseke is a small Dutch village situated on the Southern shore of the Oosterschelde which is well known for its fishing industry, and in particular mussels, oysters and clams.

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Filed under 5, Mussel, Pale Lager, Seagull, Van Steenberge

#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.

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

#88 – Zwijntje

#88 - Zwijntje

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Everything I need to discuss about Zwijntje is covered on the label. There is a piglet holding a coat of arms, while sitting on a mound of flowers in front of an old windmill. So what exactly does this excerpt from some bizarre hallucination actually represent?

Firstly, we should explain the pig – Zwijntje is the diminutive version of Zwijn, which translated nicely into English means ‘swine’ or ‘pig’. Zwijntje being the diminutive suggests a piglet, or piggy. I wasn’t quite sure why Van Steenberge would create a beer named after a pig and so I did some digging and discovered that the beer was created for the people of Zwijnaarde, a village about 7km from the centre of Ghent. One can only assume that the pig reference is based on the towns name which essentially means “field of pigs”.

The town is identified clearly on the label, with the coat of arms of Zwijnaarde and the windmill in the background, which was built originally in the 18th Century and has been a protected monument in Zwijnaarde since 1945. The village being completely ruralised (although now intersected by the A10/E17 and A14/E40) tends to be illustrated by the flowers and the windmill. There is now a large industrial area on the edge of the town, and a number of scientific companies are based there, with connections to recent innovations in treating swine flu – no doubt something based around this beer.

The beer itself seems to be based on the stable Augustijn brew of the Van Steenberge farm brewery. It is likely according to the back label of the beer that Zwijntje is tweaked from the mother brew rather than directly lifted and copied, although this is common practice at Van Steenberge, with the Augustijn beer.

Whatever the origin though, this is a damn fine beer. It is a rich amber gold colour, which lets you know its strength from the off, and in between hits you with twangs of oranges and honey. In the background, the flavour is maintained with the dry faint sniff of hops. This very much reminded me of Piraat 9 (#15), and is one beer I will seek out again for the summer months, or of course if I desperately need a remedy for swine flu.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Pig, Van Steenberge