Tag Archives: vintage

#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

#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

#45 – Chimay Blue

#45 - Chimay Blue

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

Chimay print the year of bottling on their ‘Blue’ labels. Many other beers do, but not prominently on the front of the bottle. One of the unique selling points of good Belgian beer is that it will age well if cellared, and Chimay Blue, or ‘Grand Reserve’ as it is known in the 75cl bottles, is probably the most renowned exponent. They put the year of bottling on the front, in the sense that it identifies the vintage.

We have already drunk a few beers that age well – notably the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) and Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), and they tend to be the heavier complex dark beers, which change, vary and usually improve when exposed to periods of time in the dark! This is known as cellaring. I don’t have a cellar, but I do have a large space on the floor in the bedroom (which my wife calls the Floordrobe) where my constant supply of beverages sit. There is however a darker place, deep in the real wardrobe, where I keep the darker, more appropriate beers, and there are one or two Chimay Blues among them ready for a tasting in a few years.

Cellaring works because the beer is bottle-conditioned. The yeast that is propagated at bottling will continue to work its magic if given the right environment, just as a plant will flourish if given the right feed, compost and climate. Two golden rules that many experts allude to is, a constant 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit if possible (normal room temperature), and little or no exposure to light. Any temperature higher than this can cause the lifespan of the beer to drastically shorten, and anything much lower will often induce a cloudiness which is referred to as ‘chill haze’. It is important to remember that the recommendation above is for beers of the Chimay Blue ilk – such as barley wines, triples and dark ales). Actual cellar temperature (normally 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit is normally recommended for standard ales – such as IPAs and Saisons, while even lower temperatures (ie 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit – refrigeration temperatures) are recommended for lighter beers such as wheat beers or pilseners/lagers.

I couldn’t get my hands on anything older than a 2008, and so my review is based on that. I guess it is important to note also that it is from the 330 ml bottle, as opposed to the ‘Grand Reserve’. It is often reported that the yeast weaves its magic better in the larger bottle. The beer, regardless of age is beautiful. It pours a dark brown that shimmers when held up to the light, with a yeasty froth of head. It smells mysterious, and the flavour is smoky, bordering on dry but with a distinctive flavour of malt. If this one is this good, I can’t wait for another one in 5 years !

(Post-Script) – I couldn’t wait five years and so on a heady night in the Kulminator bar in Antwerp I tried a vintage ‘Grand Reserve’. Believe the hype; it was remarkable !

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Chimay, Trappist Beer