Tag Archives: Watou

#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

#113 – Helleketelbier

#113 - Helleketelbier

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

I had just tried my first beer from De Bie, and as another one of their beers looked remarkably past its best before date, I thought it might be wise to try another. Where I was reasonably satisfied with the Hellekapelle (#112), I was much less impressed with the Helleketelbier or as it translates into English, the Hell’s Kettle Beer – clearly the cauldron wonderfully depicted on the label.

On first glance you might begin to associate beers from De Bie with witches, broomsticks, fire and brimstone, however many of their other beers seem more closely associated with bees, which is exactly what the name of the brewery translates as. Stef Orbie, (there is a clue in the name somewhere) the chief brewmaster started to brew beer at his farmhouse in Watou in 1992, and eventually converted his property into a fully functioning, yet wholly rustic, brewery. You will have heard of the town of Watou before as this neat little brewery lived just down the road from Van Eecke (#108) and St. Bernardus (#46). Things have moved on since then however, and De Bie moved out of Watou and to nearby Waregem where they have upped the stakes in terms of the quality of the beer produced.

It may have been I had tried one of the older batch as I was not at all impressed with this brew. The pour was my first concern in that the sediment that sunk eerily to the bottom of the glass was definitely green and not unlike mucus. It was so bad in fact that I decided to strain it back into another glass which served only to dilute the gunk into further grimness which in turn diluted into the beer. I let it settle for a while, although am sure this did the beer no favours whatsoever. Once I got round to tasting it I had quite lost the desire. It was largely flat and uninspiring, tasting as if it might have been diluted with water. It was akin to a weak English summer ale, which at 7% I was not expecting. The sediment had caused the beer to cloud, and I struggled gainfully to finish it. Not good at all; although if I see it again, I am prepared to give the newer batch another go.

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Filed under 4, Belgian Ale, Cat, De Bie

#112 – Hellekapelle

#112 - Hellekapelle

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5 %

Hellekapelle translates into English as Hells Chapel, and the theme is well illustrated on the label – the design showing a witch on a broomstrick with her cat, flying over a graveyard and the aforementioned Chapel of Hell. Most beers from the De Bie brewery have this kind of Halloween theme, but also Hellekapelle is the name of a bar that belongs to the De Bie brewery.

One has to go back a few years though to recall the original Hellekapelle café run by De Bie which had a remarkable reputation for the macabre. The café got its name from the old phrase ‘Where God builds a church, the Devil builds a chapel’, whereby in olden times the church seriously saw cafes serving alcohol as deplorable covens of wickedness. Rather aptly, De Bie constructed a ramshackle chapel into a homely place to serve beer and good local food, and it became something of a haunt (excuse the pun) for locals and travellers alike. The interior décor was tacklessly festooned with any Halloween themed paraphernalia however the atmosphere remained. Sadly the café in Watou was closed in October in 2006, however De Bie have tried to keep the tradition alive with the new bar in Waregem.

Sadly I would never make it to the famous Hellekapelle but of course I did get an opportunity to dip my hand into the cauldron and try the beer. You would expect a beer of this name to be dark and menacing, but it was ironically a refreshing flowery blonde, which was great on its own, but did not really complement the meal I drunk it with. It was extremely pale in colour and even thinner on the tongue but somehow remained flavoursome to the end. I reckon this would make a nice session beer on a summers afternoon. I was ready try the next satanic offering from De Bie right up next (#113).

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Filed under 6, Belgian Ale, Cat, De Bie

#108 – Het Kapittel Dubbel

#108 - Het Kapittel Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I started to outline the Het Kapittel beers right at the beginning of this journey when I tried the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). That seems like an age ago now, but I would like to revisit the history of the Van Eecke brewery.

Although the Van Eecke family only started to brew in Watou from 1862, the actual premises date back as far as 1629 where the small farm brewery sat adjacent to a local castle owned by the Earls of Watou. This flourished in the local community until the French Revolution, when of course the buildings were first plundered, looted and then burnt to the ground. The Earls of Watou escaped by fleeing to England, and thus it was left to a local farmer to revive not the castle, but the brewery. The motto at the time in the village was “Revolt all you want, but we still need beer here!” – wise words indeed.

The brewery became the ‘Gouden Leeuw’ (the Golden Lion), and despite the proximity of Watou to the French border, the locals were very keen to keep the Flemish name. In France, as in England, the Golden Lion was a very popular inn name, translating as ‘Au Lion d’Or’, which is pronounced exactly the same as ‘au lit on dort’ –which means ‘in the bed one sleeps’. This would have been a much more apt title if they had kept the French translation as the local farmer turned the brewery into a proper inn with rooms for travellers. The inn stayed true to the village motto and continued to quench the thirst of its locals until 1862 when the Van Eecke family took over the brewing and began to push the boundaries on improving the stock of top fermenting ales. The range of beers, especially the Het Kapittel beers remain amongst Belgium’s finest.

The Het Kapittel Dubbel however was about the seventh beer of the evening and therefore I couldn’t tell you in great detail exactly what made this beer so nice. It was about 4am, and we were on somthing like our fifth game of Scrabble, which was naturally held up while we talked utter rubbish and fawned over this beer. I recall it was dark, delicious and definitely one I would try again sober – definitely much better than the Pater.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Van Eecke

#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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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, St. Bernardus

#46 – St. Bernardus Abt 12

#46 - St. Bernardus Abt

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.5 %

St. Bernardus has a slightly different history to many others of the Trappist/Abbey ilk. For all intents and purposes you may pick up a bottle and consider this a Trappist beer, and if you open it and taste it you wouldn’t be far wrong – because it used to be.

The Refuge Notre-Dame de St. Bernard was established in Watou in the early 1900’s when the Catsberg Abbey Community from France fled anti-clerical policy into Belgium. They largely funded their existence through the production and sale of cheese. In 1934 they felt safer to move back across the border, and so sold the land and buildings to a gentleman named Everist Deconinck who expanded on, and improved the cheese making facilities.

Meanwhile, not far down the road, there sat the Trappist Monastery of St. Sixtus which shortly after World War II decided to stop the commericalisation of their beer and brew only for the monks. The head Abbot asked Mr Deconinck if he would continue to brew their Trappist beer,and Evarist was only too delighted, and thus until 1992 the St. Bernard facilities brewed and commercialised the St. Sixtus Trappist Ales under contract. Once this contract expired, the monks at St. Sixtus decided to end the relationship in order to preserve the true nature of the Trappist brand under the new definitions (#7).

The beers that had been made from the St. Sixtus yeast and recipes proved to be extremely popular, and the St. Bernard community did not want to give this up, and so changed their name, removed the Trappist identity and continued on under the name St. Bernardus. As far as we know though, it is still the same recipe, and of course the range of beers has increased beyond the usual capacity of a typical Trappist brewery. Meanwhile, St. Sixtus still brew their official Trappist beer, and you may know them better as the world-beating Westvleteren ales; ther Westvleteren 12 (#66) being often regarded as the best beer in the world !

So you can see how this beer has been confused over the years. I dare anyone to try it and say it doesn’t taste like one. It is immense. Dark and stoutlike in appearance with a frothy yeasty head typical of Trappist beers of this strength.  The aroma was possibly a little understated in comparison to the Trappistes Rochefort beers (#13, #31) yet the first taste equates to some of its more illustrious compatriots. Rolling the beer over the back of the throat evokes a multitude of spices; cloves, cinnamon and barbecue, and right to the end the flavour stays and when you finally put her down you feel like you have just been hit by a juggernaut. It’s not Trappist but who gives a shit. This was the perfect start to three weeks off work !

(Post-Script) – The St. Bernardus Tripel (#106) is also a stunner! Look out for the bright green bottle.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, St. Bernardus

#2 – Het Kapittel Pater

 

# 2 - Het Kapittel Pater

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6 %

OK. I am only on my second beer, but I could have sworn Het Kapittel was a seminal piece of literature by Karl Marx. I stand corrected. Het Kapittel is actually a range of beers brewed by Van Eecke up in the Watou region of Belgium. They took over this brewery in 1862 from what was then the Gouden Leeuw (Golden Lion) brewery.

Het Kapittel roughly translates into English as ‘the Chapter’ and represents the hierarchy of priests in a monastery or abbey, emphasising the importance of monks, monasteries and the like in the history of Belgian beers. In fact throughout Europe, as far back as the 5th Century, monastic communities spread like wildfire, brewing beer, at first for their own consumption, and then for a wider market. Water supplies were often suspect, and so the brewing process meant a more tasty and wholesome drink for the local community. This desire to have ones thirst quenched sums up the Het Kapittel Pater rather aptly, as the Pater refers to the daily drink of choice for the monks while they work. Pater also translates as ‘father’ from Latin, and probably represents a lower rank in the hierarchy of a monastery after a Prior, and Abbot which are 9% and 10% respectively in the Het Kapittel hierarchy.

At 6% this particular beer is a little stronger than regular Paters, however perhaps in a region reknowned for its hop production, the monks preferred something a little more potent. In the case of this beer, those monks are said to have come from Mont des Cats across the French border. The appearance of the beer was dark and coppery – yet not at all unpleasant. In fact it becomes maltier and hoppier, and reminiscent of a good English ale as you continue to quaff. I remain convinced I wouldn’t buy this beer by the case, but it does sweeten near the end, albeit not quite enough to make you desperately want to open another.

(Post-Script) – The Het Kapittel Dubbel (#108) though is definitely one to try and stock up on !

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Filed under 7, Belgian Ale, Van Eecke