Tag Archives: wheat

#187 – Blanche des Honnelles

#187 - Blanche des Honnelles

Size: 330ml

ABV: 6 %

Blanche des Honnelles is a uniquely flavoured beer made at the Abbaye des Rocs brewery very close to the French border. It is so named after the rivers that flow at their most powerfully through the home village of Montignies-sur-Rocs.

The surrounding municipality is also called Honnelles, with a population of around 5000 inhabitants, and is so named for the rivers which define the region – the Grande Honnelle, and the Petite Honnelle. Some historians trace the name back to the ‘huns’ who would have at one stage been prevalent in the area.

The beers at Abbaye des Rocs; a few of which I have already guzzled (#67, #155, #167), are long revered for their purity, and the link from the Blanche des Honnelles to the rivers is a pertinent one. Every beer at this village brewery is made with the water drawn from the well that permeates the rocky subsoil. There are no added sugars and absolutely no chemical additions to any of the beers. A sobering thought were it not for the strength of many of these beers!

The Blanche des Honnelles is actually predominantly a wheat beer, although the colour of the pour might suggest otherwise. This cloudy amber appearance is more likely due to the mix of oats and barley to the wheat, and most probably the lack of any chemical additives. The flavour is certainly unique and I would urge anybody to at least give this one a go. It wasn’t my cup of tea in any way, with a sharp musty tang that stayed with me after every mouthful, and I ended up not enjoying it particularly. This might have been a result of the often hit and miss nature of artisanal breweries, or more likely just not something my palate was interested in. My overriding impression though was that actually perhaps somebody had just pissed in the Honnelles before brewing.

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Filed under 4, Abbaye des Rocs, Belgian White (Witbier)

#166 – Floris Ninkeberry

#166 - Floris Ninkeberry

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 3.6 %

Perhaps only the makers or marketeers of Floris Ninkeberry really know why this beer is thus called. This was the first time I had ever tried a fruit beer from the colourful Floris range, and it was purely due to the fact that I had never tried a Ninkeberry before. Having spent almost ten years of my youth working in the greengrocery industry before and after school you can imagine my excitement at discovering a brand new exotic fruit. Forget the beer!

You can imagine my disappointment when on eagerly studying the label I discovered that this poor excuse for a fruit beer is just a syrupy fruit mix of a medley of other tropical fruits. Ninkeberries do not exist anywhere, only in the devious minds of the Huyghe marketeers. I had popped into the Dovetail for a quick devious lunchtime beer to try and forget the strains of work, and had found myself duped into a buying a syrupy mess named after a made up fruit. The Floris Ninkeberry is actually flavoured with mango, passion fruit, apricot and peach syrups blended into your typical staple wheat beer. Live and Learn.

Ok, so the marketing ploy was working, but what on earth prompted somebody to name a pretend fruit a Ninkeberry? It could be any of the following reasons:-

a)      Ninke is sourced from the name Aikaterine, a Greek name meaning ‘pure’. This could refer to the fact that this beer is pure….well pure rubbish.

b)      Ninke is often a nickname used in the Dutch language for Catharina, again a derivative of Aikaterine. Could it be this beer is named after somebodies daughter or wife?

c)      Other derivatives postulated have been that Ninke comes from the Greek Goddess of Magic (Hecate), or more aptly the Greek Goddess of Torture (Katateino).

d)      An urban slang dictionary labels the term Ninke as a particularly kinky form of sex, no doubt by combining the terms Kinky and Nookie.

Whatever the reason be sure to avoid this one, especially if you are buying it in one of London’s most expensive pubs. What a ninkeberry!

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Filed under 5, Fruit Beer, Huyghe

#115 – Joseph

#115 - Joseph

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.4 %

Straight after Sara (#114) came Joseph – a kind of younger brother beer from Silenrieux. Where Sara is unusual in that it is made from buckwheat, the Joseph is made from spelt.

Spelt is often known as the ‘poor mans’ wheat’, and is an ancient form of the modern day crop. It does differ in its make-up, but probably only because over the years wheat has been so genetically modified whereas spelt remains fairly true to its heritage. Spelt was the common crop across Europe as far back as the Bronze Age, and survived in abundance right through to medieval times. Only then did farmers began to fiddle with it to ensure a higher level of grain per ear, and therefore better returns. This evolutionary journey is well reflected by the latin term for wheat – ‘spelta’.

Spelt was very easy to grow, in that it did not require particularly fertile land, and inevitably required very little attention to keep it flourishing. Its flavour is often described as nuttier and sweeter, so you wonder what led to the desire to modify it. It may have been much rougher than wheat, and the husks much tougher, but spelt has also been found to contain much more protein, which is one reason for modern day farmers to begin to re-introduce spelt. It is healthier in that it contains more nutrients caused by being genetically unmodified and being grown organically. It is however a popular misconception that spelt is gluten free. It isn’t – although Silenrieux produce two buckwheat beers for this purpose (#110, #114).

The end result is to all intents and purposes a wheat beer – it’s just of course made with spelt. The specimen is pale and fairly cloudy, although the brewers do lightly filter the end product and additionally referment within the bottle. The taste was surprisingly fruity, yet more fizzy and refreshing than your average wheat beer. I really enjoyed this and yet again wished it was a 33cl bottle as it was over so quick. A nice end to a long days driving.

(Post-Script) – I assume the name Joseph is derived from spelt being especially prevalent in biblical times – unless anyone else knows otherwise?

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Filed under 7, Fish, Silenrieux, Speciality Grain

#100 – St. Bernardus Wit

#100 - St. Bernardus Wit

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.5 %

Beer experts tend to say that if you want to try a beer that tastes like Hoegaarden (#81) used to then there is no better exponent than the St. Bernardus Wit. This comes as no surprise as the beer was actually developed in co-operation with Pierre Celis, who of course was the mastermind behind the success of Hoegaarden. The main difference is that the St. Bernardus gets the traditional Belgian secondary fermentation in the bottle which just adds to the steely quality.

The term wheat beer is something of a misnomer, as these beers are not made 100% from wheat – in fact probably only about 30-40% of the mash. The rest is more likely to contain forms of pilsener malt. It is this 30-40% though which gives the wheat beers their hazy milky glow, which in turn has tended to coin the appellation ‘white beer’. Hops are generally used less frequently as they tend to impair flavour, and brewers such as Celis have traditionally been more subtle with spices such as coriander, or fruit – most commonly the peel of an orange.

It is surprising that white beers are not more common in Belgium as wheat tends to be in greater abundance than barley and is therefore cheaper to produce. Wheat beers tend though to be somewhat lower in strength than dubbels, tripels and typical Belgian ales, which may go some way to explain why these beers are more popular in Germany or the USA. Others argue that wheat tends to clog up the brewers equipment and is therefore more painful to brew due to the rigours of keeping the kit clean and free from infection.

Either way I’m not really a wheat beer man, or I wasn’t until I tried the St. Bernardus Wit. It was altogether more robust, with extra colour and fizz, and it was both crisp and sharp with a flavour that actually challenged your taste-buds. I could actually taste the hints of orange peel and coriander which is saying something. I think this is best suited to a warm summers day in Flanders, but all in all a pretty impressive way to bring up the hundredth beer!

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Filed under 8, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, St. Bernardus

#97 – Triverius

#97 - Triverius

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.8 %

Believe it or not but Triverius was a beer first made in 2004 in homage to a famous man of medicine from the village of Nederbrakel. The occasion was to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth and to celebrate the impact he made on the emerging world of medicine.

Born Jeremie de Drijvere, he studied medicine at the University of Leuven where he eventually went on to become a renowned professor. He took it upon himself, somewhat like Brazilian footballers do, to assign himself a title, and was thenceforth to be known as Triverius. He was most famous for applying a scientific outlook to the study of medicine as opposed to basing it on customs, herbs and old wives tales, and continued to lead on medical practice until his premature death in 1554. He is particularly revered in the municipality of Brakel, and the de Graal brewery which is based in the area sponsored this homage to the great man. Not only does he have a beer named after him but also a complete fellowship; the logo of which can be seen adorning the label.

The beer itself is actually a double wheat beer; in that it is brewed in the style of a wheat beer, and then bottle-conditioned again to buck it up to a nice tidy premium strength. It didn’t look like a traditional white beer though, as it presented itself as a rich golden blonde, with perhaps the only clue of its wheat content being the cloudy nature of the liquid. It was beautifully refreshing as wheat beers often tend to be, but similarly it faded emphatically at the business end. Maybe a few more herbs and a little less science wouldnt have gone a miss !

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Filed under 7, Belgian White (Witbier), Brewers, de Graal

#81 – Hoegaarden

#81 - Hoegaarden

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.9 %

Everybody has heard of Hoegaarden – certainly since Interbrew exported it around the world. In terms of white/wheat beers there are probably none more famous. The beer gets it name from the town in which it is brewed, and although it is brewed to a traditional recipe that dates back to 1445, this actual beer has only existed since 1966.

The original wheat beer recipe was largely engineered by the monks of Hoegaarden in the middle ages, where they had access to spices such as coriander and curacao due to the Dutch trading influence. So successful was the result, that at one point there were over 30 independent small farmhouse breweries in the tiny town – although by 1957 there were none left! The rise in popularity of mass-produced lager and the asset-stripping that occurred during both world wars had taken its toll on this cottage industry.

In 1966 however, a local milkman with a fond nostalgia for the older white beers decided to reinvent the style. He set up de Kluis (the Cloister) brewery with a few close friends and the rest is history as they say. We have already met this milkman Pierre Celis (#20, #21), and doubtless we will again.

His white beer was a remarkable success over the next twenty or so years, with production growing from 350 hectolitres in 1966 to 75,000 in 1985. Sadly the Hoegaarden plant was completely destroyed by a terrible fire in this year, and Celis was forced to take extra investment from Interbrew, who inevitably were able to influence a take-over of the brewery in 1987. The amount of hectolitres produced would rise to 855,000 over the next ten years, but by then the standard of the beer had fallen sharply. The fact was that by now Hoegaarden was a worldwide commodity, and most people drinking it on a warm summers afternoon had no concept of what this beer once was. The final knife in the back came in 2005, when AB/InBev, who by now had taken over Interbrew, decided to move all production to Jupille, near Liege. Suddenly Hoegaarden was merely a brand, and the village just a memory. Such an outcry followed for the next couple of years that in 2007 brewing returned to Hoegaarden, but sadly the quality has never returned.

I had clearly tried Hoegaarden on and off over the years, but this was the first wheat beer to pass my lips on the Belgian Beer Odyssey. I had brought back a 250 ml bottle from a jaunt to Belgium, and thus was not drinking it from its traditional hexagonal glass*, however it really didn’t taste as I remembered it to be on those warm summer afternoons. Traditional Hoegaarden was famous for being unfiltered, but this was almost translucent, and much too gassy. It looked anaemic and to be fair, if there is still coriander and curacao in this, then it has long since been tastable on my palate. I am not going to bad-mouth the name, because the Hoegaarden Grand Cru is still a mighty fine beer, but this one remains a lesson to us all that we should stand up for the little men amongst the craft breweries of Belgium.

* Did you know? – that the traditional hexagonal glass was supposedly designed to be prised out of ruined drinkers hands at the end of a long night by a spanner.

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Filed under 5, Belgian White (Witbier), Hoegaarden (InBev)

#35 – Corsendonk Pater

#35 - Corsendonk Pater

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I have already been impressed with the Corsendonk Agnus Tripel (#4), and now it was time for the dark Pater. We already know from the earlier drink about the history of the Priory in Turnhout, but Corsendonk beers are also something of a rarity in the Belgian pantheon in that they are brewed to comply with the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ – the strict German beer code which allows only barley, hops, water and yeast to be used in the construction of the beer. The original ‘Reinheitsgebot’ – meaning ‘law of purity’ originated in Ingolstadt in Bavaria in 1516, although had been applied previously in the late 1400s. The law has since been repealed, although only in 1987 but many brewers in Germany still claim to adhere strictly to it.

The original ruling only allowed barley, hops and water, but following the introduction of yeast in the 1800s, this was added. There were three main reasons for the ruling. Firstly to prevent inferior methods of preserving a beer, as hops were much more effective than stinging nettles, henbane and in some cases, soot! The second was that by restricting brewers to barley, it would prevent price wars with bakers over wheat and rye and thus ensure a higher quality of affordable bread for the populace. The final reason was largely financial with part of the rule decreeing that the beer could never be sold above a set price – originally 1 to 2 Pfennigs.

Considering the proliferation of high quality wheat beers now in Bavarian Germany, it is likely that the law perhaps raised the stakes eventually for beer in the region. Corsendonk of course only follow ‘Reinheitsgebot’ for marketing purposes, but in a world that is becoming more eager to pollute with sugars and syrups this is something of a healthy diversion.

Struggling back from illness this beer had been sitting waiting. The appearance was solid and dark, and the smell malty and quite potent. Although the head thinned rapidly, the effervescent brown brew was malty and hoppy with some treacle – a little like the Het Kapittel Pater (#2) but slightly more distinguished and effervescent. Wanted perhaps just a little more mystery – although not bad with the limited ingredients.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Du Bocq