Tag Archives: World War

#90 – Westvleteren Blonde

#90 - Westvleteren Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.8 %

Back on the last day of my summer jaunt around Belgium I stopped at the Westvleteren brewery in the heart of hop country for a last beer (#66). As I reported I was able to pick up a six pack of their blonde beer. Now was the time to try one of them.

I spent the last report discussing how the media had built up a frenzy over the quality of the beers here, but I didn’t really get a chance to dip into the history. The brewery was founded inside the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren back in 1838, just seven years after the monastery had been formed by Trappist monks from Catsberg in France. It is interesting to note that some of these same monks moved down to the Notre-Dame de Scourmont monastery where of course Chimay is brewed.

The beers at St. Sixtus were sold commercially until World War II, when Evarist Deconinck took over the mantle of many of the recipes at St. Bernardus down the road (#46). The brewery was the only Trappist monastery to continue to brew during both World Wars as it was the only one not plundered for copper by the German forces. It was in actual fact used as a sanitarium for caring for wounded allied forces. In 1989 the Abbey was able to open its newer brewery just off-site where it replaced all the old equipment, and then in 1992 the monks terminated their agreement with St. Bernardus with the sole intention of following the purist Trappist rules of brewing beers (#7). They have ever since maintained a strict policy of only monks doing all the brewing, although in recent years they have used one or two secular workers for much of the manual labour needed.

The green capped Westvleteren Blonde was added to the range of beers in 1999 and was designed to replace the 6.2% ABV dark beer and a lighter 4% table beer. Clearly the monks wanted a pater with a bit more bite, to support their stronger and world famous 8 and 12 (#66). It poured an impeccable cloudy blonde, thick and yet crisp, and was noticeably hoppy, with a fine head and some brown guts of sediment. It had been listed as a pale ale and I can probably imagine old men enjoying this beer. Of course from a brewery with as much international repute as Westvleteren you would expect to enjoy it, but I wasn’t expecting to immediately open another straight after! A very good beer.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Westvleteren

#89 – Boon Oude Gueuze

#89 - Boon Oude Gueuze

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

This is my third Gueuze, but in a sense my first real Gueuze. With every disrespect to Timmermans (#12) and Belle-Vue (#62), this is what Gueuze is all about, and is brewed/blended by a man who is almost singly responsible for the revitalisation of lambic beer in Belgium. Frank Boon might sound like some kind of East End villain, but is actually the man behind this devastating contribution to lambic beer.

To begin the story we need to go back to just before the first World War, when in 1910 the Brussels region was responsible for over a million hectolitres of lambic beer – which lets face it is phenomenal. There were probably over 200 independent lambic breweries in Brussels alone at this time. In 1914 there were at least 800,000 barrels of lambic, yet by the end of the war, just four years later, there were only 40,000 empty ones. Copper was taken from breweries, farms were ravaged, and as we already know to make gueuze you need to blend old with new, and there was simply no oude lambic to blend – it had all been destroyed. The result was that with the recent introduction of easy and cheap to produce lagers and pilseners many breweries chose to abandon lambic.

Gueuze was still brewed in much smaller amounts, but in comparison to top fermented lagers and pilseners, it was much more expensive to make. Cheaper ingredients became the norm, and the standard of lambic fell away drastically. By 1965 there were only 27 lambic breweries left, and between 1968 and 1970 the Belle-Vue brewery bought all but one of those in Brussels, and the final recognised brewey of any size fell in 1976. Any gueuze now being made was filtered, and the final throes of death hovered over this unique drink.

This was when Frank Boon could watch no more, and decided to invest in the De Vits gueuze blenders in Lembeek, a beer he loved and who were almost certainly going out of business. It was this decision almost 35 years ago that means that the Boon Oude Gueuze was sitting on my lounge table tonight. Lots of water has passed under the bridge since, but I have got plenty of time to tell that tale (#147).

For now though I had a real gueuze to get my teeth into, although it took over ten minutes to pour it into my glass, so powerful was the carbonation and head. The smell was rich and pungent, almost cidery and yet ammonic. Some might call this ‘horse-blanket’ – well I will leave that to the experts, and I may come back to this as my palate expands. Anyway, the taste was definitely unique, and I wasn’t quite sure what my thoughts were as I tried to sum up it up. I may have to try a few more, but for now I will leave it that this maybe isn’t my cup of tea, but that’s not to say I won’t be back to try it again. I owe Frank Boon at least a conclusion to his story.

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Filed under 6, Boon, Lambic - Gueuze