Showing posts with label belgium. Show all posts
Showing posts with label belgium. Show all posts

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Freezing Wipers

We got off the Channel Tunnel and headed north east, toward Belgium. Having spent 4 days in the UK (yes I will get to those beers soon), seeing the whole family together for Christmas for the first time since the days of Liverpool winning all and sundry, it was nice to get back to the continent.

We were heading towards Belgium for a very specific reason, to reach the Menin Gate in time for the sounding of the Last Post at 8 o'clock. The Menin Gate is in the little town of Ieper, a town which during the Great War was right on the front line and was practically destroyed. The town is probably better known by its French name, Ypres, and by people who loved history at school as Wipers. This part of Belgium has for my family quite some resonance because we are a military family, and it was in this area that my great-grandfather, an Old Contemptible, fought between 1914 and 1916 until he had his heel blown off and was invalided out of the army.

The gate is inscribed with the names of 34,984 soldiers from the various countries of the then British Empire who died in one of the battles for Ieper but have no known grave, and marks the starting point of the journey to the front line. It is a very sobering place. The Last Post has sounded here almost every night since 1927, and with our two minutes silence done we headed south to Lille for the night, despite the fact that we were returning to Ieper the following morning, to see more Great War sites and visit the excellent In Flanders Fields exhibition in the Cloth Hall.

There is nothing more likely to give you a craving for a drink than seeing how carelessly lives were thrown away trying to re-create the battle tactics of the medieval era without taking into account machine guns, grenades and mustard gas. So we went to find a bar that was open, needing not only a drink but also to get warm - it was freezing in Flanders.

The cafe we went to had an almost dizzying array of beer, all on tap, and just wanting to get something down I ordered a Primus Pils, from the Brouwerij Haacht. I wasn't expecting anything special, but it was certainly a very nice and easily drinkable lager, and a rather natty glass. Golden with a fluffy head, a medium body and just a touch of bitterness made this a drink which barely touched the back of my throat but did the job.

As I tend to drink quicker than most people I know, I had time for a second while Mrs Velkyal and my parents finished off their drinks. Not recognising a single name on the menu, I plumped for another Haacht product, Tongerlo Christmas, an abbey ale which is very similar to Leffe but slightly more drinkable. Only one thing suprised me with the Tongerlo and that was that it was served with a small piece of Tongerlo cheese, as you can see in the picture.

I didn't take extensive notes of the beers I had in Ieper, just a few jotted words on my mobile. One thing that I did notice in the town was the range of beers available, most prominently was SAS Pils, which I found an ironic name given the town's history. It may have been the most fleeting of trips to Belgium and certainly not one which exposed me to the great names of the beer scene there - but it whetted my appetite to visit again and find out what else is available. And if it is not considered crass, to raise a glass to those fallen "lions led by donkeys".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sudden Death!

I would imagine that for most people, when asked the question “what is beer?”, the majority would say something along the lines of “a drink made from grain, hops, water and yeast” – obviously this was what the writers of the Reinheitsgebot had in mind when they set forth the rules for beer brewing in Bavaria and then later on throughout Germany.
Somebody forgot to tell the Belgians, and thank goodness for that. In particular somebody forgot to tell the makers of fruit beers – random unrelated point, why do people bother with alcopops when fruit beer exists? When on a French shop shelf I saw bottles of a Kriek called Mort Subite, my first thought was “is this the kriek from Brussels which I have read about?” – simple answer, yes it is. Chuck a couple in the basket and walk briskly away trying not to think about the strange looks from locals because your basket is full of booze and none of it wine.

Mort Subite was to be my drink of choice for that night’s dinner – my parents’ preference for white wine tends more toward the sweet side, which is not really my thing, I like something on the dry side of Arizona. Mrs Velkyal was cooking that night, playing with her belated birthday present, a pasta roller – home-made ravioli in a cream sauce for dinner then.

Back to the beer, and just popping open the cork was to be rushed with the fragrance of cherries. No messing around here then, fruit by name, fruit by nature. As you can see from the picture, it is a very red beer, and the head was distinctly pink. Guess what it smelt like, erm yes cherries, but also like the powdered sherbert that I loved as a kid. Tastewise it was a revelation – I was expecting a sweet cloying flavour, but au contraire this was tart and acidic balanced out with a sweetness in the aftertaste, and as I did expect lots of fruitiness. The body was smooth and velvety and boy does this go well with creamy pasta!
Magnificent is quite simply the only word that would do this beer justice. I can imagine sitting on a veranda during a balmy Southern summer with this for refreshment and being very happy with my lot in life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Not A Big Dog

Until recently Belgian Trappist ales were the kind of beer which either cost an arm and a leg at Pivovarsky klub, or necessitated a trip to the cheese shop and spending reasonably equal amounts of money on beer and cheese – my other major food weakness is extra mature Cheddar cheese. However, while I was away on holiday, I got an sms from Evan to tell that the world had gone crazy and our local Billa now stocked the likes of Orval, Rochefort and Westmalle.

One beer which they don’t stock at any of the above is St Bernardus Prior 8, an Abbey Ale which was another new beer to me, and part of the culture shock of being in L’Eclerc in La Souterraine wanting to meet their beer buyer – he is doing a good job!

In many ways this beer was pretty much as I expected, being a Belgian Abbey Ale and having an “8” in the title, immediately made me think of the Rochefort 8, and indeed it pours a similar cloudy brown although with a more frothy head, tinged with beige. The nose was malty, with touches of cocoa. The maltiness of the nose came through again in the sweetness of the beer, although the body was on the thinner side of the Rochefort, which while not reaching the heights of those august ales is no bad thing.

The world of Abbey Ale is becoming one I will be trying to explore as much as possible in the next few months and, given my soft spot for Gottschalk from ?eliv, hopefully not just brews from Belgium.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not Quite Seventh Heaven

My little cellar sits forlorn and empty at the moment, and my mind is wondering what to re-fill it with. That is because I pulled out the final bottle of Rochefort, the 10, last night. So far the Rochefort ales have been something of a revelation to me, I thoroughly enjoyed the 6, was blown away by the 8 and was eagerly anticipating the 10.

The 10 pours an exceptionally dark brown, which in a backlight has tints of ruby, topped with a light tan head that disappears fairly quickly. The nose of Rochefort 10 is at first very sweet, as is to be expected for a beer of 11.3% abv, with coffee and even banana notes. At one point I stuck my nose right into the glass and inhaled deeply, and while it took me four or five breaths to really work out the smell, it was a distinct tinge of nail polish remover. I asked Mrs Velkyal to see what she made of it, and she came back saying that it smelled of alcohol laced with molasses.

Drinking the ale was a delight, and I found it smoother than the Rochefort 8 yet with the same chocolate and cocoa flavours. Being so dark and full, the 10 is a very rich beer, and definitely not a beer that you would want to be drinking as though it was a run of the mill lager. Despite the smoothness of the beer, there is also a slight touch of bitterness adding a nice counterpoint to the sweetness, like burnt caramel. In the final taste though there was a distinct alcohol taste.

All three of the Rochefort ales are superb and I have enjoyed trying each of them, however I have to admit that the one that will be a regular visitor to my little cellar will be the 8. Of the three I prefer the slightly rougher edge that the 8 has when compared to the 10, as well as the richer cocoa flavours than the 6. So know I plan to move on to other Trappist ales, depending of course on what is available in the cheese shop – I still love the eccentricity of being able to buy beer in a cheese shop, not only that but they have a reasonable selection of wines too.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Entering the Cloister

As a result of an entry on Evan Rail's Beer Culture blog, as I have previously referred to, I tottered off to a local cheese shop recently in order to buy beer. I literally tottered as it was just round the corner from Pivovarsky Klub so I had stopped in for a quick pint, with became a rather chatty 4 pints and a meal. I had decided it was time to finally try some of the Trappist ales from Belgium.

On my first foray to the cheese shop I bought myself an Orval and a Rochefort 6, there was a second excursion a couple of days later because Mrs Velkyal had eaten most of the farmhouse cheddar I bought the first time and so we needed supplies, and I bought another Orval as well as a Rochefort 8 and 10.

Wanting to get as much as possible from these beers, I didn't open them that evening, I decided to do some background reading. Thus it was on Tuesday evening I decided to pop open the Orval, and this is what I got from the bottle.


For the sake of not repeating myself, I have decided to include the review I put for Orval on Beer Advocate:

"I fear I am about to commit beer heresy by admitting to not really enjoying this one all that much. The beer was bottled on the 31 May 2007 and as such was 14 months old when I drank it.It poured a very nice copper colour, and was of course cloudy - as a personal opinion this is a good thing, as I like beer unfiltered and unpastuerised. There was a fluffy head which dissipated slowly, and was gone within five minutes. On the nose were distinctly citrus notes. The first taste was a shock to be honest. This will sound odd, but it tasted fizzy, rather tart and almost like popping candy on the tongue.It wasn't awful, just not what I was expecting - so I will of course have another one to further hone my opinion." As of yet the second bottle hasn't been opened.

Last night after having had dinner and several very nice V3 Smoked Malt Special lagers at PK, and an Erdinger Dunkelweissen, I got home, popped Doctor Who into the DVD player and decided I would try the Rochefort 6, which poured like this:

I love that colour! It reminded me of the peat back at home in the Outer Hebrides, and I am sure there was a slight tinge of peat on the nose as well. After the fizz bang of Orval I was unsure of what to expect. The first taste of this was wonderfully smooth with a sweetness which reminded me of caramel. Eventually this gave way to dark chocolate, without wanting to sound like Jilly Goolden, it actually put me in mind of the organic dark chocolate from Marks and Spencer. As I say it is a nice smooth ale, with just enough zing to avoid it being cloying in the mouth, and the more I drank the more the chocolate was replaced by cocoa. Overall I really enjoyed this one, and am looking forward to trying the more potent 8 and 10.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My little cellar

As noted in a previous post, I bought a couple of bottles of Belgian Trappist ales the other day, what I hadn't bargained for was the serving instructions on the label for the bottle of Orval. According to our enlightened friends at the Abbaye D'Orval their beer should be enjoyed at between 12 and 15 degrees Centigrade - 53 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually when I get hold of ales, I chuck them in the fridge a few hours before I want to drink them, so I can bring them down to a standard cellar temperature of about 8 degrees Centigrade. But with these ales, I read that it is recommended to store them at the same temperature as that recommended for drinking.

Thus it was I stubbled across my little cellar. Just under the window of my flat is a heater, which is always turned off - I am not sure which genius came up with the idea of installing radiators under windows but you can imagine it is fairly useless when winter comes and all the heat drifts up and out of the window. So we have a moveable heater, which at the moment is sitting in front of the static one as it is not cold enough to justify using it, even by Mrs Velkyal's standards. For various reasons there are a couple of boxes either side of the heater, creating a little darkened area next to the outside wall of the apartment - effect? My little cellar, which is currently playing host to said bottle of Orval and Rochefort, at an almost perfect 15 degrees centigrade. Now safe in the knowledge that I can store the beers in the right conditions, I intend to stock up on the Trappist ales and simply enjoy myself with Belgian ales, and traditional Belgian food - unfortunately that won't be moules et frites.

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