Belgian Beers: Keith's Tasting Notes

Yumm yumm.. let's face it - they're all excellent. So here are a few of the finer points of some of the beers that I have poured down my throat since ending up in Belgium.

Aarschotse Bruin A very simple and light brown ale with a rather winey flavour, which is not to everyone's palate (it has been accused of smelling of vinegar!). It is definitely not my favourite Belgian brown ale, but it has a notable saving grace - it is almost the cheapest beer on this list at a wholesome 19BEF a bottle! Now on to greater things...
Abbaye de Bonne Esperance One of the first beers on the list and a gentle starter. I've only seen it in large 75cl bottles, which means that either you share it with a friend, or you get rather drunk on its healthy 8%. Blond and very typical of the "noble beer" style. A good warm up for the rest of the beers on this list!
Aerts 1900 I'm still trying to track down exactly what the origins of the name of this beer are, but it's a good one. Dark and pleasantly mild to taste, and although I don't like to say these things, almost a hint of chocolate or something. It's the automatic order in my "Laundry Cafe" (De Grilleke) and about the only incentive I can think of to do the washing.
Antoon What a great name for a beer! And of course it is named after that great doodler Antoon van Dijk, as depicted on the tankard with his wig and happy smile. A clear blond beer with a pleasant vanilla taste from the brewers of De Koninck.
Arabier This is the blond cousin of the sensational Oerbier, which leaves Arabier with a lot to look up to. In fact it doesn't quite stand head high with its relative, but is nonetheless a surprisingly refreshing bitter beer with a good bit of kick to it. As with Oerbier, it is "unusual" in the sense that it is rather hard to classify it easily among other Belgian products. However it can be classified in this way: it's brewed by the Dolle Brouwers, so it must be good!
Barbar A strong golden beer made from honey. Kind of sweet, but very satisfying. What's far more important, it is served in a smoked glass tankard with a small barbarian motive. Rather modern, making connoisseurs suggest it is not a "real beer". But then it is brewed by Lefebvre, the makers of Saisons 1900, so that should silence the critics. They also produce a dark Barbar Winterbok which I just can't get excited about.
Belle Vue Frambozen A rather disappointing Frambozen (aka raspberry beer) which comes served in a delicate little champagne goblet. In fact it lacks flavour, and as you will see from the following entries, this is one of my major criticisms of almost all the Belle Vue products. Closer to a "cooler" than a beer in some senses. I'd order something else.
Belle Vue Gueuze Perhaps the most common gueuze around Leuven at least, but really not the best. It is refreshing enough and a nice light option from an often heavy beerlist, but the Belle Vue version of gueuze seems to me to lack most of the things that make gueuze special. It has no sourness, no sharp aftertaste, and even lacks the typically yeasty smell of a gueuze. But to many people that might make it more attractive than a "real" one!
Belle Vue Kriek Belle Vue make lambic based beers that are widely available and fairly reliable. The kriek is perhaps not my favourite, as it is rather gentle on the palate (I hesitate to describe it as lacking flavour, because that would be unfair), but it has the advantage of not being too sweet. I suspect this kriek may not be made with real cherries (tisk tisk).
Boon Gueuze Gueuze can be a funny beer, but there is nothing even slightly frivolous about Boon Gueuze. I've had it just the once in Antwerp, and I can taste it still. Really an excellent drinkable Gueuze, exotic in flavour and a tremendous advert for the style.
Boon Kriek It's a beauty as well. A very rounded and fresh Kriek. The Wentelsteen ("Rolling Stone") Cafe in Leuven has this beer on tap under the slightly cheeky alternative name of "Wentelkriek". But being cheeky is allowed in this particularly fortunate circumstance.
Bosbier A curious beer this one, at least I presume it is a beer! Bosbier is essentially a blackcurrant beer, tasting rather like a slightly sour ribena. The resemblance to beer seems even more far-fetched if it comes served in the proper champagne-style flute. Nonetheless, mocking apart, it is quite fresh and very appropriate for a hot summer evening, and another fine example of Belgium's incredible beer diversity.
Brigand Now here is another of the big ones for me. Rather an amber coloured beer, but with a sensational flavour. I love the big wide glasses that it gets served in. You can sit back, swill the beer around champagne style and sip and savour and enjoy. It's a hard one to classify, but it's not a hard one to drink.
Brugs Tarwebier Like all wheat beers it is rather tempting to say that this is "like Hoegaarden", which rather illustrates how Hoegaarden is the witbier giant. In fact Brugse Wit is not really that much like Hoegaarden, it is more lemony and rather tarter. In appearance it is less cloudy and seems a little paler. But is it tastier? Umm.. not to me. I think Celis and Hoegaarden have a very slight edge among the witbiers I have tried.
Bush Beer A ridiculously named barley wine. At 12% you will struggle to find a beer much stronger, but Bush is a very satisfying beer to sup. Really flavoursome and a gorgeous amber colour. I don't know why it's called Bush though. It seems an innocent name for a wicked beer.
Cantillon Gueuze This is a gueuze to be taken very seriously. Not just because it comes in bottles so large that you have no choice, but also because it is a very fine genuine gueuze. The brewery is actually a working museum and is located very near Brussel Zuid station, which strikes me as very handy. The brewery is well worth visiting, not just for the fact that for 100BEF you get the run of the place, but also for the friendly hosts, the cute mousers, and the bottomless tasting session.
Caves "Het bier van Lier", although typically for Belgium, it is not brewed in Lier at all. Caves is an excellent unclassifiable beer. It is somewhere between a Gueuze and a Rodenbach, relatively light, quite sweet, a caramel colour, and packed full of flavour. This for me is the ideal late afternoon refresher that leaves you in a quite fit state to walk across the road to the next cafe and try something else. Beware of choosing a random cafe in Lier in which to sample this brew though - they seem to be few and far between. I have only found it in one which I can't remember the name of - helpful eh? If all else fails find the tourist shop in Lier, where you can walk out with as many bottles and glasses of Caves as you could want, as well as these really excellent Belgian beer playing cards, and numerous other less desirable souvenirs!
Celis Pale Bock Amber, tasty and relatively light, this is an unusual Belgian beer style which reminds me more of the types of beer now being churned out by micro-breweries all over the United States. This is probably not a coincidence as indeed Pierre Celis brews the bulk of his beer in the U.S. The only disappointing thing about is thus that it comes in such small Belgian glasses, when the flavour and strength is more deserving of the good old pint.
Celis White There is a very complicated tale about the relationship between this beer and Hoegaarden Witte, which I don't feel like explaining in full here. The nuts and bolts of it are that this has a fair claim to being the original Hoegaarden Witte, and while Celis is actually an American brewery now, the Celis beer in Belgium is (I believe) brewed on license here. Thus it is very tempting to take a glass of Celis White and proclaim it better than Hoegaarden. But in fact it is very hard to call it from its more famous relative, except perhaps to claim that it has a slightly stronger citrus taste.. or was that just my imagination?
Chapeau Tropical Is it true that they make a banana beer in Belgium? Oh yes it is I'm afraid. And it even tastes of banana, that's the surprising thing. I can't say that it was a worthy sum of these two high pedigree components, and so the corrupted adage that two rights can make a wrong holds here. It is drinkable - yes. It is very sweet - yes. It is worth trying - I'd say so. Once. And for those that think this is a good thing, the same brewery will do you almost any fruit you want - anyone for pineapple? But don't let anyone see you order it.
Charles Quint This is not a classic beer in my opinion, rather lacking guts and character, but it does stand out through the brilliant marketing trick of being served in a four-handled mug. Four handles might sound excessive, (ok - it is excessive..), but my love of the slightly bizarre makes me rather fond of the Charles Quint drinking pot. I have heard several fine stories about why this beer comes in a four handled mug, but the tales lack consistency (if not imagination) and so it remains an open problem for the time being.
Chimay Blauw Now I know that Chimay is one of the six Trappist brews and is almost delicious just by association with the T word, but to be honest I don't get quite so excited about this beer as the other Trappist ale. It just doesn't quite happen for me. It has a pleasant mild flavour, and in any other country in the world would of course be a classic, but, well, nope - too much competition I'm afraid.
Ciney Bayard Rousse A "red" beer from Ciney which has been produced for the year 2000. This is very much an amber style beer and not a very flavoursome example, however when sampled ice cold on the muggiest day of the year it was very welcome. Perhaps the fact it was ice cold retracted a little from a full flavour check, but I'm not holding my hopes up too greatly.
Ciney Brune A quit pleasant dark ale that is widely available in Wallonia, and less so "north of the border". I wouldn't say that this is a terribly exciting brew, but it is quite acceptable.
Corsendonck Agnus Surprisingly this 8% Duvel lookalike is not brewed by same producers as the next beer, which shows that you shouldn't believe in a label. Not that this beer actually has a label, usually coming in an engraved bottle. It is a nice strong blond beer for sure, but my Danish friend Lars rates this far more highly than I would, which shows that this beer game is a very subjective lark to say the least. Corsendonck Agnus can be bought in one litre bottles also, for those seeking a serious hangover. This beer also reappears under a number of different guises - apparently sometimes as "Moine Tripel" and also as the unpronounceable "Deugniet".
Corsendonk Pater Not my favourite dark beer. I keep trying it in the hope that I was wrong the previous time. But I've given up. In Gent I drank a "Bornem Dubbel", which was equally unremarkable. And then I discovered they are one and the same. Ah ha.. clunk - the penny drops. Nice bottle, nice name, shame about the beer. Well - of course it's ok, but why settle for "ok" in Belgium?
Corsendonk Christmas Belgians like to bring out beers in the winter that will provide additional insulation. Usually these have some festive sounding name, and this is the Corsendonk version. Possibly the closest beer to a stout that I have tasted in Belgium, and not bad. I sort of think that other people do stout better though.
Cuvee de l'Ermitage Easier to drink than to spell. This is a warm cosy toffee tasting beer that is served in big shallow glasses. I've tasted it cold, and that's a big mistake as it fails to perform. So I guess it is one for that mythical "cellar temperature" that Belgian cafes seem to struggle to generate. Nonetheless, it's a yum yum beer.
De Koninck Ale is not really what I would recommend drinking in Belgium, just because it is perhaps one of the least unusual beer styles available. Hence Belgian ale seem generally a bit boring. Nonetheless De Koninck, the beer of Antwerp, is a nice enough brew and comes in a pleasant wide brimmed glass. It is commonly available on tap and definitely best that way. So, drinkable, quite nice, and other such bland complements. But I'd choose something else.
De Neve Gueuze A quite forgettable gueuze from the Belle Vue brewery. Neither sweet nor sour.. just bland. There are much much better gueuze beers out there to try.
De Neve Kriek In contrast to the slamming I've just given the gueuze, the kriek from De Neve is actually very nice. Although also from the Belle Vue brewery, the neutrality of the flavour on the sweet to sour scale actually made this a very rounded and enjoyable kriek. I don't know if this is a real cherry version or not, but it tastes nice, and what more can you ask?
Delirium Tremens This is a much raved about beer, but I can't get too excited about it. Believe me I've tried. It is strong, and the grey bottle and elephant label are certainly noteworthy, but the beer just doesn't set me on fire (although no doubt three of them would). Rate the World's best beer by some English beer book author who clearly didn't spend enough drinking time in the rest of Belgium.
Dikkenek Another very strangely named beer. Dikkenek comes from Hasselt, which explains everything. It is an example of a "double dark" beer - in other words not too strong by Belgian standards, and slightly sweet, rather resembling a British stout in taste.
Domus (Leuvendige Wit, Blok Bok, Nostra Domus) Domus is a brew pub in the middle of Leuven, and really makes the only beers that we could truly refer to as a local product. That's a shame - both that we have only one such place, and that it has to be Domus. The beers are all quite ok, but generally a little bit wishy washy for me. They lack guts, something that most Belgian beers have stacks of. Several brews are made throughout the year and availability is seasonal and seemingly erratic. You can buy a little sampler tray with three of the current ones, and this is worth it on the first visit. Leuvendige Wit (the wheat beer) is not very exciting. Blok Bok is a pleasant blond beer. More reliable is the amber coloured Nostra Domus. The one beer I have had there, that I really liked, was a Christmas ale. It was strong, but not heavy, and had a nice reddish complexion. But I forget what it was called. There are a lot of other beers in Belgium.
Duchesse de Bourgogne I've only had one crack at this one so far, and it was a very pleasant little encounter. It was on tap at La Vaudree II in Liege and was just delicious. The main complement I can pass it was its apparent similarity in flavour and colour to Oerbier, which is about as reverend as complements come.
Dupont Biologique (Saison) I like the idea of this beer, but somehow the reality was a little disappointing. The experts tell me that the Saison style of beer is on the decline, and this one is a right-on organic version, so I'm all for it. My main complaint was of blandness, but then I was on beer number three on the back of a slight cold, so I think it will deserve a second go sometime.
Duvel (Rood and Groen) Yes, yes, everyone has heard of Duvel. Matt's favourite. Heather's favourite. And deservedly so. It tastes great, it makes you feel good, the glass sits perfects in the hand and is easily swirled and admired. Overseas visitors stumble into Belgium in desperate search of this beer and it is very easy to find. The normal Duvel is Duvel Rood, so in a typical fit of experimentation I tried Duvel Groen. The bottle was smaller, the beer marginally lighter, and the taste milder. Indeed - why bother?
Ename Tripel Not at all bad you know. (It is so easy to write that kind of thing about Belgian beers.) Ename Tripel comes in a very unpretentious brown bottle with a dull label, but the beer inside is very drinkable indeed. The flavour is a little elusive, so I just suggest that you have one yourself and provide your own description.
Eupener Pils Not exciting in any way at all I'm afraid. But then I don't get excited by many Pils beers unless they come from the Czech Republic (because I'm a beer snob). Cold, pleasant, golden and flavourless. But when in Eupen you must drink as the Eupenaars...
Faro (Lindemans and Mort Subite) I'm going to lump the various Faro's together for now. They are light beers, but possibly the most refreshing of any I have tasted in Belgium. Definitely summer tipples. Faro Lindemans is very pleasant, but my favourite thus far was Mort Subite's Faro, drunk in the cafe of the same name in Brussels, where I think it was on tap. This is a hard beer to classify. Not exactly like a Gueuze, but similar in colour and flavour. Quite sweet. I like it.
Felix Bruin I sampled this only on the square in Oudenaarde, where it is brewed. Rather like a Rodenbach, although no doubt the legions of Rodenbach followers would object to this label. Like the other Oudenaarde brown ale, it is not a complicated brew by any means, but a good lunchtime tipple. Quite readily available in Oudenaarde, but I'll bet it's hard to find elsewhere.
Floreffe Dubbel This is a surprisingly elusive beer, given its bursting fruity flavour and eminent drinkability (ok - I know that's not a real word). There is a definite hint of Westmalle Dubbel in the colour texture and aroma, but the flavour is much more explosive and highly satisfying. It's a good one!
Gentse Tripel A tripel style beer from the famous Hopduvel in Gent. Like most triples it is a little bit winey to taste and has a gentle golden colour. Gentse Tripel has a distinct bitter aroma and flavour that I eventually decided reminded me vaguely of grapefruit.
Godefroy Oops - lulled into a false sense of security on this one. I rather thought it would be something strong and tasty, but it turned out that the short squat Godefroy bottle I ordered actually contained Godefroy Premium Pils, which is OK if you like that kind of thing. Next...
Goudenband Liefmans make this remarkable beer which is very distinctive but a bit hard to describe. It is, well, just very nice! I have to confess to pouring lots of it into several stews, which seems sinful. However the meat was definitely enhanced. It is of course a waste, something I always realise while draining the bottle afterwards. Like Liefmans' Kriek, this beer comes in large unmarked bottles, hand wrapped in paper. I am told that it is a good beer to "put down" for a few years (up to ten), but that requires too much discipline for me.
Gouden Carolus A double dark beer from Mechelen with a rather somber black and white label. Gouden Carolus first seems sweet and hints of chocolate, but then later takes on the after taste of a lighter more bitter ale. It sort of falls between the ale and massive ale categories, which is a little bit unsatisfying. It has a beautiful rich dark reddish colour when held to the light. A nice "every now and again" beer.
Grimbergen Cuvee Speciale This is a very dark and sweet beer that looks like it is going to be a particularly heavy number. In fact it turns out to be lighter than expected. One of many "Christmas beers" that Belgian breweries churn out for that cold festive season.
Grimbergen Dubbel The dubbel from Grimbergen is often available on tap in bars which don't offer Leffe Bruin. so in some sense this states implicitly that they are similar beers. In fact they are only vaguely similar, with Grimbergen being browner, softer and leaving less of an aftertaste. It is a quite acceptable replacement for Leffe Bruin, but I'd order leffe in a glass to glass confrontation!
Grimbergen Optimo Bruno King of the Grimbergens, each with their dramatic stained glass style phoenix on the label. This is a big beer with a resounding 10% alcohol volume and it is hearty to say the least. Quite sweet, but very very satisfying. I have actually sacrificed a bottle and a half to do that Belgian thing and cook a rabbit, and I can only say that konijntje tasted all the better for it.
Grottenbier I haven't quite sussed out exactly how the caves come into the process of making this excellent new beer, but I presume that it ferments in a cave system somewhere in Belgium. Anyway, geographical aspects of the brewing apart, this is a very tasty darkish beer that has a sort of toffee flavour, without being too sweet. There is hint of fruit about it and it really is a very welcome addition to the big happy Belgian beer family. Thank you Mr Celis.
Gulden Draak The little Blauwe Kater (blue hangover) is a jazz and blues cafe hidden down a small Leuven alleyway, and has one of the best beer lists in the town. No, correction - it probably has the best beer list. Hidden on its menu is an unlabelled beer of the same name, which apparently is essentially Gulden Draak, a beer perhaps most famous for coming in a white bottle. Dark, solid, rich and creamy - a classic massive ale. Pretty good.. and only slight traces of the suggested after effect was encountered.
Haecht Witbier This beer I have tried only under the pseudonym "Moedermeulen blond" at the excellent cafe of the same name near Aarschot. The cafe is next to a windmill and has a superb beer garden, marketing this beer as its very own. However, the name Haacht on the glass seems to be a giveaway. In fact it is absolutely tasteless, and yet stunningly refreshing - just what we needed after the cycle ride there. I believe this beer is also on sale in GB supermarkets as their home brand witbier.
Hapkin Hapkin is a very fine "Noble beer", which makes it a close relative of Duvel. Blond, but less clear than Duvel, and very hoppy, it is very crisp and sharp to the palate, with a very slightly bitter aftertaste. The glass is also vaguely Duvelesque, being somewhat taller and more fragile. The Hapkin House in Leuven is the Wentelsteen Cafe off the Vismarkt.
Hoegaarden Grand Cru Another nice noble golden ale that is well worth a slurp. On some days I even prefer this to Duvel. My office mate Johan has only ever been heard to utter five distinct words in the last two years. These are "voor mij een Grand Cru".
Hoegaarden Speciale Here's the marketing ploy. Take it off the shelves for seven months of the year and then welcome it back with big colourful signs as winter approaches. Like a long lost friend, back comes Hoegaarden Speciale. But is it speciale? Not that much I'm afraid. Quite drinkable. Quite forgettable. Gold and cloudy and, ok - I'll wait another 12 months for the next one I think.
Hoegaarden Witte Probably the most familiar Belgian beer to overseas beer lovers, and the most well known representative of the witte style. Really a home beer of the Leuven region, but to a spoilt temporary resident like myself, rather undeservedly looked down on. It is certainly light and refreshing and very citrus to the taste. A nice summer choice. To be honest though, my favourite use of Hoegaarden witte is as a cooking ingredient, where it does things to leek and potato soup that you just wouldn't believe. Try it!
Hoegaerdse Das Hmm.. I don't know why the "Das" bit either.. The rather old spelling of "Hoegaerdse" is an attempt to reflect the fact that this is a revival by Hoegaarden of an old recipe. The beer is light at 5%, and is an amber in style and colour. I don't think this is my top amber beer, but it is a good choice as a low alcohol refresher. It does have a very boring glass however, which in Belgium is usually a bad sign.
Hommelbier Hommelen are hops, and thus it comes as no surprise to find hops being one of the predominant flavours of this very refreshing beer from Poperinge. It is a honey coloured beer and its refreshing taste makes it one of the Belgian beers that I am quite happy to have chilled. A good beer if you actually have something fairly important that you'd like to do apres refreshment, and you don't want to have to weave your way optimistically towards the door on your way to doing it.
Hotteuse Grand Cru A golden gentle 8% number, claiming to be from Chiny in the far south of Belgium. My one tasting was in a very nice Brasserie in Florenville, and I can't say this set me on fire exactly. The flavour reminded me vaguely of the Japanese beer Kirin, but anyway - once is enough.
Jacobin's Frambozen This has to be the best frambozen (raspberry) beer that I have tasted in Belgium. What makes it special was in fact the lack of strong flavour of raspberry, with rather a fine essence instead. The beer is quite tart, not sweet, and is a subtle reddish brown in colour. Very refreshing and thirst quenching on a hot day.
Jacobin's Kriek A very sharp and tasty kriek beer from West Flanders. If you like kriek then this one will not disappoint.
Jan van Gent This is a surprisingly dull and boring beer from Liefmans, who should know better. However the saving grace is the splendid gannet on the label.
Judas I really like Judas. A highly unpretentious bottle and a highly unpretentious beer. There is a story somewhere about it starting as a Duvel lookalike, or maybe tastealike, but whatever it is now, it is not Duvel. This is a "noble" beer, which makes it somewhere vaguely between golden and dark (that's a pretty big spectrum mind you!) The first dominant flavour hints of sweet oranges, but not too strongly. The overall flavour is light and slightly reminiscent of wine. Unlike the original Judas, this one won't let you down. A "top ten" beer for me.
Julius The splendid centurion on the label is a foretaste of a very splendid beer from Stella Artois. It is a very solid 8.7% and very flavoursome. There seem to be a lot of "very"'s in this description. Maybe that sums it up really - it is a "very" beer.
Kasseistamper I have no idea where this beer comes from or even what the name means. Something to do with a man standing on cobbles with a big stick. So the label is interesting, the beer quite palatable, but I've seen it only once in Terclavers in Leuven. It must be a new fangled brew. More news if I manage a second tasting!
Kasteelbier Gouden Tripel Absolutely potent golden beer that will automatically double the number of people at your table. This is followed by a feeling of rapturous joy. Later stages involve mild seasickness and then finally a bad, but worthwhile, hangover. It's excellent.
Keizersberg This is Bornem Triple in disguise apparently, but generally appears in Leuven under the Keizersberg Abbey label. Actually this is not an exciting beer at all. It is blond and strong, but to my palate really lacks flavour and is very easily forgotten. Never mind, there are plenty more out there to try!
La Chouffe This is a great beer that comes in huge bottles with a gnome on the label. What more do you want? Actually La Chouffe is very hard to categorise exactly. It is an orangish beer, quite herbal, and a very nice meal accompaniment. I visited the little brewery in Achouffe in the Ardennes, and it tastes even nicer there, sitting outside while the Yellow Wagtails attend their nest in the cafe roof.
La Gauloise Ambree A very typical amber style beer. In my opinion the ambers in Belgium do not show a particularly great variety of character and this one is very solid and acceptable, without setting the heart on fire exactly.
La Trappe Dubbel It's not Belgian. But it deserves to be. The one Trappist brewery that is not in Belgium. It's across the border in that funny flat country where everyone shouts at you excitedly and the food is crap. The dubbel is a dark creamy number that comes served in a peculiarly flat and squarish glas
Leffe Blond This is the blond sibling of the next beer and is a widely available bottled beer, often also on tap. I keep trying to like this beer as I feel I should, but there is something just generally uninspiring about it. It just lacks something.. I don't know what. I think I leave it about a year between tastings and it never grabs me. But the bruin...
Leffe Bruin A solid reliable and widely available dark beer. It really is a sound performer and worth getting on tap whenever possible. This beer is perhaps less unusual in flavour than some others, tasting not unlike a polished version of dark ales from other parts of the world. But it is always there and always worth drinking from these lovely big wine goblets that it is served in.
Leffe Radieuse This is a strong, dark red and extra tasty version of Leffe Bruin, which makes it a fine choice. A sort of business class Leffe Bruin. The Leffe Bruin GTI model with sunroof and seat warmers etc, you get the picture.
Leffe Tripel This is a honey coloured beer with a distinctly winey tatse. It is not the most sensational beer in Belgium, but it is interesting, gutsy and generally a nice option every now and again. It suffers from some of the anonymity of the blond, but I'd place it ahead on my own personal rankings, but well behind the last two excellent beers.
Leute Bokbier The beer with the frolicking billy-goat on the bottle and a silly glass that needs a wooden base to stand it on. Don't you just love these marketing gimmicks? And the beer is also quite pleasant. At around 7.5% it is a very nice shade of reddish brown, and has a thick creamy caramelised taste. Vaguely reminiscent of a sort of De Koninck ale with real guts.
Liefmans Kriek This is the best of the Krieks in my opinion. Readily bought throughout Belgium in large unmarked bottles, wrapped in red paper, but even better on tap. Liefmans brewery is also worth a visit for those that feel the need to make a pilgrimage. Very refreshing and tastes most subtly of cherries. This is in contrast to other Krieks which taste strongly of cherries - a sure sign that they cheated during the production process. Liefmans also produce a Gluhkriek which is the same product with added sugar, cinnamon, anise and cloves. Yep -you serve it warm just like the wine. And it is magnificent.
Maes Yes - it is a Belgian Pils. Next...
Maredsous 10 An abbey beer of some pedigree. Basically putting a monastery on the bottle label seems to enhance the flavour of any beer, and this is no exception. One to sup and savour, but not too much - it's pretty strong. Seems to be head and shoulders ahead of Maredsous 8, which was a bit disappointing.
Mc Chouffe It's got all the promising qualities. It is a massive ale - that means dark and strong. It has a very silly glass with a gnome in a kilt. You just know it has to be good. But, well I don't know. The massive ale competition in Belgium is tough, and Mc Chouffe just ain't there with the big boys. It is a great glass though. More impressive is its harder to get big brother, N'ice Chouffe. At 10% you start to care less about the flavour and more about finding your way home.
Mechelschen Bruynen Yep - a ridiculous spelling, but there you go. A dark brown beer which to be honest left litle impression. Rather tasteless in fact, although my feeling was that it was served too cold and perhaps would have been a little better at that all elusive "cellar temperature". Probably needs another go sometime to redeem its reputation.
Moeder Overste This strong blond can hold its head high along with the Duvels of this world. Really powerful and gutsy beer that leaves you in no doubt that you've had some alcohol. Comes in a nice frosted glass. Actually reminded me vaguely of Brigand, which is an enormous complement. I liked this one (just for a change). It is also available under a number of other names, including its original title of Abbaye de Bonne Esperance, but all good Flemings prefer Moeder Overste. I've just discovered it in Leuven, which is heart lifting news.
Mort Subite Blanche The most recent of the Mort Subite range, and available on tap at the Brussels bar of the same name. This is a wheat beer style, but is quite distinct from the more well known examples such as Hoegaarden and Celis. Mort Subite's version is very sweet and almost tastes like candy. It is very refreshing but a little bit too sweet for my palate. It certainly took me be surprise when I first tasted it, rather expecting it to be quite similar to other related brews.
Mort Subite Gueuze Fond Wow - this is a good gueuze! Again, available in Cafe Mort Subite in Brussel and well worth tasting if you are a fan of this style. I believe that this is a traditional gueuze, so maybe I should start chasing up more of the original examples if this one is anything to go by. This is a big tasting beer.
Mort Subite Peche Umm.. Pretty much everything I said about Pecheresse applies to the Mort Subite version, except that the label is less erotic and the beer a little tastier, especially if had on tap at guess which Brussels drinking hole. Not really what I consider to be a beer, but if you have a sweet tooth then this could be your type of thing.
Napoleon Napoleon is a verp pleasant dark beer, with a very nutty and slightly smokey taste. I was only drawn to it by its appearance on a beer list in a little tavern outside Leuven, where I was promptly told that they no longer sold the beer - hence an increased desire to actually find a bottle. And well worth the search, with an 8% billing which means "do not take lightly".
ne Janneman This is a fairly interesting beer in a number of ways. Firstly because it has one the dullest labels of any Belgian brew.. diagonally striped repetitions of the beer name. Secondly because of the peculiar name - can anyone shed light on this? And thirdly because of the beer style, which I couldn't quite work out - it's a sort of amber. However, it was nice, rather distinctly flavoured, but I couldn't trace of what. It might need another trial!
Newton I am not entirely convinced by this attempt to make a whet beer have a bit of apple flavour. In fact it was the fact that the beer tasted rather too much of apple that put me off. There's something a little bit unnatural about this, although there is no denying that a chilled glass of Newton will go some way to quenching a severe thirst.
N'ice Chouffe All I can remember about this beer (apart from the bizarre name and the rather superb painted bottle featuring festive gnomes) was that it was very thick and dark and strong and made my head sore. All of these things are complements, and so I guess that means it's a good one.
Oerbier This is a sensational dark ale with a very fruity taste. Quite distinctive and brewed by the "Mad Brewers" which brings a pleasant hint of insanity to the flavour, and of course the wacky label. This is my current favourite at De Reynaert.
Orval I keep coming back to Orval and thinking - this almost as to be the best one - but then "best" makes no sense in this country when they are all so nice. A unique Trappist brewed beer. Almost orange in colour, but definitely orange in taste. Quite dry, relatively light, and very refreshing. Served in a variety of excellent aesthetically pleasing angular glasses. It's an all round winner.
Oud Villers Toffee. That's the word that springs to mind when your mouth is smacking away at the aftertaste of a mouthful of Oud Villers. A dark and creamy beer with a very definite hint of toffee. Someone else (Ria) thought it was liquorice mind you, so it's all open to debate I guess. But assuming that you like either toffee or liquorice, and preferably both, you're onto a winner here.
Oud Zottegems A fine blond brew from just south of Gent. I sampled this in the Hopduvel in Gent and was impressed by the slightly gingery smack of this blond ale. Definitely different, which is something that you can praise many Belgian beers for of course. I suggest you try this before you move on to stronger things as I would say the flavours were subtle and pleasing - make it your first of the night!
Oudenaarde Bruin The basic beer behind the legendary Liefmans Kriek. This beer is surprisingly hard to obtain outside of the Oudenaarde region. It is simple, but refreshing and pleasing. A light beer for Belgium, both on the pallet and the wallet.
Palm Speciale (and Dubbel) Palm is not a bad ale if you want something unobtrusive and gentle. It has a reasonable flavour, but is rather on the bland side of the Belgian scale. It would probably rate well in most other countries in the world! It takes on a more promising appearance around Christmas time when a slightly stronger version Palm Dubbel appears on the shelves, but this is only a marginal improvement.
Pecheresse OK - this is a girl's drink for sure. Light and peachy and really not one to confess to having partaken of. However, the bottle is very nice and it has the closest you'll get to an erotic beer label in Belgium (I refuse to even consider the Villers Sexy Lager that is served in glasses that derobe the figure on the side).
Piedboeuf I'm not sure which of the Piedboeuf beers I tasted, but it was dark, light, fruity and very refreshing. The Piedboeuf beers are so-called "Table beers", which means that Belgians do not hesitate to give them to their children (possibly that applies to all beer in Belgium, I'm not sure!) So Piedboeuf is not a beer you are going to get sozzled on, but it is a beer that might well quench thirst and bring a degree of short term inner peace.
Quintine This beer was a marvellous discovery in The Beer Temple in Rense. It is a strong golden ale from Ellezelles. It was served ice cold and was extremely refreshing despite its 8% potency. Nicely presented in a Grolsch style bottle. Definitely an "another of them, please" beers. I'll keep looking out for it. (And I since discovered it in my home town in Scotland.. so I should say "I'll keep looking for it in Belgium"!)
Ramee For some wonderful reason my local Delhaize has started stocking this excellent amber beer, and I guess I'll have to do my best to make sure its sales justify continuation. This is a bitter tasting brew which is the nearest taste relative to Orval that I have encountered. Perhaps a little rougher and sharper, but very very good. It doesn't have the Orval aroma, but it has that lovely vaguely fruity flavour. It's a cracker.
Reinaert (Amber, Grand Cru, Tripel) There are three very nice similar tasting beers under the Reinaert label, that I have only found in the cafe of the close sounding name in Leuven (although the link between the beers and the cafe is tenuous!) Reinaert Amber is a soft amber beer with a subtle flavour and knocks in around 7%. Reinaert Tripel is slightly more yeasty (it even smells slightly yeasty) and is about 9%. Reinaert Grand Cru is marginally stronger. All are very pleasant and worth checking out, if unlikely to qualify as world beaters (at least not in Belgium!)
Rochefort (6,8,10) I'm going to lump the Rochefort beers together because they are all equally pleasing and all round yum yum. Another family of dark Trappist ales of varying strengths, I really like their full bodied flavour and they always remind of me of an excellent pilgrimage to Rochefort, in the Ardennes, to see the abbey, walk the woods and visit these beers in their natural environment. Rochefort 10 is the ale of choice in the Leuven cafe of choice, De Lange Trappen (RIP). Rochefort 8 is a lighter version, but still a splendid massive ale. Rochefort 6 is lighter, but very tasty. This seems the hardest one to get hold of - if all else fails take that trip to the Ardennes.
Rodenbach Bart's favourite beer. Astonishingly this classic beer was omitted for a long time from this list - a serious omission indeed. Rodenbach is a Flemish red ale and has a unique mild fruity taste that is rather hard to transcribe into words - just go try! Rodenbach is normally served in a modest glass at a modest price and being of modest strength (on the Belgian scale) is the kind of beer you can drink at lunchtime and then return to work with (modest) lack of after effects. I have to say that I enjoy Rodenbach a bit less than some people (the notable Michael Jackson included - that's the "real" one.. not the pop star) but it is certainly a beer that any Belgian ale connoisseur simply has to put past their palate at some stage. Also worth trying are the similar variants Rodenbach Alexander and Rodenbach Grand Cru.
Rose de Gambrinus This is the raspberry beer of Cantillon, the last family owned lambic brewery in Brussels. A traditional lambic beer (that means natural fermentation in the sense that the wort is exposed to all the nasty germs in the air for one night and then off it ferments...) with the fruit added. The raspberry taste is not that strong and to be honest I prefer their gueuze to this sweeter version. Another raunchy label though with some leather clad young whippersnapper fondling the naked rose. There's a version on which the rose wears considerably more clothing, which I suspect is for the American market!
Satan Red It sounds like something that should be sending you home with a massive hangover, but actually Satan Red is a fairly harmless (well it's all relative) reddish ale with a fruity aroma and good flavour. I am not even sure you nrews this one, but I found it in Leuven's Wentelsteen and I will happily drink another one sometime.
Scotch Campbell I guess there should be some bias here, because this is a Scottish style of beer, brewed in Leuven by Stella. In Brussels it is often on tap, and at that point I start to really recommend it. Sometimes the glass is shaped like a thistle. Tacky - but what's wrong with that? But the weirdest thing is that the last time I tasted it I had to slurp it around for ages in my mouth trying to work out what the flavour reminded me of. And after ten minutes I decided it was star fruit. Nop - don't ask me either. But it did. Nice beer. Not pulsatingly exciting, but worth picking now and then.
St Benoit Blonde I've drunk this beer under the pseudonym "La Binchoise Blonde". It is a strange combination of Hoegaarden Witte and Duvel. Hoegaarden for the colour and the taste, rather citrus and refreshing, Duvel for the texture, but ultimately a bit bland. In fact it is about 6.5%, somewhat between the two in alcoholic strength, but you know you are drinkier something more substantial than Hoegaarden. I was served this a replacement for Fakir in the Hopduvel in Gent.. a bit of a fraud in my opinion, as the main thing they share in common is the word Binchoise - Binchoise is the brewer of Fakir, but not of La Binchoise Blonde, which is brewed by Bocq. Confused? Not as confused as I was..
St Benoit Brune Perhaps this beer is enhanced in my memory because I first tasted it while sitting high above the Meuse in a makeshift cafe looking out over the northern Ardennes... but it was a very tangy and more than acceptable dark beer, that seemed to remain on the palate for longer than expected. Not too strong either, possibly around the 6% mark, which made walking back down the hill safer than had it been a Rochefort 12 for example.
St Bernardus Now the St Bernardus range are all very nice, but I'm a bit fed up of them because of this Trappist nonsense. It's a long story, but about 90% of cafes in Belgium will sell you this beer as "Trappist" and it simply is not. It sort of was once, but isn't now. And I don't know why this deception annoys me. But it does! Good beer though. The double darks are very dark and very double I guess. The strongest (8%) has an intense flavour with an essence of blackcurrant. And of course there is the regulation jolly fat friar on the label just to add salt to the wound.
St Feuillien Blonde St Feuillien Blonde is a remarkable beer, tasted only once in Cirio in Brussels. It is a strong beer with a remarkable taste. What is remarkable about it? Well, it tasted of Cream Soda! That might make it sound disgusting, but the correspondence was very mild, and while I wouldn't sink one every night, I recommend a St Feuillien Blonde every now and again.
St Feuillien Brune St Feuillien Brune is also very pleasant and utterly Belgian, if less of note than the yellow one. Full of flavour and strength and all these other things that Belgian dark ales induce. I had my only sample half way around a walk in the Ardennes and it certainly brightened up the next hour or so. Be careful - it's stronger than it looks.
St Gummarus Tripel St Gummarus seems to be a fairly new beer and comes in the usual dubbel and tripel versions. The dubbel was a bit forgettable but the tripel was amazing. I drank this in Lier and as absolutely convinced that it tasted of Pear Drops. Mind you, if Pear Drops had the strength of St Gummarus Tripel then I would never have completed my school education.
St Idesbald Bruin This beer belongs to the extensive family of reliable dark Belgian ales. It has the texture and richness of classics such as Rochefort, but lacks the fierce sweet flavour and aroma, which is either a plus (if you find Belgian darks too sweet) or a minus (if you are like me). Nonetheless it is a fine example of the double dark style. In Leuven, look for it in Cafe Domus.
St Sebastiaan Dark Be warned - St Sebastiaan Drak comes in an earthenware bottle that promises so much. Don't be fooled by the monk and the little Grolsch style bottle top. I was not at all impressed with the content and actually ended up pouring it down the sink! Sorry - you just can't account for personal taste, but this was a struggle to drink. Not particularly tasty. A bit like Newcastle Brown Ale - in other words, probably good in the cooking pot.
Sezoens I hunted around for ages for Sezoens. It appears on occasional bar menus, but is one of these beers you just know the waiter is going to look all apologetic and claim that they have just run out of. But I found it in Nostra Domus on Leuven's Grote Markt, and it was almost worth the wait. Bold and blond, but just a little bit lacking in zest. Refreshing and crisp, but a bit too cold and characterless. A good meal accompaniment however.
Stella Artois The beer that has the put Leuven into bars all over the world. Stella is a lager, and that ultimately is its downfall. The classic "pintje" in the local bars here in Leuven, but only really something I'd go for in moments of abject poverty or desperate thirst. It is nice enough if you like that kind of thing. Don't be ashamed, there are millions of others just like you out there.
Stille Nacht An excellent dark massive ale from my favourite Mad Brewers of Diksmuide. Has all the usual fine qualities - crazy label, great taste, and the whole beer smacks marvelously of complete insanity.
Ter Dolen Blond This is a blond ale that is sufficiently citrus to distantly resemble Hoegaarden Witte. It does not have a strong flavour, and thus makes a pleasant food accompaniment rather than a beer to swirl around the palate by the fireside. In Leuven, try the Klijne Tafel steakhouse, where Ter Dolen makes a surprise appearance on a fairly impoverished beer list.
Ter Dolen Double Dark This beer is pretty damn close to Cooper's Stout (for those with a taste for Australian beer..) That means strong, but not too strong, sweet, but not too sweet, and quite crisp (is it possible to be too crisp? I doubt it..)
Timmerman's Gueuze Caveau This is a relatively strong gueuze, at 5.5%, and quite classical in flavour. If anything it is slightly more yeasty in both aroma and taste, and leaves quite a tart aftertaste. If you like gueuze, you'll like Timmerman's Caveau. If you don't like gueuze then I don't need to tell you what not to do...
Tongerlo Dubbel A rich brown beer with a mellow fruity flavour. This is a beer worth getting hold of on draught, and an excellent excuse to go ice skating as the only place I have so far discovered it on tap is at the Leuven Ijsbaan. It pours with a rich head and helps to soothe the bruises obtained from collapsing in a crumbled heap and being swept into the ice rink barrier by a speed-skater.
Tourtel Yes - they do make it - alcohol free beer. I guess if you really need to hold a chilled glass of sparkling yellow liquid then this is a satisfactory soft drink, but that's about it. Recommended for drivers, not for revellers, not very tasty but as harmless as beer comes.
Tripel Karmeliet Now this is a fine fine beer. I don't quite know why I like it so much. It might be the colour (warm golden brown), the very attractive label, or just the rounded satisfying taste. It is a very tasty yum yum slurp drool, I'll have one of them, type beer. I have a dark beer bias, but Tripel Karmeliet slips through the net.
Verboden Vrucht The "forbidden fruit". However I encourage the surrender to temptation in this case. This beer really does have a sort of chocolate flavour. It is another wonderful dark brew, very rich and full of flavour. Definitely up among the best in my opinion. The added bonus is the raunchy label. Well ok - it's not raunchy, but apparently it did result in a temporary export ban to the U.S.!
Vieux Temps Nice colour - that's about it really. Rather wishy washy mild tasting amber ale that is instantly forgettable.
Vondel This is another splendid massive ale. It is a beer with immense character, helped by the sinister black label. I have a feeling that I should know who Vondel is (was), but I don't. Anyway, this a stylish number. One to be seen drinking, if you can find it that is.
Westmalle Dubbel Another classic Trappist ale, and very reliably soul lifting. This is a vintage dark ale, with a creamy texture and a sharp bitter aftertaste of something a bit like vanilla. I have met several Belgians who cite this as their favourite brew. Danny introduced me to the fact that Westmalle Dubbel can be found on tap in the eccentric Cafe Adieme in Leuven's Munststraat.. and it is sensational.. It more than made up for s disappointing encounter with this beer on tap in Gent.
Westmalle Tripel This is a grand golden ale. Not a regular choice for me, given my dark ale bias, but every now and again I succumb and am never disappointed. The Westmalle glasses of course deserve a mention. Very imperial and just the right shape for you to know for sure when it fills your hand that you are about to treat yourself to something special.
Westvleteren 8/12 Well well well. It took me almost 2 and a half years to finally find myself a Westvleteren in a cafe, not withstanding the disastrous trip to the monastery in 1998 to buy the damn stuff, only to find it closed on a Friday. The point is that this is one of the few remaining trappist ales but can only be bought from the monastery at a sort of glorified drive-in. Otherwise you rely on someone else going for you, and charging the appropriate mark up. So there we were, in the Blauwe Kater, and we just ordered a couple of bottles of 12 at 150BEF each (what the Hell) and let me say it now.. the wait was worth it! What a stonking massive ale this is. Massive in every sense of the word. Full flavour, very creamy texture, delicate aroma, and siginificantly less sweet than its closest rivals (Rochefort 10 I think). This is a terrific Belgian beer. Long live the King... And the 8 is a cracker as well.
Witkap Stimulo A pleasant enough, dryish, golden beer. Neither particularly strong in alcohol nor flavour, it is still eminently acceptable as a pre-dinner tipple! The Witkap refers to the white hood worn by the very sagacious and reverend looking character on the label.
Zatte Bie This is a fine example of what is referred to as a "massive ale". That means it is dark, it is thick, it warms the cockles of your heart, and you get drunk quickly on it. Zatte Bie is a very typical massive ale, and lip smacking good. It is from the brewing town of Watou in the west of Flanders, but I tasted it in the famous Hopduvel in Gent. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is of course the name. Yes, the "bie" bit is obvious, but the "zat" bit means.. well.. if you have several Zatte Bies then you will be "zat" as well.
Zwijntje This is not just one of these beers that lurks under a variety of different names, but there also seem to be at least two different beers with this name. It is a good name though: "the little pig". Unfortunately the name is better than the beer, which was a rather disappointing Duvelike.