Tag Archives: Beer in Belgium

Authentic Trappist ale to be brewed in U.S. for first time

authentic-trappist-logo_350 x 402Long-time readers of my blog know that I am a bit of a nut for Belgian beers. Top among the list of my favorite Belgian beers are those that come from Belgian monasteries like Chimay, Rochefort, and Westvleteren. These are known as Trappist ales, they are certified and approved by the Catholic Church and are the only beers allowed to carry the Authentic Trappist Product logo. This logo provides certain assurances to consumers that the brew is made to strict standards.

Up until recently, all Trappist beers were brewed in Europe, primarily Belgium where there are six breweries. But, The Netherlands and Austria also host a Trappist brewery each with a second brewery under development in The Netherlands as well. Never has certified Trappist ale been produced outside of Europe until now. But, on December 11, 2013, the International Trappist Association in Brussels, Belgium announced that Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass. Will become the first American brewery to be designated Authentic Trappist.

“At a meeting yesterday of the International Trappist Association in Brussels, the Spencer Trappist Ale was awarded the ‘Authentic Trappist Product’ designation,” François de Harenne, Commercial Director of the Orval Trappist brewery, said, “The decision was made after several controls made on the premises during the last weeks. We also were lucky enough to taste the beer.”

According to the association’s official website (;

A “Trappist” has to satisfy a number of strict criteria proper to this logo before it may bear this name:

  1. The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
  2. The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life
  3. The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture.  The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds.  Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.

While the brewery is still under construction, some information has made it out including the style of beer and its flavor profile. According to the label that will appear on the bottles, Spencer Trappist Ale has an alcohol content of 6.5 percent and is “inspired by traditional refectory ales brewed by monks for the monks’ table. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued Trappist ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness.”

Output for the brewery will be limited. According to zoning commission minutes from Spencer, the brewery intends to produce one batch of beer per day, four days per week. The eventual output is expected to reach 10,000 barrels per year.


Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Beer News, Beer Styles


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Kickback’s Expansion Details

The King Street corridor in the Riverside/Avondale has become a real beer destination. With two breweries, Pele’s Wood Fire boasting 50 taps, Kickback’s with 84 taps, European Street, Dahlia’s Pour House opening soon with 50 taps, and at least two other destinations opening soon, if you cannot find a good beer to drink in that area, you are not trying very hard.

A few months ago, I wrote about the Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner held at Kickback’s. I also mentioned that during that dinner Steve Flores, the owner of Kickback’s, announced his plans for a new restaurant to the immediate left of his current establishment. Today the Florida Times-Union is running an article on their website — — about the new eatery with details that sound very interesting indeed.

The main article at the link above details a controversy going on with Riverside Avondale Preservation. I will not go into that here; you can read that part of the article if you want. But, the new place Steve has planned does sound amazing. I cannot wait to claim my throne in the Belgian bar.

Roger Bull, of the Times-Union writes this about the new place:

Here’s what the owners have planned for the new restaurant next door to Kickbacks Gastropub:

Two stories and a basement for a total of about 10,000 square feet, with a kitchen that Kickbacks will share.

It’ll have 249 seats. Seventy-six of the seats will be outside, including 24 on the sidewalk and 52 on the front covered patio.

The basement will be a Belgian beer bar with 50 seats.

The food, Steve Flores said, will have “75 items from around the world that haven’t been seen much on a menu in Jacksonville.”

He mentioned five flavors of moules-frites (that’s mussels and fries for those who haven’t seen it on a menu before) along with vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Much of the emphasis will be on beer. Kickbacks already has 84 on draft and more than 600 in bottles.

The downstairs bar will be for serious sipping and there will be storage for 1,000 kegs.

“I don’t think Dogfish 120 should be served until it’s at least five years old,” Flores said, “so I’ll store it at least that long.”

For me, this place cannot open fast enough! The food sounds awesome – true Belgian fare in Jacksonville? Yes please! A dedicated Belgian basement? It may be in a basement, but – as a Belgian beer lover and some say expert – it will be heaven for me.

Jacksonville is growing up. We are finally getting the kinds of restaurants and entertainment options other cities have enjoyed for years. And, as far as beer culture, we are nearly afloat in it.

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Beer, Belgian, Pubs, Restaurant


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New Belgian Brews Are Tasty and Thrifty

20120109-161720.jpgBelgian beers have long been my favorites and, as evidenced by my trip to Belgium last year, my passion. I love the variety the Belgian brewers introduce to their brews and the outstanding quality that is virtually guaranteed of a Belgian beer. The Belgian people take their beer seriously and therefor will not stand for shoddy practices or poor quality beers.

Last night my good friend Steve of invited me over to his palatial mansion to taste several new Belgian beers he had come across. The three brews we tried were all from the Brasserie Caulier a brewery situated less than a half mile from the French border in Péruwelz, Belgium. Named for a nearby town where the first brewery was established in 1980 the three beers tasted were Bon Secours Blonde, Bon Secours Brune, and Bon Secours Ambree.

Brasserie Caulier wanted to follow in the brewing traditions of the Brigittine Monks that first settled in the area and established a brewery in Peruwelz around 1628. Brasserie Caulier tells a story about the first brewmaster of the monastery named Father Baudelot who, after celebrating Mass every Sunday at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-between-wood in the village of Bonsecours, would walk home and pay visits to the local taverns along the way. After long evenings of drinking and socializing with the parishioners, Father Baudelot would require assistance getting back to the Abbey. The good Father’s dog, a statuesque St. Bernard, would guide him safely to his home. In honor of the Father and his faithful companion, all Bon Secours brews feature a St. Bernard on the label.

Brasserie Caulier is a traditional brewery that produces beers using the traditional methods. The brews are unfiltered, unpasteurized, and the secondary fermentation takes place in the unique swing-top bottle the company uses. This second fermentation in the bottle leads to an extremely lively bottle evidenced by the “Biere Vivante!!” tag line on the label, which translate to “living beer.” Indeed, it is a very good idea to have your glass nearby when opening the bottle as the carbonation tends to rush to the top of the bottle as soon as it is opened.

The first of the beers we sampled was the blonde. As mentioned above, when poured into a tulip glass the brew formed a thick, white head of fragrant bubbles releasing aromas of sweet malt, lemony citrus, and the earthy spiciness one expects from a Belgian Strong Ale. The appearance of the beer in the glass is hazy yellow which leans towards the golden side. First sip revealed the sweetness of the malts followed by the brightness of the lemon and finally a pleasant herbal character. This beer paired nicely with the homemade gyros my host served for dinner.

Next we broke open the amber from Brasserie Caulier. As with the blonde, this brew poured into the glass with a tall, rising head of attractive and aromatic foam that was dominated by the smell of dark sugars and caramel and the typical Belgian yeast funk. In the glass the beer is a deep orange color with amber highlights. Immediately upon first sip the sweet, caramel nature of the malts washes over your taste buds. In the finish there is a hint of sourness reminiscent of a Flanders Red.

The third and final beer of the evening was the brune. This brew poured a deep brown with a generous slightly tan head. The aroma is of dark-roasted malts, mocha, and some dark fruits. The first sip revealed the dark malts and mocha hints along with dark brown sugars – perhaps molasses — and raisins. Drank alongside some truly outstanding brownies made with chili spices and vanilla made by Steve’s lovely wife Amber, this beer really stood out.

As Belgian beers continue to gain popularity in the United States, it is always a treat to come across a brew that I have not tried before. As was the case several months ago with Antigoon, the Bon Secours beers are a very pleasant addition to my catalog of tasty Belgian brews. While all three of the Brasserie Caulier brews boast 8% ABV, they are very drinkable and pleasant on the palate. If you are looking for inexpensive as well as tasty Belgian brews these three are well worth your time.

Bon Secours Blonde, Bon Secours Ambree, and Bon Secours Brune are available at Total Wine in the St. John’s Town Center for $2.99 to $5.99.

Until next time,

Long Live the Brewers!


Marc Wisdom



Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Beer, Belgian, Imports


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Merchant du Vin Brings Old World Brews to the New World

A bottle of Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.

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Some of the best beers in the world are brewed by small breweries in Europe. These brews are world-renowned and, upon seeing the size of their breweries, one might wonder how such a small place could produce a beer so beloved around the globe. But, some of these breweries have done just that and have been around a very long time.

On Thursday, November 17, I had the opportunity to taste an extraordinary collection of fine brews presented at Total Wine in the St. John’s Town Center by Merchant du Vin beer importer. Merchant du Vin has been in the business of importing beer for nearly 35 years and has collected an impressive portfolio including beers from Samuel Smith, Traquair, Ayinger, Zatec, Pinkus, Lindemans, Orval, Westmalle, Rochefort, and Green’s.

On hand to guide us on our beer tasting was Rob Nelson, Southeast Regional Manager for Merchant du Vin. His presentation took us on a journey around Europe and into some of the oldest brewing facilities in the world. His stories and photos enchanted the audience and truly brought to life the history of the beers we tasted.

The first brewery we tasted from was Samuel Smith’s. The Old Brewery in Tadcaster was established in 1758 and is Yorkshire’s oldest brewery. It adheres to the old ways of brewing and maintains it’s own copper kettle and cooper for making and repairing barrels.

Beers we tasted from Samuel Smith’s included:

Organic Cider – Bright in color, light in body, and clean in flavor are the descriptors on the marketing materials and they are absolutely correct. The apple flavor is sweet without being cloying.

Organic Strawberry Ale – Sweet and refreshing with just the right amount of strawberry flavor in a medium-bodied brew. This is a beer for a lazy afternoon in a hammock somewhere.

Oatmeal Stout – This stout is possibly the standard on which all other oatmeal stouts should be judged. Indeed, it was the very first commercially produced ale that combined oatmeal and malted barley. This brew is rich and thick with sweet and bitter notes.

In a recent column I discussed Ayinger as one of my favorite Oktoberfest beers, but Ayinger also produces several other very tasty and satisfying brews. The brewery was founded in 1878 in the small Bavarian village of Aying. Today the brewery is an automated testament to German engineering that does not sacrifice authentic and traditional flavors for mass-production.

We tasted several from Ayinger including:

Hefe-Weizen – This unfiltered brew is a refreshing example of the German wheat beer. It displays the appropriate clove and spice profiles of the style and is wonderfully drinkable.

Ur-Weisse – An interesting treat, this dark brew is very malty in character, yet maintains the clove and spice profile of a wheat beer brewed in the German style.

Orval is another of the evenings offerings that, though I had had it before, I was truly looking forward to. As a brew with a Trappist designation, Orval is still brewed within the walls of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in Belgium. Monks still work to produce it, but with some help from lay people. The brewery is still owned and operated by the Catholic Church for the express benefit of Catholic charities. There is evidence of brewing and beer consumption on the grounds of the Abbaye as far back as 1628.

The word orval means “golden valley” and is an appropriate moniker for this outstanding brew. When poured into a glass the brew is hazy and golden. It reveals fruity, hoppy aromas that are a result of the dry-hopping process used. The taste is complex, fruity with a fair amount of hop kick.

The final Trappist brew we tasted that evening was Westmalle, another complex and wonderful Belgian beer that truly makes me long to head back over to that country.

With enlightening stories and wonderful slides, Rob from Merchant du Vin truly made the evening an experience to remember. Given the opportunity to attend one of his presentations you should run, not walk. This is a man who loves his beer and has a true appreciation of the art, love, and talent that goes into making it.

Until next time,

Long Live the Brewers!


Marc Wisdom

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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Beer, Beer Education, Beer Tasting, Belgian, Imports


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Sour Beer, Warm People

Traditional wooden lambic barrels; the L on th...

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Back in late February and early March of this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to take a nine day pilgrimage to the Mecca of beer: Belgium. While I was there I tasted nearly 50 different beers and fell in love with nearly all of them. But, even with the astounding variety and selection available in that great country, my mind kept wandering back to the first beer I tried – just a couple of hours off the airplane – in Brussels.

I found myself wandering in the city center historical district as night fell and the city began to light up and transform into a magical fairy tale land. It was damp with the near constant mist that this part of the world gets and the air was cold on its way to frigid. I wrapped my jaunty red scarf around my neck and snuggled into my wool coat as I walked through the cityscape.

At last I found myself standing in front of a bar that looked both inviting and adventurous. Sitting at tables outside the place were several patrons sipping at their beers, seemingly oblivious to the elements, laughing and joking. I stepped inside and was immediately awed at the bar with it brass beer tower running the length of it. There had to be 40 taps, all with Belgian beers, all calling my name.

But, before I had left the United States I made a pact with myself to try a specific type of beer first upon arrival in Belgium. I wanted a beer that was out-of-the-ordinary for a wayward gentleman from Jacksonville, FL. Something that was rare if not non-existent back home. I had promised myself a gueuze as my first Belgian brew.

Gueuze is often referred to as the champagne of the beer world for its effervescent, acidic, and very dry flavor. It is also a brew that is extremely limited in production as it can only be produced in a very small geographic area immediately south of Brussels, Belgium. The reason for this is two-fold. First, gueuze is a spontaneously fermented beer, meaning that yeast is not added by the brewer; rather wild yeast is allowed to inoculate the beer while it cools in a large, open copper tub usually in a room on the upper levels of the brewery with open windows to let the yeast blow in. This yeast is only found in the river valley of the Sienne near Brussels. The second reason that gueuze can only be produced in this region is that Belgian and European law governs the production of this beer and allows it only in the designated appellation region.

To understand why this beer is so special and why I chose it as my first beer in Belgium, you need to have an understanding of what it takes to make this unusual beverage. It goes beyond the spontaneous fermentation; there is also an extensive aging process. Gueuze is a blend of several lambic beers that have been aged in either oak or chestnut barrels. Lambics require an extensive amount of time to fully ferment – up to three years. Gueuze is made of older, three-year-old lambics blended with younger one- and two-year-old brews. The older beer imparts the majority of the flavor and aroma characters while the younger brews supply sugars to restart the fermentation process. A good gueuze will be allowed to ferment at least one additional year, but unlike most beers, this brew can be cellared and aged for up to 20 years. The flavor will mellow and deepen, just as a wine’s, the longer it spends in the cellar.

Back in Brussels, I sat near the end of the bar and smiled at the pretty waitress sitting two stools down at the end. Later we struck up a lively conversation about beer and how different American beer was from Belgian. The bartender asked in French what I would like to drink, when he realized I was American he switched seamlessly to English and repeated his query. I explained what I had decided and asked for him to make a suggestion. I immediately went to a tap and drew a tulip glass of a deep golden liquid with a slight haze; he made sure that the pour had a rich head that he scraped even to the top of the glass with a beer knife. Before he sat it down he looked at me and asked if I was sure I wanted this beer, he warned that it was very different than any other beer I have ever tasted. I assured him that that was what I wanted and he set it down in front of me. He explained that I was about to taste one of the best gueuze beers brewed in Belgium: Cantillon Lou Pepe gueuze.

The pretty waitress watched with a mischievous smile as I smelled the beer. My eyes must have gotten quite wide as the waitress and other staff let out a small laugh at my expense. The aroma filled my nose with a plethora of surprises. I could smell sour apple and grape along with vinegar and grass. There were notes of cherry and, of all things, a musty old blanket that evoked a barn in the summer; not unpleasant, more reassuring and homey. There was also the famous Belgian funk, a smell that is hard to describe, but easily identified when you smell it.

I brought the glass to my lips and took my first sip. An explosion went off in my mouth as the intensely sour flavor of the beer shocked my uneducated palate before it mellowed and flavor nuances began to unfold. I could begin to taste the sour apple and fruit flavors my nose had detected, but I also noticed oak from the aging barrels along with citrus notes from the hops. Lemon rind and earthy notes began to creep into the sweet, clean finish. Again, the staff laughed, but it was a friendly laugh, welcoming and knowing. They all could tell that that first sip had hooked me and gueuze had just shot to the top of my list of favorite beers.

Anais, the waitress, informed me that most Americans do not react as I did. Most take a sip of a gueuze and immediately ask for something else. After a brief burst of French conversation with the rest of the staff that had gathered around (it was a very slow night in the bar), she announced that my first few beers, including the gueuze were on the house if I agreed to allow them to suggest my next few choices. I readily agreed and, for the next couple of hours, had a delightful evening tasting new beers and making new friends.

Some gueuze to look for and try:

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic, Brasserie Cantillon
Aromas of the barn with pleasant funk and lemon. Flavor of lime with an acidic, tart finish.

Oude Gueuze, Hanssens Artisanaal
Citrus, oak, and florals on the nose. Big wood and earth on first sip with a sour apple, dry finish.

St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition, Brouwerij Van Honesebrouck
This golden amber brew smells of tart lemon and green apple. The flavor is sour, fruity, and funky.

At the end of the evening I understood why many people fall in love with the country of Belgium. It certainly isn’t for the weather; it’s for the people and their passionate love of beer. These people were friendly beyond anything I had experienced before. They embraced a fellow beer lover and ushered me into their world of extraordinary beers with a fervor that was astounding. They were remarkable in every way and I can’t wait to go back again.

Until next time,

Long Live the Brewers!


Marc Wisdom

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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Beer, Beer Styles, Belgian


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