Tag Archives: belgian beer

Carbonade Flamande (food recipe)

Here is a short report of one of the nicest dishes I’ve made in a while, perfect for cold and dark evenings. My girlfriend has moved to Brussels, so I’ve been spending a lot of time here, and I was keen to cook something local.  Carbonade Flamande is a Flemish speciality (as the name suggests), and it’s basically a beef and oignon casserole, with a nice rich Belgian beer forming part of the sauce. It’s also a simple dish that uses beer very nicely. Stews are an inexact science, so it’s a little made up, but the following quantities are about right. For the beer, I have used  Westmalle, they’re cheap here but you may balk at using a bottle of that at home. Anything dark and not too bitter will work, Leffe Brune is fine, Chimay is often cheap enough, even a porter will work, and in any case something similar to this is done at home (Ireland) in a beef and stout stew.

Westmalle, It’s a cooking beer, really.

You’ll need the following ingredients

500g Stewing Beef (this is a slow cooker. Chuck, Shoulder, Blade, all sorts of cuts are used by the Belgians, and their cuts are different to ours so I’m not sure what exactly I got at the butcher). Cut into 1 inch cubes.

100g Salt Pork – Rashers will do, but preferably something thicker, it’s nice to have this in relatively large cubes (1cm). Pancetta would be good here, the key is to have something fatty to keep everything moist.

2 or 3 onions, halved and then sliced thin along the length

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

3 shallots, chopped

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp vinegar

1 tsp thyme

2 bay leaves

300g Veal stock (veal is traditional, but beef or whatever will do)

330ml dark Belgian beer

pinch of flour

knob of butter

dash of oil

2 tsp plain flour

Stale Bread


Ok here goes. First set the oven to about 160/170c.  Fry the cubes of salt pork/bacon/pancetta/whatever in a little oil until they have a bit of colour and the fat starts to go translucent. Set them aside in a bowl. Now brown the cubes of beef in a pan, and set them aside, with whatever liquid has come out of them.

Next, take a fairly heavy pot. Heat a lump of butter and a little oil, and fry the onions and shallots. When they are starting to cook, add a tsp of sugar, to help them caramelise. As they’re getting brown, add the chopped garlic. Once they are a golden brown colour, deglaze the pan with the vinegar and turn off the heat. Add the thyme and bay leaves, return all the meat to the pot (sprinkle about 2 tsp of plain flour on the meat first), add the stock, and the beer. Mix it around, and stick a lid on it, or some tin foil if you don’t have a lid. Pop it in the oven for 2.5 – 3 hours. Check it once in a while to make sure it’s not getting too dry, if it is, add a little water. With about an hour to go, taste the casserole and season with salt and pepper if needed (depending on what bacon you used it could be salty enough already). Slice the stale bread in to thick rounds, spread some mustard on each one, and sit on top of the mixture. They will soak up some of the juice, and bake on the top of the casserole, forming a delicious mustardy crust. This dish is traditionally served with potatoes, steamed, or perhaps mashed. Perfect dark-day comfort food.


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Hello Dolle!

The Dolle Brouwers' Brewery

It has been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d start back with a post I’ve been planning to do for a while now. Some time ago I visited the brewery that brews some of my favourite Belgian beers, De Dolle Brouwers (The Mad Brewers), in Esen, West Flanders. Like pretty much the rest of Belgium, it’s about an hour or so on the train from Brussels. There’s no station in Esen, but

Beautiful Yellow Kegs

nearby Diksmuide is only a 2km walk. The brewery is on the mainstreet, and upon arrival you are greeted by a rather odd looking building with an old bottling machine, now retired, sitting at the front door, as well as stacks of bright yellow kegs.

The brewery tour is conducted by the aged mother of the brothers who founded the brewery, only one of whom is still involved. The tour was in English, and any description will fail to do justice to the wirey matriarch who conducted it. There was a Polish couple beside us near the start of the tour, he was translating and relaying to her, she was clearly not interested in the slightest, and it was soon stopped in most dramatic form, as our host laid in to the poor fellow for talking while she was talking, and

The Mash Tun

distracting her.

The brewery is quite old, as I understand it the two brothers bought it in situ in about 1980, it had been disused for some time. The old equipment is still in use though, the Mash Tun is a traditional shallow circular wood-clad vessel, with a false bottom made from pie slice shaped steel that slot together, In the centre is an axle that turns a big propeller shaped mash stirrer. Equally dated is the coolship, which I had seen in use in Cantillon, but I didn’t think many other brewers still used it. The coolship is a hude shallow copper vessel that the hot beer is flooded in to, in order to cool it quickly. The

The Mash Paddle

drawback (unless you are Cantillon) is that a lot of the wort is exposed to the surrounding atmosphere, and so infection by wild yeast is a danger. The coolship also prompted some of our guides wilder claims, for instance, that since ‘copper cures cancer’, using the coolship to make beer meant that beer was more likely to ward off cancer. She should know, her son told her (the one who is no longer involved), and he’s a doctor.

We passed a little laboratory, where the yeast is cultured and various other quality control issues take place. We also passed the fermentation room, although since it is atmospherically controlled, there was a lot of condensation on the window. I could make out maybe half a dozen large, dairy style

The Lab

horizontal cylindrical tanks inside. In the warehouse section of the brewery there was quite a substantial bottling line, since De Dolle Brouwers deal mostly in bottled beers.

At the end of the tour we were directed to the tasting room, in what was an old stable, or perhaps cattle shed at the back of the brewery. The room was really homely, and a larger Flemish language tour came in shortly after we did. We lazed around on comfortable chairs and couches, near open fires and braziers, sipping the generally quite strong

Coolship No.1, Eccentric Guide

offerings out of large, red wine shaped glasses. Since it was November, we tried the just released christmas beer for that year, Stille Nacht. I tried one of my favourites, and the brewery’s signature beer, Oerbier. We chatted to the owner and brewer, Kris, who is a keen artist, his pictures are dotted around the walls. When he learned we were from Dublin, he asked had we seen his picture in the Porterhouse, one of our brewpubs. I had indeed noticed it, but I never knew who had drawn it. It’s a black and white line drawing of the pub’s Temple Bar branch, and it’s very good.

The Lineup

All too soon it was time to catch our train, and Kris was kind enough to drop us back up the road to the train station. This was one of my favourite brewery visits, and it’s well worth the trip if you have a day free in Belgium.

Happy Days


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Petrus: A Barrel Aged Pale

Petrus Aged Pale

Bavik is an old fashioned Belgian brewery, and Petrus (7.3%) is an old fashioned beer. It is, according to Bavik, an ‘undiluted’ old beer. It is aged in wooden vats, which judging by smell are funkier than if Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and the whole Parliament-Funkadelic ensemble got together and made some extra smelly blue cheese. It’s a dark golden amber colour, the head doesn’t last much. I was surprised given the smell that it wasn’t more sour, now don’t get me wrong, it is sour, but it’s not Cantillon sour; perhaps it’s more that it doesn’t finish dry, it’s not especially puckering. It is similar to red sour Flemish beers like Rodenbach and Vichtenaar, it has that same almost balsamic sweetness coming through, it could be the oak I think that given the fact that it doesn’t finish that dry, it could have been more highly carbonated, as it is the gas is weak, and it sits a little flat in your mouth. I love this flemish sour thing though, and this is a really nice example.


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Trappist Technique: Belgian Sugar

For now we see as through a glass, darkly

Recently one of my viewers asked me how my Rochefort style beer Rochefortesque was getting on, now that it has aged a bit, and whether I would do anything different. As luck would have it, a couple of weeks ago I had another go at a big Trappist beer again, and yes, I did try something new out. As to Rochefortesque, it seems to be thining out slightly, and as I said at the time, I would have preferred it to have a little more of the ‘rummy’ character in a real Trappist. Hopefully the following will address those defects

Big Trappist style beers are the dark, rummy strong beers that a number of Cistercian Monasteries brew in Belgium (also a German and one in Holland). I thought I’d use White Labs number 530 yeast, which is supposedly derived from Westmalle’s yeast strain. So far so good. But what I decided to do differently this time as opposed to my last Trappist style beer was use some homemade caramelised sugar for colour and flavour. As you can see from the recipe below I only used a very small amount of black malt for some extra colour, and I used some dark crystal malt to give me a good caramel sugar flavour. I used the same amount by weight of sugar. The method I used to darken this sugar was simple. I simply heated it in a pan along with some citric acid, and slowly it went a cream colour, then a bit yellow, and it began to clump together and finally it liquified. Then it was a matter of boiling it gently until it didn’t seem to be getting darker any longer. I could have boiled it for a shorter time if this had been a different type of beer, and I could have achieved a nice amber colouring, but for something like this I wanted maximum colour and flavour from the caramelised sugar. My inspiration here, as always with brewing Belgians is Stan Hieronymous, whose books I can’t recommend highly enough. The recipe site brew365.com also documents the process of boiling sugar with acid, the point of which is to ‘invert’ it, which means the sucrose breaks down in to fructose and glucose, by a process apparently known as ‘hydrolysis’. The point is, they are easier for the yeast to eat than sucrose is. Here are some pics of the process. click for bigger versions.

Sugar begins to clump together, keep stirring it!

Almost all the sugar has started to liquify

At this stage it is darkening

Pour in to a foil-lined tray, it will harden and cool. Remove from foil and break it in to pieces when it has cooled

This beer turned out Big. I used 7KG Pilsner Malt, 500G dark Crystal Malt, 500G Caramelised Sugar, and 60G Black Malt for 20L. The original gravity was 1.116! It finally finished at 1.026, which gives it a whopping 12% ABV. I hopped with Northern Brewer at the start of the boil, Hallertauer at 10 minutes, and Styrian Goldings at the end, for an IBU of 40. You really don’t taste it though since the final gravity is so high.  It is quite sweet, and what I like most about this sugar method for darkening the beer is that, while it sits in a chalice style glass it looks very dark, but it is very clear upon inspection, with a beautiful ruby colour. I said above that it finally finished; this was a troublesome brew. Although I made up a decent sized starter,  I clearly didn’t pitch enough yeast, and for one of the few times in my brewing life I had a properly stuck fermentation. I pitched a load of s05 from a pale ale fermentation, and that sorted it out. It still has the characteristic Belgian yeast flavour because, even though it stuck at about 1.050 it had started at 1.116, so the WLP 530 had ample chance to do its thing! In any case, s05 is well known for being a fairly neutral yeast. I thought I knew this lesson already, but the moral of the story is Caveat Cervesarius! Don’t underpitch with a beer this big.

Colour inspection


Filed under Beer, Recipe, Yeast

Three Men and a Little Barrel

Decommissioning the barrel at an undisclosed location in Naas, Southern Eire.

Finally, closure on our Epic project. A little over a month ago, Kev, Peter and I gathered in Naas to bring forth the fruits of our labour, the beer that we now call Diogenes, and described in several previous previous posts . After a gestation period of about 4 months, we each filled two 20L containers to bottle at our leisure, and we bottled the remaining 50L or so there and then, on a freezing day in January.

Diogenes finished at an Epic 11.5% ABV, which means it attenuated even further in the barrel, gaining an extra point ABV since it went in. Tasting it, we were very excited. Obviously putting something in a wooden barrel and leaving it you take your chances, but there was not a hint of funk about the beer. Tasting it alongside a pre-barrel bottle you could discern a real smoothness about it, the angular, almost rough taste points in the pre-barrel beer, the harsh roastiness from the excessive amount of black malt had all vanished. The whiskey was obvious. The oak’s vanilla was a beautiful accompaniment to the imperial stout flavours, and of course in the glass it is a thing of beauty, thick and black and velvet, it stains the glass brown as you swirl it up the sides.  We all agreed (to unashamedly blow our own trumpets) that this may be one of the best beers we have tasted, let alone brewed.

With a beer that clocks in that high, we decided we’d need to reseed the yeast, that is, introduce new yeast at bottling time in case the yeast already in the beer had either dropped out of suspension (perfectly possible after 4 months in the freezing cold), or else had just plain died due to the high alcohol content. If this happened, it would not be possible to bottle condition the beer (i.e. carbonate it), and so it would be flat. We reseeded 2 packets of safale s05 dry yeast for the 50l we bottled on the day, which is a high reseed level, I estimated it was over 3 million cells per ml. It is common practice for the stronger belgian beers to be reseeded at bottling time for this same reason, and 3m cells per ml is on the higher end of the scale, so when I came to bottle my own portion I used considerably less, which seems to have worked nicely. We didn’t want too much carbonation for this beer, as the almost syrupy black consistency is rather pleasant when undercarbonated. I bottled the majority of the beer in small bottles, and a number of them in large bottles which I corked, and I intend to keep for some time. I wasn’t one to muck around with the final product, being a purist, but Kev, who thinks he must be an Irish Sam Calagione or something decided to steep some of his on raspberries, and he says it’s great, but I haven’t had any yet *hint hint*.

We’re so happy to have seen this project through, and even happier that all our effort paid off so well. Everyone who has tasted this beer loves it, and it was a big hit with the other homebrewers at the Beoir January tasting session at the Bull and Castle pub in Dublin. It’s the end of a great adventure, and the only question is, what goes in the barrel next? Answers on a postcard please.


Filed under Beer, The Barrel Project, Yeast

Cantillon Brewday

Old Bottles on an Old Bottler

Each november, and also sometime in spring, the Cantillon brewery, which is also a designated museum throws open its doors for a day, so that hoardes of geeks can flood in, and ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ over mash tuns, bubbling barrels, coolships and cobwebs. I visited them once before, but they weren’t brewing. It was still great fun to wander around and check the place out, but this time it was a lot more fun. Cantillon is unlike other breweries, as it only brews ‘lambic’ or spontaneously fermented beer. They don’t add extra yeast. More about that later.
The brewday starts early, and so at about 6am, Kev and I found ourselves traipsing down Anspachlaan towards Anderlecht with an appropriate lack of spring in our step. It pissed rain all weekend. Brasserie Cantillon looks just like a normal building on a suburban 19th century Anderlecht street, from the outside you could have no inkling what magic lies inside.

The place was already a hive of activity even at that early hour. People huddled with coffee and croissants, and a little stove in the tasting area was burning away. We latched on to one of the tours that were going at regular intervals, and made our way in to a room that contained a mash tun, with magnificent rotating stirring arms plughing their way through the turbid mash, which was in the process of being doughed in. You could see the wetted mixture shooting through a pipe in to the tun from upstairs. The place was a hive of whirring and trundling motors, and one of the few modern encroachments on the traditional brewery was that most of the moving parts were attached by a belt to a central motor that is now electric, but presumably was once steam powered.

Making our way upstairs we had a good gawk in to the empty boil kettle, which appeared to be steam driven, at least, it

Inside the copper

had some large copper coils at the bottom. Continuing in to the attic, we saw the coolship that would be put to use at the end of the brew day. The tour concluded in the barrel storage area, where 1, 2 and 3 year old lambic beer was aging. Some of the barrels were even oozing foam, which looked great.

We also had a good look at the barrel washing area, where the barrels were being steamed clean. One of them was attached to some big gyrating frame like the thing astronauts use to train for g-force or something.

We had a little taste of some of the beer, since it’s one of the few times that drinking at 7am is socially acceptable. I tried a blend called “cuvée Gilloises” or something to that effect, probably after the neighbouring district of Saint Gilles. It was lovely. We decided to return to our womenfolk who were sensibly snoring back at the apartment.
Later on in the day we returned, hoping to catch the final, crucial stage of the brew. After a very long boil, like any other beer, lambic beer needs to be cooled. Although most homebrewers use something like an immersion chiller where cold water is circulated through a copper coil that is immersed in the hot wort, and most commercial brewers use a plate chiller, where the beer is pumped through plates that have cold water pumped on the other side in the reverse direction, the traditional method of cooling beer is to use what is called a “coolship”. This is basicaly a very large surfaced shallow copper container, in Cantillon’s case it takes up the whole loft room. The hot wort is flooded in to the coolship, which spreads it over as much surface area as possible, and since copper conducts the heat away so well, the beer cools down gradually. One of the reasons that commercial breweries for the most part no longer use this method is that it involves leaving a large surface area of warm wort exposed for several hours, and during that time, before it is cool enough to pitch the yeast in to, it is ripe for infection by wild airborn yeasts.

Steaming Barrels

This is a boon for lambic brewers however, since they want those wild airborne yeasts, indigenous to the locality to innoculate the wort. At Cantillon, millions of colonies of these yeasts inhabit the very rafters of the brewery. They don’t steam clean the place, rather they let the friendly spiders take care of insects that might harm the beer, and there are some fairly impressive cobwebs in the place.

The room with the coolship was full of steam, and hard to see.

Watching the wort flood in to the coolship was almost a religious experience, indeed, you could view the mystical transformation that the wort undergoes the night after brewing, sitting in that Anderlect attic, as the brewing equivalent of the metaphysical transubstantiation of wine into the blood of the redeemer. Tastier end product though.

Awesome Cobweb

Having borne witness to the magic, we retired to the tasting area, to avail of our complimentary glass of unblened lambic, blended Gueuze, kriek, and my favourite, Rosé de Gambrinus, which is lambic beer blended with raspberries. We took a bottle of “Mamouche” back to the apartment, which, while nice, only confirmed my suspicion that I don’t really like elderflowers. Unfortunately they were out of “Fou’Foune”, which is lambic steeped with apricots. I still haven’t had a chance to try this. Cantillon open brew day is a great excuse to visit the bizarre and wonderful city of Brussels, to drink Lambic beer at 7am, and to see where the magic really happens. I feel this might become an annual pilgrimmage.


Filed under Beer, Brewery, equipment, Yeast

A Barrel Full of Imperial Stout

Rotunda, Mallet, Ex-Bung

It’s the end of a long journey for our Kentucky bourbon barrel, ‘Rotunda’, and the 175L or so of Imperial Stout that Peter, Kev and I have brewed over the last month or two, a beer that is absolutely delicious even at this early stage, and which is collectively known as ‘Diogenes’. Read the two earlier installments of our audacious barrel project here (getting the barrel) and here (brewing the beer)

Rotunda started life at "Early Times", Kentucky

We all did our bit, and finally the day came where Kev and I drove from North County Dublin to Kildare, with 100L of the blackest stout in history sloshing about on the back seat. Needless to say we drove carefully. It was the day of the All Ireland Final, also notable for a Dimitar Berbatov hattrick against Liverpool. Even though the lads are Man Utd fans, this did little to distract us. Our minds were focussed on the culmination of our Barrel Project. They said we were crazy when we ordered an insane amount of Malt from England. They said it would never work when we told them we were going to brew enough super-strength stout to fill the 200L barrel. But now we’ve done it and the beer will sit there for the coming months, hopefully

One massive box, two carboys, several 20L beer bags, and a corny

undergoing a silent transformation, fusing with the white american oak from our barrel, originally from the Early Times distillery in Kentucky, fusing with the Cooley distillery’s whiskey that aged in it before our beer.

All three of us had been anticipating some degree of mayhem, delivering all that beer into what is already a very heavy barrel surely has its dificulties? Thankfully not, since the day went off without a hitch. This compares very favourably to the last brewday that Kev and I shared, where we perhaps bit off more than we could chew, trying to mash 30KG of grain in a massive plastic barrel. First of all we didn’t get near our mash temperature, it stayed at 55. With the introduction of steam we managed to raise this to 62, still very low. Then the manifold at the bottom of the bucket jammed, and the thing wouldn’t drain. We ended up having to scoop the mash out into smaller more reliable mash tuns, and drain it as best we could. I had to leave at that point, but Kev was to experience further misery, one of the elements on his boiler decided to give up half way through. The blackest brewday I have ever known, I’m still getting over it. Credit to Kev though, he managed to get close to his target OG, and only slightly under the volume he had been aiming for.


Peter had already checked that the barrel was watertight before we got there, and in fact, it was still damp with whiskey from months ago when we got it at the Cooley Distillery. The smell was still incredible. We mixed 20L of starsan, and rolled the barrel up and down the path to slosh the starsan around a bit, although this was probably unnecessary since the whiskey was clearly still coating and soaked into the inside of the barrel. Cask strength is much higher than bottle strength, I think I remember the man at Cooley telling us it was in the mid sixties ABV, surely enough to keep most infectious beasties at bay.

A complex medical procedure

We rolled the barrel into the shed and propped it up on a couple of bricks, to raise it a little for when we come to siphon out of it. We began to siphon, this is when I had anticipated difficulty, but it was all fine, we were even able to siphon several of our vessels at once. We tasted some of our beers side by side, there were subtle differences, we then tasted a mixture of all three, and it was superb. The trub (the yeast and other gunk left behind by fermentation) was absolutely revolting, smelled awful, and was thick and gooey. Here’s a picture of some of it on Peter’s finger. Yeuch.

almost full

And that was that. I hammered in the bung (that we had pre drilled to accept an airlock, in case any extra CO2 was produced, and now all we have to do is wait. We may remove a little before christmas, and the rest a little later.

Bung is in



Filed under Beer, equipment, The Barrel Project, Uncategorized