Friday, January 27, 2006


Draconian Men's Beer

Gulden Draak or Golden Dragon may give oriental associations, but there is a Norwegian angle as well.

It is not just the red stocking cap worn by the golden dragon. Traditionally worn by gnomes and seen as a symbol of Norwegian introvertedness and naïvety.

In fact, the golden dragon wears the red stocking cap only on the Christmas beer label. The commercially adept brewery of Van Steenberge in Ertvelde, north of Gent in Oost-Vlaanderen, readily admits that the beer, Gulden Draak Vintage, is not really a vintage beer; it is just their name for the Christmas beer version of Gulden Draak. Unusually for a Christmas beer, at “only” 7.5% ABV it is weaker than the everyday, “plain” Gulden Draak , which is a dark heavy-weight reaching 10.5% ABV.

It is still a very well-made Christmas beer. On top of the hazelnut coloured beer rests a rich and lasting, creamy tan head. Spicy yeasty aroma escapes the glass. There are fruity flavours with chocolate and raisins, some underlying sourness as well as good bitterness and dry yeastiness to keep the sweetness in balance. Alcoholic, almost port-like.Good carbonation and full body, too.

The Norwegian king, Sigurd Jorsalfar (Sigurd the Crusader) was by no means a weakling, either. In 1107 -1110 he led the Norwegian contingent in support of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, hence the nickname. According to the saga king Sigurd was well received by the emperor of Constantinople (Istanbul), and when he finally was leaving "he gave the emperor all his ships; and the valuable figureheads which were on the king's ships were set up in Peter's church, where they have since been to be seen."

The saga did not foresee that less than a century later Boudewijn IX, Count of Flanders, became the Emperor of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, taking the Golden Dragon figurehead with him back to Flanders. Today the gilded copper dragon (or rather a replica of it) crowns the belfry of Gent, a UNESCO site.

The Gulden Draak, Vintage or not, is certainly not a beer for the red stocking cap-wearing lager drinkers. Like the dragon itself it is for the well-travelled.

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