Luc de Raedemaeker on Taras Boulba

Luc de Raedemaeker on Taras Boulba

Noble Hop Session Beer
First Brewed
Hop Varieties
Four varieties, primarily noble hops
DLS house strain
Herring and light salads.
Brasserie de la Senne
Luc de Raedemaeker on Taras Boulba

In Brussels, you will find the Brasserie de la Senne, one of whose excellent beers bears a striking name, Taras Bulba and a striking label, as well. The inscription reads: “Awel Merci! Taras Boulba es roezeg van kolaire! Zanne zaune es mi een wolline getraut!”

Here’s the story behind the name and label of this excellent beer. Life is not sweet, life is sweet.

Brasserie de la Senne is a 100% Brussels brewery. Brusseleirs Bernard Leboucq and Yvan De Baets began to brew beer together a dozen years ago, first with fellow brewers, but from 2007 independetely. The range that Brasserie de la Senne offers is impressive: Zinnebir, Stouterik, Taras Boulba and many others. The first two names are self-explanatory for a Dutch-speaking Belgian: Zinnebir, the beer of the Senne, the river of Brussels, and Stouterik just means ‘the bad one.’ But the third? Before we explore that further, let’s look first at the beer itself. First things first. As it should be.

Packaged in 33 cl/330 ml/11 oz bottles, Taras Boulba is a bright light ale of 4.5%. It’s pleasant, hoppy with a gentle note of citrus, a gift to the beer lover thanks to the delicious bitterness compliments of Saaz hops, which makes it particularly refreshing. The first time I tasted the beer, it was alongside a piece of herring – a fine example of food pairing. Even with a fresh salad, Taras Bulba seems to be a perfect match.

Taras Boulba illustrates nicely the brewing philosophy of De Baets, which is to create always a balance of malt, hops, and yeast, or in other words, to employ as few ingredients as possible to generate as much flavour as possible. Moreover, it is also his intention to keep the beer at a low strength or as the man himself says,

"The lighter the beer, the longer the fun!"

From Russia with beer

The label is quite intriguing. A wheel, a circus tent, a tilting Brussels in the background; what’s the story, you might wonder. And what about the two men in the foreground, one red-faced, clearly very angry, ready to throw a beer barrel onto the terrified fellow on the ground below. He roars: ‘Smeirlap!,’ which means ‘Bastard!’ To market a label with such aggression is quite remarkable. And then, to add to that, you read the statement noted above, which when translate from its old Brussels dialect reads roughly, “Well, thanks! Taras Boulba is furious with anger! His son is married to a Wallonian girl!,” Wallonia being, of course, the French-speaking part of Belgium.

But who is or was that character with the name Taras Boulba? We stick our nose in the history of literature and wind up with none other than the Russian-Ukrainian Grandmaster, Nikolai Gogol, known for the novel Dead Souls. Taras Boulba is the main character and the title of one of his short stories, in which Cossack Taras is on the road and joins his two sons, the adventurer Ostap and dreamer Andriy, to fight the Poles. There is one problem: Andriy is actually in love with a Polish beauty of nobility.

The sturdy Cossacks led by Taras starve a Polish village and Andriy suddenly recognizes the former maid of his Polish sweetheart. This makes him switch sides, wishing now to help the poor Poles, which enrages his father. “I gave him life, I take his life,” screams Taras, before he shoots his own son, the traitor, dead.

Brasserie de la Senne brewer Yvan De Baets, Hugo Jacques, and author Luc de Raedemaeker at the Brussels Beer Challenge in 2016.

Peace and beer all over the world

Gogol doesn’t end his tragedy there. Son Ostap will also perish, not by the hands of his father, but rather tortured to death by the Poles. Many years later, Taras will meet equally gruesome end, nailed to a tree and burned. Not really what one might describe as a peaceful story.

In the label, its angles and tilted buildings, we also see an allusion to the famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso, Guernica, suggesting that the owners of de la Senne wish to send a message to the world through the Russian literature. As true Brusseleirs, they want to bring together the Dutch- and French-speaking people of Belgium, and do so over a beer, or five.

Luc de Raedemaeker is co-founder and director of the Brussels Beer Challenge, a prestigious international beer competition; editor of Bier Grand Cru magazine; co-organizer of the Brewers of Europe Forum; and a certified beer sommelier.

Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.

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