(9.5% Belgian make from a 750ml bottle) A bottle or two of these, and you may very well feel prophetic like this gem’s namesake. Brasserie Caracole’s Nostradamus beer will not disappoint, nor will it foretell a cryptic future left open to interpretation for centuries to come. The brewer, Brasserie Caracole, is based in the French-speaking region of Belgium. Perhaps a good reason to name it after a most infamous Frenchman, Michel de Notredame, or Nostradamus. The brewery has been in existence since at least 1766, and has changed hands a few times until in 1992 it became Brasserie Caracole. An artisan establishment, it is reported that they use wood fires (the last in Europe according to Brewvana) to heat the waters which yield us this wonderful strong dark Belgian ale.
This exquisite beer was an unfiltered reddish-brown with a quickly dissipating tan head. The smell was, as to be expected for something of this rich dark colour and high alcohol, that of warming, sweet malts. The taste was one that made both of my siblings wish this beer was readily available stateside, for while it is a Belgian ale, it was enjoyed back home as a gift from my brother who smuggled it back from Bruges after our trip together earlier this year. And a gift it was: the taste was rich and wonderfully complex with ripe red fruits, Belgian spice, and a near tawny port wine taste. This kind of complexity and taste is truly something to savour if you get the opportunity, and thanks to my brother I had it in beloved company.
The guy!? Nostradamus?
Remind me again, why does Nostradamus matter? Well, he doesn’t unless you believe in ghost stories, and the kind of logic which reads into numeric codes in prophetic or religious texts. But perhaps, since his books have seldomly been out of print since his lifetime, he is a subject worth surveying.
Beginnings…and what he has in common with Van Gogh
He was born in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1503. This town of about ten thousand people is south of Avignon in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southern France. As pictured below, it’s not your standard sleepy town: renown for its culinary delights, cafes, and history this is a town well worth a visit in the ever-popular Provence.
On the outskirts of the town, you will find the archeological site of Glanum. This Gallo-Greek (3rd – 1st BCE) and then Gallo-Roman (1st c BCE – 3rd c AD) settlement offers a magnificent Roman triumphal arch, mausoleum, baths and temple. However, most people will probably recognise Saint-Rémy from the iconic images immortalised by another resident and former patient of the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum, Vincent Van Gogh. Below is the cafe which is depicted in the Cafe Terrace at Night, while in 1889.
This was the first of his paintings to include a starry back drop, which came into play in another of his famous works completed while in Saint-Rémy, Starry Night. Van Gogh created many of his most spirited and celebrated works while here, but sadly he was not to leave the Provence region after that. He died at the age of thirty-seven of a self-inflicted wound. His last words spoken to his brother Theo were, ‘the sadness will last forever’.
The life of Nostradamus was troubled as well, though had a much different ending. While he did not live to see the centuries of followers he would ensnare, he did live to become the adviser to royalty and renown across Europe. His first wife and their two children died of the plague, the all too common ending for millions across Europe. As mentioned in review of The Sutton Arms, London itself has many a plague pit, a particularly serene one being Charterhouse Square. With his wife and children dead, Nostradamus was then to stand trial by the Inquisition for some off remarks. To avoid this he fled to Italy, and spent several years wandering until the Inquisition was on the out, and another plague befell southern France where his services were again sought.
Much a kin to Rasputin, his work landed him in the good graces of royalty, most notably as the adviser to the French queen and mother to three future kings, Catherine de Medicis. She was the daughter of the famed Medici rulers of Florence who were patrons to the Italian Renaissance. She was partially behind the prolonged persecution of the Huguenots and the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre where thousands were laid waste in the streets of Paris and across France.
(There is a London connection here being that the East End, namely Shoreditch amongst other areas, was populated by these same Huguenots who established a lucrative textile industry in London in the 16th – 18th c. Their large homes were left to ruin and later populated by generations of immigrants looking for work in the markets or docks leading to the over crowding of the 19th c where one Jack the Ripper would stalk the streets. But that is for another day…)
And back to Cathrine…After the death of her husband, Henri II, which she believed Nostradamus to have predicted, she sought his advice about her children, chiefly her three sons who took the French crown in the tumultuous years of civil and religious conflict in France in the mid 16th c.
Nostradamus had moved out of the town of Saint-Rémy to the town of Salon-de-Provence where he began writing his prophesies in 1555 until his death in 1566. This medieval walled city, as pictured below, was the seat of the arch bishop of Arles from the 9th to 18th c., but had hosted Phoenicians (6th C BCE) settlements while later those of Gallo-Roman. The bishops’ Château de l’Empéri was so named because it was the seat of the bishop during the Holy Roman Empire. This 9th century castle still stands today undaunted by the 1909 earthquake that brought great damage to the city. He is credited with predicting his death in 1566, where upon his final manuscripts were posthumously published in 1568.
On our bottle of Brasserie Caracole’s brew, he is depicted as a curious snail (caracole = Spanish for snail). However, the image of a wise old medieval sage cannot be erased from popular memory, much like the general impression of his doom ridden apocalyptic scenarios. The below wall painting was taken close to his former residence in Salon-de-Provence, and fits what we picture as an all-seeing prophet of doom.
His prophesies can only be accepted if one has faith in man’s ability to forecast future events. This is complicated by inaccurate translations and the decoding of a cryptic text littered with symbols and anagrams. He was but a man, and one whose prophecies have been tried and tested, seen as the truth of ages and the musings of a fool. But regardless of where the truth lies, he will remain omnipresent in the minds of those who seek meaning in that which there is none, giving hope or assurance that our future is somewhere written in the stars.
Could he have foreseen the tumultuous events of this past century? Could he have foreseen a delicious strong dark Belgian ale being named after him? I am going with not. Regardless of the dubious nature of his patrons or those future interpreters, the man who we now know will forever be shrouded in mystery, faith and contempt. A prophet, a fool, a seer, a saint, a merchant of the devil, a man who managed to ensnare himself in our collective memories for centuries, this much be said: Nostradamus the beer is not to be doubted. Now cheers to the future, whatever it may bring.