Nothing to do with the infamous serial murderer from 1918/19; the Axeman of St Orleans. The axeman here dates back to the early 12th Century and supposedly had the nickname Hapkin (war axe) as he was never separated from the trusty weapon.
His real name was Balduin (the seventh, a duke of Flanders), a merciless ruler and for those who crossed his path a dangerous man. His skill with the axe must have let him down as he died in battle at the age of 26. His name, however was resurrected by the Louwaege brewery in Kortemark (West Flanders) for their strong ale and the axe is portrayed on the label.
The brewery no longer exists, having been taken over by Alken Maes ( by then part of Scottish and Newcastle) in 2002. The brewery was closed down and the production of Hapkin switched to the Union brewery in Jument which itself was closed shortly before the final take over by Heineken in 2008. Since that time the beer has been brewed in Alken.
With such a complicated corporate history it’s amazing that the beer is still in existence, but when one takes a close look at the range of brands there doesn’t seem to be a lot of competition in the strong pale ale category. In the Alken Maes portfolio the nearest would be Judas, a strong ale which came via the Union brewery, taken over by Maes in 1978.
I haven’t got a bottle of Judas to hand so I can’t do a comparison yet, but my guess would be that one of the two will probably ‘get the axe’ in the future.
The Hapkin is pale gold in the glass with a medium, white, quickly receding head. The aroma is fruity with a peppery, marmitey yeast. Banana esters come upfront in the taste, slowly mellowing to ripe peach, melon and sweet apple.
A slight citrus tang and a light hop bitterness, together with a pepper spice background hold the fruit reasonably in check until the malt starts to come through. The alcohol at 8.5% vol is spot on, carbonation is medium and everything stays in balance through to the finish making the experience very enjoyable.
A very good strong pale ale; Judas had better watch out!