Category Archives: Trappist Beer

#248 – Achel Blond 8

#248 - Achel Blond 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It wasn’t that long ago that I had first tried the Achel Bruin (#200), and up next was the highly rated Blond. The previous tale I spun was around the history of the brewery, but one shouldn’t leave these beers without a good look at the Abbey itself.

The real origins of the Achelse Kluis began way back in the mid 17th Century, out in the isolated countryside of Achel, which was then a small Princedom belonging to Liege. Here was built a small chapel which served the community as a worshipping place for the Catholic people of the nearby Protestant Netherlands who were not allowed to worship there under the current regime. The roots of the Abbey itself stem from Petrus van Eynatten heading here fromEindhoven in 1686 and setting up a priory of hermits which soon began to lead a life of prayer and contemplation. This quiet remote area would have drifted on and on but for the French Revolution in 1789 which tore the heart and soul out of the place.

The priory was then sold into the private hands of Jan Diederik van Tuyll van Serooskerken, but monastic life would eventually return thanks to the Trappist monks from the Abbey of Westmalle who founded the Abbey of St. Benedict in 1846. They put all their energies into ramping up the agricultural infrastructure; largely by developing livestock farming and by replacing wasteland with arable soil. Achel was granted Abbey status in 1871 and from here on really began to prosper, and sister projects would eventually spring up at Echt, Diepenveen, Rochefort (#31) and even at Kasanza in Congo.

Life would remain pretty unchanged at Achel until 1917 when the invading Germans dismantled the brewery for copper – 750kg of the stuff. The monks left, and a new Abbey was eventually built between 1946 and 1952, although in 1989, just after brewing had recommenced on the premises, most of the land attached was sold to the Dutch National Forest Administration and the Flemish Government. What remains at the Abbey now is the final Trappist brewery, and a number of tertiary services which also include a small shop selling various paraphernalia, and a guesthouse.

Achel is often the most overlooked of the Trappist breweries, and I have to admit I haven’t been completely convinced up to now as to what all the fuss is about. I sat down to drink the Achel Blond the night before my stag weekend expecting something a little more grand. It was an enjoyably strong tripel which had a clean and crisp flavour but it certainly lacked any of the fire that you associate with the monastic brewers of Belgium. I began to wonder what this might have tasted like prior to World War I and ended up drifting off to sleep on the sofa.

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Filed under 7, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#200 – Achel Bruin 8

#200 - Achel Bruin 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

It has taken me 200 beers to finally try a beer from all seven official Trappist breweries. The final piece in this monastic jigsaw turned out to be also the smallest of the lot – the Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse.

Achel, as it is more commonly know, is a small municipality hidden away in the north east of the country in the sparsely populated province of Limburg. As the official title of the monastery suggests, the brewery is situated in the Abbey of St-Benedict. The first beer, Patersvaatje was brewed on this site as far back as 1852 when the building was a priory, although it wasn’t until 1871 that the site became an Abbey with brewing capabilities.

Life at the brewery remained virtually unaltered for years until the German invasion of World War I. As was standard practice for those Abbeys affected, the monks were evicted and the Germans dismantled the entire brewery in order to recycle over 700kg of raw copper for their eventually unfruitful war effort. Life changed dramatically after the war when the monks who returned to the Abbey were forced to find other ways to gain a subsistence. Agriculture and farming were the obvious choices but these took their toll on the more elderly monks. Eventually, with a large injection of cash, and with help from the monks at the Trappist Abbeys of Westmalle and Rochefort, work was completed on the sixth and final Trappist brewery in Belgium.

The beers were not instantly made available for distribution, and existed only at the adjoining tavern, however word of mouth soon spread on the quality of the brews at the local Auberge, and the crowds began to flock on what was a popular hiking and cycling route. The monks soon cashed in on the popularity of the beers, and their smooth path to existence has remained ever since.

The first beer I managed to get my grubby paws on was the relatively common Achel Bruin 8 which weighed in unsurprisingly at a robust 8%. It was a bubbly dark brown pour; perhaps a little thinner than some equivalent Trappist beers I had tried. On the nose it was malty, dark and full of rich Christmas promise, and on the tongue it tasted like rich pulpy fruit mixed into burnt toffee with a tartness which didn’t quite seem to fit the bill. In the end it was a pretty delicious beer to bring up a significant milestone on my Odyssey, although I couldn’t quite help feeling that this Achel was still someway behind the comparable beers of Chimay (#45), Rochefort (#31) and Westvleteren (#198).

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#198 – Westvleteren 8

#198 - Westvleteren 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is currently the final beer on my Westvleteren journey (unless I’m fortunate enough to end up with a bottle of the long retired Westvleteren 6)  and having already rambled about the phenomenon which is Westvleteren (#66), and the history of the brewery itself (#90), this gives me the opportunity to finish the story by giving a little history of the abbey.

The Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus began life in 1831, although the plot on which the Abbey was formed had been a spiritual home for hundreds of years previously, with at least three different monasteries occupying the land. Historians suggest as far back as 806 the Cella Beborna was built on this land. Records also show that between 1260 and 1355 there was a nunnery, and between 1610 and 1784 the place was occupied by a monastery. If you ever get a chance to wander around the area there really does feel an eerie sense of spiritual history.

The catalyst for the most recent incarnation was probably the hermit Jan-Baptist Victoor, who left Poperinge in 1814 to settle in the woods of St. Sixtus, where he rebelled against the rules of Emperor Joseph II and took up the monastic tradition. It was only when the prior and a few other disparate monks at the Catsberg monastery joined the hermit that the Abbey was officially formed. The monks here often went off on journeys to found other monasteries, and you may recall from the tale of Chimay White (#165), that the Abbey at Scourmont was started by the monks at St. Sixtus.

Life at the Abbey in Westvleteren though began to grow, and by 1875 the number of members totalled 52. It was still mind you a completely peaceful rural community which would have seen very few visitors. All this was to change during the first World War, when hundreds of refugees and approximately 400,000 allied soldiers lived in and around the abbey. Now it is once again a very peaceful place with only around thirty brothers, who serve the community and provide the world with some of the finest beers known to humanity.

Once of which is the Westvleteren 8, and I had been saving the blue-capped beer for a special occasion and this one happened to be a relaxing Christmas afternoon after the usual three thousand calories of roast!. The pour was everything I hoped it would be – thick and viscous with a ring of rustic head, but I wasn’t getting much in the way of the nose. The taste was very good, with a mix of chocolate, coffee and festive spice. Perhaps though it was the lack of room in my stomach, but I felt just a little let down by the beer in the end. It was still impressive but I guess I had fallen for all the hype. I was expecting some kind of oral firework show, but all I ended up with was an overwhelming desire to nap!

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#165 – Chimay White

#165 - Chimay White

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

This is my fourth and final Chimay (Red #7, Doree #49, Blue #45). Unless the monks decide to suddenly launch a new brew then I need to sum up succinctly and clearly all there is left to know about these famous beers.

It all started at the Abbey of Scourmont in 1850 when a group of monks from the Westvleteren Abbey of St Sixtus (#46) began a tiny settlement on the plateau near the town of Chimay. The land had long been barren, and it was a tough job transforming it into reasonable fertility. They built a small priory, added some farms, and of course a brewery and cheese factory followed. In 1871, Pope Pius IX granted the priory the status of an Abbey, and it was inaugurated later that year. The monks were able to turn their new settlement into a thriving living, one in which today they balance alongside the strict Cistercian ways. The brewing (in line with true Trappist traditions, #7) is still carried out on the premises, although the bottling is carried out in Baileux just a mile or two down the road.

The final beer in the jigsaw I affectionately call Chimay White, although it is also called ‘Cinq Cents’ more appropriately when sold in 750 ml bottles. The name comes from the French for ‘five centuries’, and was essentially renamed to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the town of Chimay in 1986. The beer was actually invented though in 1966 by Father Theodore, it being the last of the Chimay beers to reach the market. It is essentially a hazy golden Tripel (often called Chimay Tripel), and is the lightest and brightest of the Chimay offering. It was chosen as the anniversary beer in 1986 due to the feeling that it most closely represented champagne!

The Chimay White certainly is more champagne than any of the other three, although it would be unfair to lead anyone on here. The beer is far more dry and hoppy than it is sweet and fizzy, and certainly wont burn a hole in anybodies pocket. It isn’t quite the beast though that the Blue is, as it is meant to be drunk young, and cellaring will do nothing but ruin it eventually. It does however have a lovely tart crisp taste which is polished off by hints of citrus and perhaps white wine. I enjoy this beer on warm afternoons in the sun and of course always look forward to drinking it again.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, Chimay, Trappist Beer

#160 – La Trappe Dubbel

#160 - La Trappe Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It has been mentioned before very early into the Odyssey that there are only seven Trappist breweries in the whole of the world (#7). Six of these are in Belgium, and the other one is in the Netherlands. I was too busy lamenting the strength of Quadrupels on the previous outing with La Trappe (#154), so it’s fortunate I can now spend some time on the Abbey at Koningshoeven. I won’t get time to finish the story, but can at least make a decent start.

It all goes back to the French monks from the Trappist monastery Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in Northern France. You may remember these from drinking the Het Kapittel Pater (#2). In 1880 many of the inhabiting monks had begun to fear the repercussions of the anti-church legislation, and so a few went on scouting missions to find safer ground. One of the monks, a certain Sebastianus Wyart, went over to the Netherlands which had a fairly liberal attitude to religion. There, near the town of Tilburg, he found fields awash with heather, surrounded by small farms and a sheeps cage. This village of Berkel-Enschot called these farms the ‘Koningshoeven’ (the Royal Farms), as they were once owned by King Willem II. Soon, Sebastianus had enticed a number of the community to this peaceful paradise.

Within just a year, the sheep cage was renovated into the first trappings of a monastery, with the first service being held on the 5 March 1881. It wasn’t all good news however; the soil and land they had chosen was far too arid, and with the numbers increasing at the monastery a solution was needed. This came in 1884 when the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart decided beer was the answer, and thus under the supervision of Friar Romaldus, the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven began its first foray as a brewery. It soon became the main source of income for the monastery, and still is to this day.

I don’t have any particular problem classing the La Trappe beers within my Belgian classification. If anyone chooses to argue with me, I will just continue on past 1000. The La Trappe Dubbel is a typical trappist Dubbel – strong, dark, extremely malty and full of spicy Christmas spirit. It wasn’t the best beer I would ever drink, in that it lost its legs a little in the final third, but was a great accompaniment to the football I was watching on the TV.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#154 – La Trappe Quadrupel

#154 - La Trappe Quadrupel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

It was a fleeting visit to Bruges this weekend, and the drive back on the Sunday afternoon was made particularly difficult due to the debilitating hangover which surfaced as I did. As I grimacingly pulled the duvet back over my head I tried to recount our steps from last night. Everything was on track from the Staminee de Garre (#153), whereupon we found a small regional restaurant with a poor beer selection. It was only polite to polish off a few carafes of red wine, and we were then heading for a decent bar to finish off the nights proceedings. I vaguely recall a couple of St. Bernardus 12’s crossing my lips, but the final nail in the coffin came from the deadly La Trappe Quadrupel.

I started to try and sum the amount of ABV I had drunk the previous night, and there was a common thread emerging – every beer was over 10%. The Quadrupel that I finished with was almost symbolic of a night of super-strength Belgian beer. The term Quadrupel isn’t a definitive one, but follows in the footsteps of our introductions to the Dubbel (#16), and the Tripel (#149), in that it is conversely related to the strength of the beer. It is itself a much rarer proposition, and the Beer Advocate website only lists about 90 individual examples, including the Westvleteren 12 (#66), and the St. Bernardus Abt (#46). I must admit, I try not to get too caught up in the whole beer definition thing, but it does make life a little easier sometimes when talking beer. As may be apparent by now, I am not a big fan of recreating the beer sampling websites on here.

Many definitions of a Quadrupel, historically have centred on the link to Trappist style, or Abt (Abbot) style beers. This was kind of fine until the strict designations were made as to what could or couldn’t be officially called a Trappist beer (#7). The Quadrupel terminology now exists really to fit in nicely with the innate desire to pigeon hole beers into categories. Beer Advocate and Ratebeer will have their views, but for me a Quadrupel is simply over 10%, full bodied and of the darker variety. What else do you need to know?

My only recollection of this particular Quadrupel was that it was a deep reddy brown colour, very strong and as I recall particularly delicious. Well, apparently that’s what I kept saying. It turns out I may also have had more than one! I was led home before I could go clubbing (something I normally despise), stopping at random strategic intersections to release the pressure on my saturated bladder. I apologise to the people of Bruges now, and hope I can make it up to you on my next visit.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, de Koningshoeven, Trappist Beer

#149 – Westmalle Tripel

#149 - Westmalle Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5 %

Just as Westmalle symbolises the ultimate Dubbel (#16), then look no further than Westmalle for the archetypal Tripel. I often get asked by new recruits who I drag to London’s best pubs for a Belgian brainwash, what is a Tripel? This is best answered I think with an elegant glass of this in your hand.

The term Tripel is mainly used in Belgium and the Netherlands, and now commonly in the USA, to describe a strong pale ale, exemplified in the style of the Westmalle Tripel. The origin of the term is still argued about today, but it almost certainly was a measure of the brews’ strength in the early days. Casks used to be marked with a series of notches or crosses, usually X for the weakest, XX for a beer of medium strength or XXX for the strongest. This makes perfect sense, as does the theory that it was in reference to the original gravity of a beer, which tends to correspond with the 3%, 6% and 9% ABV of beers. You tend to find most Tripels are strong, around the 9% mark, although of course this is no definitive yardstick.

Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star) argued that the first real Tripel was born in the early 1930s in the Drie Linden (Three Lindens) brewery. The head brouwmeister Hendrik Verlinden had been looking to compete with the strong pale lagers and pilseners coming out of Czechoslovakia, and teamed up with the Trappists at Westmalle to share ideas. Westmalle released the strong blonde ale Superbier, which they labelled a Tripel, and Verlinden followed with the Witkap Pater. This would later become the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) brewed at Slagmuylder, and the Superbier was turned into the Westmalle Tripel in 1956 with the addition of plenty more hops. It has remained essentially unchanged ever since, and to this day is the paragon of virtue for all Tripels.

I had a number of these in my cellar at home, but chance had not thrown one my way as yet, and thus on my first night in Bruges on a boozy weekend, I couldn’t resist one or two of these over a sumptuous meal. Many modern day beer geeks suggest the Westmalle Tripel isn’t quite the beer it once was, but for me it’s a great beer. It always pours rich and golden, with a thick lemony head, and hits you with attitude on the first bite. By the time you have finished at least two of these off, you are definitely ready to go plonk yourself in the corner of a bar and drink yourself into oblivion.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Trappist Beer, Westmalle