Tag Archives: 8

#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

#111 – Maredsous 8

#111 - Maredsous 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10 %

A fair way back on my Odyssey I got to try the Maredsous Tripel 10 (#44), and touched a little upon the history of the wonderful Abbey hidden away in the Namur countryside. I was able to pay a visit while wandering around Belgium looking for more beers for the cellar, so I thought I might as well bring the history bang up to date, as I failed to mention before that the Abbey at Maredsous has more to its history than just religion, beer and cheese!

In 1903 the St. Joseph School of Applied Arts and Crafts was officially opened. It seemed originally intent on serving as a repository for poor local children to hone their skills in a number of vocational trades, such as carpentry, cobbling or plumbing, but it ended up being purely a centre for fine arts and crafts. High quality works were produced and displayed here at first, leading on to the commissioning of pieces of art for paying customers. Although the 1914-1918 war had a profound effect on the business it did continue on, though changing its focus more to the training of artists rather than skilled craftsmen. The international reputation started to flourish and eventually the eclectic school merged to form the IATA (Technical Institute of Arts and Crafts).

This daily activity still lives on now in the buildings of the Abbey, and anybody passing by is well advised to pop into the St. Joseph visitors centre and have a quick nose around. It certainly isn’t my cup of tea, but at least it’s a welcome diversion from the oh-so-expensive gift sets of Maredsous on sale in the predictably tacky beer shop. I would recommend the cheese though – but that’s probably another story I will save for the final Maredsous beer.

This little Saturday evening tipple was a very pleasant surprise for me after my original disappointment with the Maredsous Tripel. She was rich and dark and full of good old fashioned spicy twang. I would go as far as calling it delicious. It was strong in all the right places and stuck there right to the end. I thought that with the hangover I had today that I would be making a mistake drinking this, but if ever a beer qualified as ‘hair of the dog’ this one certainly was going for first prize.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Duvel Moortgat

#107 – Trappistes Rochefort 6

#107 - Trappistes Rochefort 6

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Sadly the Trappistes Rochefort with the red cap is the last of the famous triumvirate to pass my eager lips. Just over a hundred beers in and I need to conclude my notes on this fantastic Trappist brewery. To be honest there isn’t a lot else to say that I haven’t already covered in reviewing the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13) and Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), apart from the fact that interestingly these range of beers have only recently acquired labels. Previously images were screened directly onto the bottle and thus if you find one of these on your travels then hang on to it, or pass it my way!

What first started to baffle me though was why the Trappistes Rochefort beers are called 6, 8 and 10. Clearly this is not to do with their ABV as the Trappistes Rochefort 6 weighs in at 7.5% however it is to do with the overall gravity of the beer. The difference is that various scales have been used over time to measure essentially the same thing. Original gravity in a nutshell is a reading which is an estimate of the amount of sugar which will be turned into ethanol by the yeast, and is usually calculated using a table of figures. The reading will express the sugar content in units of grams of sugar per 100 grams of wort, and it is usually expressed as “degrees Plato” (abbreviated °P). As mentioned, different scales have been used in various places, and Rochefort in the good old days measured the gravity of their beers through the obsolete Belgian scale.

In this instance the 10 corresponds to 1.100 (25 °P), the 8 corresponds to 1.080 (20 °P) and the 6 corresponds to 1.060 (15 °P). This is the ‘original gravity’ (OG) as it is a prediction of the potential alcohol once the yeast has worked its magic on the sugar. Specific Gravity (SG) is a term often used, and is slightly simpler in that it corresponds to the relative density of a liquid, relative to that of water at a certain temperature. This is the gravity measured with a hydrometer. Brewers are able to compare the OG and the SG to monitor the progression of the fermentation. Essentially once the SG stops declining the fermentation has been completed. Happy Days !

The Trappistes Rochefort 6 essentially started off as the Pater beer (#2) for the monks, but it’s far better and stronger than a typical table beer. At 7.5% it lacks the killer strength of its older brothers but it is still a fine beer. It’s the hardest of the three to pick up but well worth it if you fancy a few without a headache the next morning. Its cleaner and thinner than the others, but the famous datey taste still permeates every mouthful and it remains just that bit more subtle. It’s readily available in the villages near Rochefort, although there is no brewery tap – it’s the only Trappist brewery without one. The Relais de St. Remy about 2km out of town is your best place to find it.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Rochefort, Trappist Beer

#68 – Antiek Super 8 Blonde

#68 - Antiek Super 8 Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

Deca is a fairly distinctive brewery in that it rarely brews its own beers nowadays. The facilities in the rurality of Woesten-Vleteren are regularly used but only by others. You might call it more of a brewhouse than a brewery, and the business is now known as Deca Services which more than adequately paints the picture of the current priorities of the owners.

Deca started up in 1991, taking over from the previous brewery on the premises – Isebaert. They have made a number of their own beers over the years, some of which are quite hard to pin down as to being made by themselves or recipes of others. Even research on the Antiek Super 8 Blonde was difficult. I haven’t even been able to find an identical representation of the exact label on this beer. Most beer experts have shared my frustration.

The premises at Deca are renowned for their copper kettles and the reputation that affords the complexity of flavours and textures of beers made in these receptacles. It was no surprise that the brewers De Ranke set up shop here for a number of years, and most recently since 2006, the highly regarded Struise Brothers used Deca to brew their recipes and to store the end product. Deca may go back to concentrating on their own beers now as Struise are rumoured to have finally found themselves a place to call home in Oostvleteren * – or of course they may decide to continue renting to another up and coming ambitious brewer, as there is decent money to be made. One of the main reasons breweries struggle to get going is that the costs of the kit and maintenance of brewing is so high. The result of this is an inevitable dichotomy.

On one hand it gives the genius brewers such as De Ranke and Struise Bros the opportunities to be part of the Belgian scene and get a start on the road to success. On the other, it encourages brewers to pimp their beers to the unscrupulous marketeers keen to make a fast buck out of the new wave of Belgian beers by adding splashes of juice or spice to existing beers, and making up exciting stories to sell the dream. On my road to 1000 Belgian beers, I am preparing myself for dipping my toes in more than a few of these.

The Antiek Super 8 Blonde eventually turned out to be a pretty decent brew though, and one may assume that the influence of the Struise brothers may have rubbed off on the mysterious owners. The pour was a cloudy orange amber, and the flavour quite malty and yet fruity. The tagline refers to the Golden Age of brewing, and this beer represents this well. I just wonder if I will ever see it again.

* (Post-Script) – De Struise finally did move to Oostvleteren in late 2009.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Deca

#66 – Westvleteren 12

#66 - Westvleteren 12

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10.2 %

My last beer in Belgium on this trip was always going to be a bit special. In 2005 there was something of a media frenzy whipped up when the Westvleteren 12 was again voted the best beer in the world. It seemed preposterous to the journalists of the world that a beer made by monks in a tiny monastery in the middle of nowhere could lay claim to this, and they decided to investigate. The inevitable happened and the eyes of the world turned to the Trappist Abbey of St Sixtus (#46). Suddenly, and rather uncomfortably for both the monks of Westvleteren, and indeed the local population, hoards of beer lovers and profiteers alike from all over the world descended on the quaint country lanes north of Poperinge. For anyone who has driven up to the Abbey, they will testify that this must have been pure carnage. It is hard enough finding the place, let alone considering 3km queues of angry punters not being able to get anywhere near the Abbey doors.

The monks remained unrepentant and refused to up the sales of the beer. In true Trappist tradition (#7) they remained vigilant in only producing enough beer to provide for themselves and the community. On the opening of the new brewery premises, the head abbot stated “We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.” – a wonderful sentiment, but not one to appease the outside world who misread this statement as an indication of the beers becoming even rarer, and thus the queues grew and the media frenzy intensified further.

The monks have been true to their word, and even now only brew 4750 hectolitres per annum. To put this into perspective Chimay probably turn over 135,000 hectolitres per annum, which is almost thirty times the amount of beer! They are able to manage this by advertising sales by appointment only from the website, and by restricting public sales to a very limited amount on visiting. In fact I was only able to buy six Westvleteren Blondes (#90) to take away at the ‘In de Vrede’ café/brewery tap, and as many as I wanted of any of their three beers as long as I was on the premises. Time was short and I had a car to drive, so Tash and I shared what is still, according to the ‘Rate Beer’ website, the best beer in the world.

It was over four Euros which is fairly excessive but probably not really when you consider the location and how I paid nearly double that for a bottle of Westvleteren 8 in the UK (I wont tell you where in case I get anyone into trouble). It was elegantly poured and served at our cafeteria style table, and looked superb glistening under the lights. It was dark, but just enough light was able to radiate through. The overriding aroma was of liquorice and christmas pudding, followed by fruit and malt and many many more winter treats. On the palate it was solid, thick and venomous, as if the best mince pies had been liquidised with good beer. In a way it was more like dessert than a beer, and therefore I still vouch that the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) is a tidier beer for its subtlety and style. The Westy was trying just that bit too hard, although I think maybe this might have tasted better had I the opportunity to savour my own by the fireside on a winters evening, as opposed to sharing a quick sip in a heaving tourist-ridden cafeteria in the middle of the day. We will meet again I am sure.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Trappist Beer, Westvleteren

#31 – Trappistes Rochefort 8

#31 - Trappistes Rochefort 8

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.2 %

I have already outlined the history of the Trappistes Rochefort Abbey in my coverage of the Rochefort 10 (#13). Perhaps what I didn’t mention was that the success of the Trappistes Rochefort beers of today is mainly due to two of the other Trappist breweries of the modern age.

In 1887 with the monastery closed for nigh on 80 years, monks from the Trappist Abbey of Achel came to Rochefort and bought the ruined buildings. Over the next 10 years the Abbey was restored, and a new brewery founded which began to produce a reasonable range of beers over the next 40 years. The fact that they weren’t world beating beers caused a lull in sales in the late 1940’s after Chimay had signed a distribution agreement which authorised the national sale of their tasty beers, even in the town of Rochefort. The abbot of Rochefort complained bitterly to the fellow monks at Chimay who unable to undo the agreement, did agree to help to manufacture a much better beer for Rochefort, which was launched in 1953 as a stronger and more popular brew. Rochefort is probably now considered the pick of the trappist breweries and it is clearly thanks to Achel and Chimay for making this happen.

The Rochefort 8 – this time with the green cap – is for me the better of the Rochefort beers. I don’t think there is a great deal in it, but the 8 is just that bit more refined than the more complex 10. The beer is still dark, thick, malty and chocolatey, even with distant hits of coffee and Christmas fruit. It really is the perfect late night drink, or alternative to dessert after a heavy meal. It is fairly ironic, that Chimay helped to create this masterpiece and yet it is far superior to any of the Chimay beers I have tried over the years. As near to a 10 rating as I have come yet.

(Post-Script) – For a bit more detail on why the Trappistes beers are called 6, 8 and 10, check out the review of the Trappistes Rochefort 6 (#107).

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Belgian Strong Ale, Rochefort, Trappist Beer