Tag Archives: Trappist

#236 – Witkap Pater Dubbel

#236 - Witkap Pater Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

It’s difficult to drink beer in Belgium and not be touched by the hand of God somewhere along the way. I have lost track over the past couple of hundred brews how many times I have come across abbeys, monks and monasteries. The beer from the Witkap range which I previously tried was the Tripel (#94) which led me to investigate the Cistercian monk from the label. I have already met Benedictines, Carmelites (#229), and Trappists and so I thought I’d use the Witkap Pater Dubbel to try and make some sense of some of these monastic classifications.

There are essentially two main categories of order; Contemplative, and Non-Contemplative. I will deal with the former first, which contain the bulk of the orders you will come across while drinking Belgian beers ie the Trappists, Carmelites, Carthusians and Cistercians. Contemplative orders are those who have given their lives to God but with minimal interaction with the outside world. Although they seek not to talk to the world, by praying they hope to save those very souls they shy away from. There are three main types who can all be traced back to their founders – the Benedictines from St Benedict (525), the Carmelites who formed at Mount Carmel (circa 14th Century), and the Carthusians from St Bruno (11th Century).

Benedictine orders typically reside in communities but have limited interaction, although they do interact with each other. This in contrast to the austere Carthusians whose monks isolate themselves even from their fellow brothers. Carmelites tend to be somewhere in the middle, although of course it is impossible to simplify these orders too much. To confuse matters even more it is worth pointing out that in fact the Cistercians formed as a splinter group from the Benedictines and that the Trappists have over time diverged from the Cistercians. Both groups sought a more literal interpretation of the Benedictine doctrine and both choose their vocation with subtle differences. Trappists tend to make a living from the production of goods for the public and have thrived whereas the insulated lives of the Benedictines and Cistercians haven’t.

The other Order, those Non-Contemplatives, are also known as Active Orders. These are the communities of monks who tend to have more direct interaction with the outside world. They are less bound by the walls of the monastery and rather than being self-supportive often tend to live off the charity of others. The two main types are the Franciscans, formed by St Francis (13th Century), and the Dominicans, hailing from St Dominic (also 13th Century). The former live a simple life with the main aim of giving aid to the poor through prayer and good works, whereas the latter have taken a more educational stance towards engaging and training society to look after itself.

It would be insulting to those involved to suggest it is in anyway as simplistic as this. Each monastic community across Belgium and the world will act and live to its own particular custom, but it does give the beer drinker a perspective on the colourful background which accompanies each brew. In the case of the Witkap Pater Dubbel, the history is probably a little more interesting than the actual beer, which was a standard malty double, with a fair level of carbonation and a sharp spicy finish. Fairly enjoyable but hardly worth writing about – unless of course you try to disseminate thousands of years of monastic life into a few paragraphs!

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Filed under 7, Abbey Dubbel, Slagmuylder

#216 – Val-Dieu Triple

#216 - Val-Dieu Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9 %

The Brasserie de L’Abbaye du Val-Dieu is in actual fact the only non-Trappist brewing Abbey in Belgium. I won’t go into the history of the Abbey as I covered that when christening the Val-Dieu Biere de Noel (#127) but that opening gambit is certainly an interesting enough nugget of factoid to whet my appetite for the Val-Dieu Triple.

The whole rules and regulations thing which governs becoming ordained as a Trappist brewery has been covered before (#7) although I will need to refresh slightly to explain how the Abbey at Val-Dieu was left high and dry. Firstly in 1997 the brewery at the Abbey ceased to function as a fully operational monastery – there were simply not enough monks remaining. Today at the brewery all the main duties are carried out by laymen, and it looks likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future, despite the fact the Abbey remains a fully functioning religious institution.

The other issue, which is much more complicated is that which relates to the subtle differences between Trappists and Cistercians. For a starter explanation have a read of the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) but essentially the Cistercians were a splinter group from the Benedictines, and the Trappists were a splinter group from the Cistercians. It’s very loose, but essentially the Trappists are actually known as ‘Cistercians of the Strict Observance’, and they focus far more attention on being contemplative. This aside – the bottom line is that the Abbey at Val-Dieu is Cistercian and always has been.If this religious pendancy wasn’t quite so rigid we would see far more designated breweries across the world than the Magnificent Seven we have in Belgium (and the Netherlands). In particular in Germany there are many non-Trappist monasteries producing beer just like the one at Val-Dieu. Its just they aren’t Trappist.

Anyway, the beers in question that are produced at Aubel are based upon an original recipe from the Val-Dieu monks, and they bear the hallmark which designates them as Authentic Belgian Abbey Beer. The Val-Dieu Triple regardless of its designation was a particularly decent beer – as standard a tripel as I could describe in terms of looks, aroma and taste. It was sweet, strong and quite dry on tasting but it didn’t jump out in any way from its competitors. In many ways, just as all the above will confirm, it really is the nearly-man of Belgian beer.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Val Dieu

#205 – Grimbergen Cuvee de l’Ermitage

#205 - Grimbergen Cuvee de l'Ermitage

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Another beer from the surprisingly extensive Grimbergen range, and following the recent review of the Optimo Bruno (#194), here follows another with a bold claim of greatness. One would fully expect that with the appellation Cuvee de l’Ermitage this would be some kind of serious brew – Cuvee de l’Ermitage translates crudely as the monks best beer from the most select vats, or something along those lines.

This claim is more likely to have been true in the past, as Alken-Maes (who took over the old Union brewery in 1978) inherited this then highly regarded beer. The original beer was a full 1% stronger in ABV weighing in at 8.5%, and was brewed largely as a Christmas beer. At one time it even bore the name Cuvee de l’Ermitage Christmas. It was largely brewed as a kind of seasonal beer using a selection of three kinds of hops and a variation of special malts. After fermentation it was left to rest for three months in carefully designed tanks which would allow the beer to develop its characteristic flavour – often referred to as bitter, and not unlike Armagnac brandy.

The term ‘Cuvee’ as it is most often used these days in relation to wine seems to apply fairly reasonably to this old beer, in that it reflects a batch of beer blended in a distinctly different way to the rest. The term Hermitage refers most generically to a place where groups of people would live in seclusion in order to devote themselves fully to religious or monastic purposes. This was almost always ascetic in nature, and some of the finest beers known to humanity have been made in this way – the Trappist way.

I never tried the original beer, so I can only comment on the latest incarnation of the recipe, but this is certainly no Cuvee, and it certainly isn’t made in a Hermitage. For me the Cuvee de l’Ermitage is just another average beer that isn’t even as good as the two staple Grimbergen beers (#8, #9) on which it is trying to clearly discern itself from. It was firstly far too thin, with a weak insipid head, which ended up resembling a faded pale amber. It didn’t smell of a great deal but had a fairly unique flavour – quite hoppy with plenty of citrus. This was once a seemingly great beer, but is now little more than a marketable addition to an extremely average range of brews. What else would you expect though from Alken-Maes?

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Filed under 6, Abbey Beer, Alken-Maes, Belgian Strong Ale, Phoenix

#202 – La Trappe Blond

#202 - La Trappe Blond

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 6.5 %

When I tried the La Trappe Dubbel (#159) I introduced the history of the Trappist Abbey of Koningshoeven across the border in the Netherlands. I promised then that I would continue the story, and so the La Trappe Blond gives me that opportunity.

We left the story just where the head Abbot Nivardus Schweykart in 1884 decided that the Abbey needed a brewery, and effectively its been there ever since. Many breweries suffered at the hands of the copper-hungry Germans in World War I, however the Netherlands remained neutral at this time and so the Abbey of Koningshoeven remained untouched. In fact in the 1920s the production at the brewery began to increase, and the brewery was modernised considerably in order that it could cope with the demand.

The brewery continued to brew lighter blonde beers, including a first prototype of the La Trappe Blond, and it continued to flourish until World War II when resources were scarce. The 1950s and 1960s saw further developments including a lemonade factory and laboratory being built, and more recipes were established including dark beers, Pilseners, Dortmunders and Bocks. A number of collaborations were made with other brewers to enable the monks to find time to pray, however by 1980 the monks regained full control and established the La Trappe brand, which has remained true to this day.

In 1987 a brand new brewery was reconstructed on the premises moving the production firmly into the 21st Century, and more La Trappe beers were to follow until another partnership was formed with the Bavaria brewery in Lieshout. A new bottling plant followed shortly after, and the Koningshoeven story ambles to a unremarkable conclusion – the brewery now living well off it’s claim as the 7th Trappist brewery, and attracting Belgian beer hunters the short distance across the border.

The La Trappe Blond recipe has altered a fair bit since the 1920s, and is now a solid golden blonde which was the perfect accompaniment to a spicy tandoori chicken curry. This was a really thick fruity brew which for its relatively low strength by Belgian standards was very impressive. It faded a little in the final death throes, which may have something to do with being completely stuffed with curry, but I’d definitely seek this beer out again; even though it isn’t strictly Belgian*

* I have argued my case for inclusion somewhere before – I think it was #101

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, de Koningshoeven

#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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Filed under 8, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, Trappist Beer

#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

#182 – St. Bernardus Prior

#182 - St. Bernardus Prior

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

I’m running out of superlatives and stories for the St. Bernardus beers – this is the fourth of my Odyssey, after the Abt (#46), Wit (#100), and Tripel (#106). I have talked a lot about the history of St. Bernardus, but not a great deal about the recent stuff.

It was 1992 when the brewery split asunder from St. Sixtus (#46) and was politely asked to drop the Trappist nomenclature. This transition had been managed by Guy and Bernadette Claus, the son-in-law and daughter of Evarist Deconinck. Both had both been in place for over thirty years since 1962, when Guy took over the brewing from Deconinck. It was only in 2003 that he retired as brewmaster at St. Bernardus, but both he and Bernadette continued to stay on and run the St. Bernardus guesthouse.

The ‘T Brouwershuis bed and breakfast has long been something of an institution in Belgium, and is often listed among the top places to stay in the country. It currently comprises twelve immaculate rooms which are set fairly uniquely within the grounds of the St. Bernardus brewery grounds. Bernadette was actually born in this rambling property, and for those that are lucky enough to stay here, it really does feel like a home away from home. The attraction for beer lovers is to spend time chatting with the family, in the midst of a famous brewery, and of course not to forget the cabinet stocked full of a wide range of St. Bernardus beers. The beauty also is that even non beer geeks will get something out of a visit here. The breakfast is apparently sumptuous, guests have a free run of the house, complete with full library and solarium, and the welcome from the owners is second to none.

Reading about the guesthouse has done enough to convince me. I have resolved to head over in the spring with Mrs Beershrimper for a couple of days pampering ourselves on fine beer and conversation, in front of the roaring fire. I will be more than happy to accept a St. Bernardus Prior on my arrival. This beer like all the others from the range is made with water that has been pumped from as deep as 150 metres underground. Scientists even claim that the water from the St. Bernardus well originated as rainfall from the time of Joan of Arc which has seeped through hundreds of years and layers of Watou rock from the St. Omer region of France. It gives you a warm glow reading things like this as you look deep into your beer. The beer as usual with St. Bernardus looked the part, thick and velvety, and it was a similar experience on the tastebuds, with plenty of malt and fruit.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Dubbel, St. Bernardus