Tag Archives: Westmalle

#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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Filed under 8, Achel, Belgian Strong Ale, 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

#94 – Witkap Pater Tripel

#94 - Witkap Pater Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

I am a big fan of the gentleman who adorns the Witkap beers – after all it’s clear proof that beer-drinking hoodies have been around since medieval times ! The chap is in actual fact a Cistercian monk, and the Witkap name refers to the white hoods that the Cistercians chose to wear. Of course, Cistercians – no different to any monks – seriously enjoyed their beer.

Cistercian monks essentially were a splinter group from the Benedictine monks who felt that they needed to pay stricter homage to the rules of St. Benedict. The name comes from Cistercium, the Latin name for the village of Citeaux where the reformist monks founded their first abbey in 1098. The word spread quickly as by the end of the 12th Century the order had spread throughout France, and much of Western Europe. The result of the Cistercian reversion was the return to stricter austerity and a reproduction of the original days of Benedictism – with particular determination to revert to manual labour – including of course the production of great beer !

Just like the Benedictines though, the Cistercians over time began to sway in their following, and during the 19th century, the Trappists (who we of course know very well these days in Belgium) decided that they also needed a reform to the original teachings and observances of St. Benedict.

Either way, all nuances of the “contemplative orders” mentioned above are categorised by the adherence to silence while within the monastery walls. It is a common misplaced myth that monks make vows of silence, its just that quiet helps to increase the monks ability to communicate and to continue in prayer.

The brewers of this beer, Slagmuylder claim that the Witkap Pater Tripel was actually the first golden Tripel although I would imagine that the monks at Westmalle may seek redress over this point. I have been brought up on the Westmalle Tripel (#149) and the Witkap, despite being eminently drinkable is not in the same league. It poured well, had plenty of bubbles and went down extremely well before a heavy night out, but just lacked the class of the ‘real’ golden Tripel.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Brewers, Slagmuylder

#16 – Westmalle Dubbel

# 16 - Westmalle Dubbel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7 %

The third Trappist brewery of my adventure already, although the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle (or Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) was only founded in 1794, and not conferred Trappist status until 1836. In the same year abbot Martinus Dom began the brewery, which is now the biggest of the Trappist sites with a brewing capacity of 45,000 bottles per hour !

It is often said that the terms ‘dubbel’ and ‘tripel’ hailed from the Westmalle Abbey, and the dubbel from the original recipe that was first brewed way back in 1926.

A trappist dubbel is usually dark in colour, and invariably sweet, with complex flavours comprising malt, caramel and sugar. It was said the original meaning of the term ‘dubbel’ was that it needed double the malt of a regular beer. Breweries often play with these recipes to add spices, and fruits to enhance the complexity. They are also usually pretty strong normally topping 7% ABV. I would be lying if I said a ‘dubbel’ couldn’t be blond, but it is unusual.

I still think that the bottle is better than the beer but it is still a fine brew, with a complex dark smell and extremely malty flavour with a long dry taste.  This is certainly not a guzzler but one to sip and enjoy early in the evening. Beware on opening though as it frothed a brown auburn ejaculation causing me to smash my favourite Orval (#37) glass as I frantically tried to avoid wasting the beer on my groin.

A better beer is by far the Westmalle Tripel (#149).

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