Tag Archives: Westvleteren

#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

#194 – Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

#194 - Grimbergen Optimo Bruno

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 10%

This was the first beer I had tried from the Grimbergen range, outside of the supermarket popular Blonde (#8) and Dubbel (#9), and from all the hype around this I expected to be impressed – Optimo Bruno literally translates as “Best Brown” in Italian.

The Optimo Bruno is widely available nowadays, although originally this strong dark beer was brewed only as an Easter brew. There will be time to look in more depth at the whole concept of Easter beers, but today I wanted to concentrate on the “Best Brown” tag. How did this bold claim stand up in light of other brown beers I have drunk so far? Having had an extended break from writing about beers in recent months it certainly seems an ideal time to reflect.

I always face a dilemma when I am roaming Belgium in search of new beers. As I trawl the drankencentrums with my trusty home-made beer list, drooling like a kid in a candy shop at the vast selections on offer, I almost always neglect to bring back home enough tried and trusted beers which I have previously delighted in. In terms of high quality brown beers which should grace any cellar, the pick of my adventure so far has been the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), Chimay Blue (#45), St Bernardus Tripel Abt 12 (#46), and the Westvleteren 12 (#66). While nobody can deny the quality of any of these highly rated beers, listing these as the top 5 brown beers out of 193 drunk so far does seem somewhat like sitting on the fence. It wouldn’t take a reader long to pick up any reputable beer book or website and find the same views replicated hundreds of times.

There has to be some motivation in giving up the regular imbibing of these classics to force yourself through what at times can feel like an average Belgian back catalogue of beer. This motivation is always completely revived when every once in a while you find a beer which hits your salivary G-spot which was completely unexpected. You get the feeling of exploration and discovery which somehow doesn’t equate to the joy of finding a beer that is universally idolised. For me there have been a couple of brown beers which have hit that spot. The T’Smisje Dubbel (#184) was about as good as it gets, albeit closely followed by the Maredsous 8 Brune (#111).

So could the Alken-Maes self-styled “Best Brown” measure up to these high standards? The bottom line was that this was a decent brown beer. It poured a dark ruby red, and was slightly thinner than I expected of a 10% beer. There was plenty of depth to the taste which was certainly nicely complicated, although there was perhaps just a bit too much ‘herbal, which left it tasting slightly more artificial than some of the aforementioned browns. I can therefore confirm that this beer is indeed an “Optimo Bruno” but only in the Grimbergen range (and that certainly isn’t the boldest statement I will ever make).

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abt/Quadrupel, Alken-Maes, Brewers, Phoenix

#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

#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

#106 – St. Bernardus Tripel

#106 - St. Bernardus Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8 %

I was able to begin the account of the wonderful St. Bernardus brewery after drinking the awesome St. Bernardus Abt (#46), but there’s certainly a bit more to the story worth reading about. The initial account explained how St. Bernardus had had to split from St. Sixtus in 1992 and cease to promote their beers as Trappist. It was not to be a simple process!

While the monks and workers at St. Bernardus were happy to continue in this fashion, cafes and restaurants continued to market and label the beers as Trappist, such were the benefits associated with these wonderful beers. This led to a period of confusion and of course eventually a legal challenge, and the powers that be at St. Bernardus responded by tinkering with the label. The old label associated with St. Sixtus portrayed a monk in full religious garb, while the new label was altered subtly to depict the same gentlemen now in a medieval robe. Never had a man who had just been so unceremoniously excommunicated looked so pleased about it.

St Sixtus - the happy monk

It was an inspired move as the St. Bernardus beers have never looked back since 1992. What might have been the death knell was the catalyst for a future strategy based on simply ensuring the quality of the beers.

The St. Bernardus Tripel was probably the beer which when launched really hit home the fact that St. Bernardus meant business; and to stay in business. This was regarded as a top notch tripel when it was launched and it still is today. It is a pristine amber with a deliciously creamy head which puffs up perfectly for the first swig. It is both hoppy and fruity and even after three beers I couldn’t help but be impressed by the flavour. I would like to try it again and am actively seeking out the 750 ml bottle for my collection on my next trip overseas.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, St. Bernardus

#90 – Westvleteren Blonde

#90 - Westvleteren Blonde

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.8 %

Back on the last day of my summer jaunt around Belgium I stopped at the Westvleteren brewery in the heart of hop country for a last beer (#66). As I reported I was able to pick up a six pack of their blonde beer. Now was the time to try one of them.

I spent the last report discussing how the media had built up a frenzy over the quality of the beers here, but I didn’t really get a chance to dip into the history. The brewery was founded inside the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren back in 1838, just seven years after the monastery had been formed by Trappist monks from Catsberg in France. It is interesting to note that some of these same monks moved down to the Notre-Dame de Scourmont monastery where of course Chimay is brewed.

The beers at St. Sixtus were sold commercially until World War II, when Evarist Deconinck took over the mantle of many of the recipes at St. Bernardus down the road (#46). The brewery was the only Trappist monastery to continue to brew during both World Wars as it was the only one not plundered for copper by the German forces. It was in actual fact used as a sanitarium for caring for wounded allied forces. In 1989 the Abbey was able to open its newer brewery just off-site where it replaced all the old equipment, and then in 1992 the monks terminated their agreement with St. Bernardus with the sole intention of following the purist Trappist rules of brewing beers (#7). They have ever since maintained a strict policy of only monks doing all the brewing, although in recent years they have used one or two secular workers for much of the manual labour needed.

The green capped Westvleteren Blonde was added to the range of beers in 1999 and was designed to replace the 6.2% ABV dark beer and a lighter 4% table beer. Clearly the monks wanted a pater with a bit more bite, to support their stronger and world famous 8 and 12 (#66). It poured an impeccable cloudy blonde, thick and yet crisp, and was noticeably hoppy, with a fine head and some brown guts of sediment. It had been listed as a pale ale and I can probably imagine old men enjoying this beer. Of course from a brewery with as much international repute as Westvleteren you would expect to enjoy it, but I wasn’t expecting to immediately open another straight after! A very good beer.

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Filed under 8, Belgian Ale, Westvleteren

#86 – Watou Tripel

#86 - Watou Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Watou is a bit of a haven when it comes to beer. If you start to plot breweries on a map of Belgium – which lets face it is a perfect thing to do on a quiet Sunday 😉  – you start to notice a batch of them all concentrated in a quiet area of countryside just north of the French border. Westvleteren, Van Eecke, Struise Brouwers and St. Bernardus are within a stones throw of each other, and each are renowned for the quality of their beers. The latter is based in the small village of Watou for which this beer is named.

The brewery claim that this beer was made for the French, maybe as a compromise for the fact that in 1793 this area was designated to fall within Flanders, as opposed to France. It’s odd because the beer sounds French, although there are villages that ended up in France at the carve-up that sound nailed on Flemish such as Steenvoorde and Winne Zele. It just happened that the geographical location of two rivers meant that it ended up in Belgian hands.

Watou generally translates as “watery area”, a direct reference to the rivers that dominate the locality. It only has a population of around 2000 people, but often the streets are bursting with visitors to the Flanders fields, or to a number of annual festivals that take place in the village and surrounding areas. One of these is a choir festival that takes place in St. Bavo church, the one so beautifully recreated on the label of this beer. The church has been a preserved monument since 1939 and contains the tombs of two of the first counts of Watou. Other visitors come to visit the brewery of St. Bernardus and the famous hop farms of Poperinge.

Local hops are used to make this extremely pleasant medium strength blonde. The bitterness of the hops is played off expertly against the zesty fruity tang which accompanies every sip. To be honest it didn’t start off as a great beer, but it grew with every inch downed. Where it began mellow and indistinctive, it ended alive and buzzing with energy. Rarely does a beer start as a six and end as an eight – though you would expect nothing less from a St. Bernardus.

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Filed under 8, Abbey Tripel, St. Bernardus