Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quaffing heavenly Trappist brews

Trappist monks devout their entire life to the service of God and abandon all their possessions, making a vow of poverty, while splitting their time between prayer, charity, and manual work - that for some, include beer. Monks have always lived self sufficient - cultivating the land, making their own bread, butter, and cheese and in the northern European countries brewing their own beer. The monasteries are a place of study where monks have time to hone in the art of beer and cheese making - it was only until recent did the abbeys install ultra modern technologies to the service the monks' long brewing tradition.

These Trappist workers produce a few styles all of which are what brewers call ''bottle conditioned,'' meaning that a small dose of sugar and yeast is added to each bottle just before it is sealed. Of the 171 Trappist monestaries only 7 today produce beer (Achel, Chimay, Koningshoeven, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, & Westvleteren) - and of these 7 only 3 are available in Texas: Chimay, Orval, and Westmalle.

The most exclusive and rare of all Trappist breweries is the Brouwerij Westvleteren from the St. Sixtus Abbey (pictured), in the West Flanders region of Belgium, who produce a beer Abt 12 that many consider to be the world's best beer. The Westy bottlehas no label but sometimes has an embossed collar on the neck.

The cap helps distinguish Westys. This beer alone has created a black market because of the ultra limited supply/distribution, insane demand, all coupled with the Monk's strict moral code that 'the beer is not to be commercialized.' In order to buy this beer, one must first place an order weeks in advance, travel to the St. Sixtus Abbey's drive up service station - typically waiting in very long lines, and finally are rationed out only a few cases per vehicle. The price of a case (4 six-packs) at the abbey typically run $48 but I have seen a single six pack on eBay run $170. Expensive? Well, yes - but remember, it is typically only the globetrotting millionaire who can afford one bottle of some of the world's best wine, which can start in the upper hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. I've seen friends and family not blink to a bottle of simple Dom Perignon (by the way who was a French monk) for $200+.I traded for the above pictured Westy 12s through BeerAdvocate.com. This is a wonderful way to get beers that you cannot get and to allow others to try local favorites that you are more easily able to acquire.

Mark polishing off a 6 year old Westvletern 12 that he was gracious enough to allow me to sample.









Orval Trappist Ale
The Notre-Dame d'Orval / Brasserie d’Orval S.A.
Villers-devant-Orval, Belgium
Orval.be

Appearance: 4.5
Smell: 4
Taste: 3
Mouthfeel: 4
Drinkability: 3
Overall = 3.6

Of all the Trappist brews, Orval is the oldest, founded in the 11th century by Benedictine monks. This brew stands unique from all the other Trappist ales because of a specific yeast strain, Brettanomyces (Brett) that lends quite a funky sourness to the brew

Pours extremely hazed orange-copper, with a fluffy head letting convoluted aromas of rose hips, chamomile, granny smith apple, leather, and burlap sack. Flavors of wet hay, orange blossom water, lemongrass, petals, some wood, and a slice of hop bitterness towards the back – accumulating to a lingering body and light carbonation.
Orval can challenge the craft beer neophyte, but guarantees to remain etched in your memory as one of the most unique experiences one can have with brew.

Style: Trappist Belgian Pale Ale
Alcohol By Volume : 6.90%
Availability : Year Round
Sample Size: 330ml brown bottle
Pairings: Cheese: Edam
Cuisine: pork chops with roasted Brussels sprouts
Glassware: Chalice, Tulip
Average Price: $4.69 each

Westmalle Trappist Tripel
Brouwerij Westmalle
Malle, Belgium
Trappistwestmalle.be

Appearance: 4.5
Smell: 5
Taste: 4.5
Mouthfeel: 4.5
Drinkability: 4.5
Overall = 4.6

Hazy orange color with frothy foam that falls to a beautiful lace. Nose is orange slice jelly candy, lemon zest, pear flesh, grass, and pink peppercorn. There’s a nice yeast spice, green apple, vanilla on the palate along with an open airy carbonation. Westmalle Triple is a very complex beer and as it warms brings a breadiness, pepper again, herbal notes, then the treasured candied sugar - crisp finish. Ultimately, a world-class beverage.

Style: Tripel
Alcohol By Volume : 9.50% Availability : Year Round
Sample Size: 750ml corked & caged brown bottle with gold aluminum wrap
Pairings: Cheese: Limburger
Cuisine: eggs benedict & steamed asparagus with hollandaise / fresh mixed fruit
Glassware: Chalice, Snifter
Average Price: $11.99 each