Trappist Beer – Brewed With Quality and Tradition

One of the things that is appealing about beer is its unique and diverse history.  Take the case of Trappist Ales.  Here in the United States, we still live in the shadows of the Prohibition era, even though it has been eighty-five years since Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment.  What do I mean by that?  For example, it wasn’t until 2017 that the state of Georgia finally loosened its laws governing the sale and distribution of beer from craft breweries.  Also, when we think about alcohol consumption in general, we don’t consider it the norm for Christians (in particular Protestants) to be instrumental in the growth of the adult beverage industry.  I’ll be the first to tell you that this thinking is primarily myth; as there are many Protestants that enjoy adult beverages and have become involved in the production and consumption (in moderation) of alcoholic beverages.

Circling back to Trappist Ales,  monastic brewing has a unique place in the historic evolution of beer.  Somewhere around the seventh or eight centuries, monks who had taken a vow to live simple, self-reliant lives began to brew their own beers, both because it was safer to drink that water and it provided a degree of nutrition.  As monasteries popped up all over Europe, monks perfected their brewing techniques and expanded production capacity.  It cannot be overstated the value monks added to the advancement of brewing techniques and promoting a culture of quality beer.  Because monks were more educated than the general population and meticulous at recording there activities, they were able to advance brewing equipment and techniques resulting in more consistent, quality beers.

The term Trappist refers to the only Catholic order of monks that currently brews beers.  Their official name is the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance .  Today, only beer brewed within monastery walls by Trappist can use the term and seal “Authentic Trappist” beer (Ale).  When you come across Abbey or Monastery Ale, it is not an authentic Trappist beer; but simply a marketing name for a beer brewed in Trappist style.

Trappist Ales come in four broad categories: Single, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel/Strong Dark Ale.  The dividing line being ABV and general bitterness.  Single is between 4.8% and 6% ABV and low to intermediate on the IBU scale.  Dubbel ale is between 6 – 8% ABV and lower on bitterness.  Tripel is between 7 – 10% ABV and can be slightly more bitter.  Quadrupel/Strong Dark  is between 9 – 12% ABV and the highest in bitterness.  Color-wise they can range from pale/straw yellow to dark reddish brown.  The most distinguishing characteristics, besides the tendency to be on the higher side of the ABV scale of beers, it they exhibit robust, complex aromas and flavors.  Think of them as more similar to wines in those regards.

From a personal standpoint, these beers are not my favorites; primarily due to their higher alcohol content.  You have a much higher potential to become combustible by the end of an evening of drinking Trappist Ales than your more mainstream ales and lagers!  That being said, they are an excellent change of pace and fit nicely into special occasions where you want something a little different than standard lagers or IPA’s deliver.  For this review, I took a poke at two of the more widely available Trappist Ales Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue Label) and Westmalle Trappist Dubbel Ale

Chimay Grand Reserve

Beer Stats:

Packaging: 12 oz. bottle

BJCP Style: Trappist Belgian Dark Strong Ale

ABV: 9.0%

Hops Variety: Saazer or Styrian Goldings

Malts Variety: Pilsner Malt

Brewery: Chimay Brewery

Beer Connoisseur Rating:  None

LUDB Notes:

  • Bitterness Level:  Restrained
  • Drinkability:
    • Would I purchase again?  Yes
    • Would I stock it?  No
  • Comments/Characteristics:  Malt forward with big, delightful aromas. Not an everyday beer; but great for special occasions. Not sessionable, unless you enjoy massive hangovers.

The Chimay region lies near the boarder of France and Belgium.  In 1850, monks established the Abbey at Scourmont monastery and by 1862 they were brewing their own beer.  It wasn’t until 1948, when Father Theodore discovered a unique strand of yeast cells, that the monastery began producing its line of Chimay Trappist Ales that we have today.  Chimay Red is the oldest of line of beers, while Chimay Blue was brewed starting in 1982.

Chimay Grande Reserve pours a rich, dark reddish brown color.  It is clear – no cloudiness.  By the end of the pour, it has developed a thick tan head with lengthy retention.  Aromas are fruity, with hints of grapes, raisins, and prunes.  There is a noticeable scent of alcohol.

Tastes are of caramel and hints of spices.  Start to finish, it has characteristic smooth, sweet malt flavor with restrained bitterness and a warming booziness.  The finish is soft, short and sweet with a barely noticeable bitterness that quickly dissipates.

Bottom line:  What makes these Trappist beers stand out are the delightful aromas.  They are visually pleasing and, in the case of Chimay Grande Reserve, are quite strong on the ABV.  I would not classify these as everyday drinking beers, but they are great choices for special occasions.  Chimay Grande Reserve is the perfect choice for a cold evening sitting by a warm fire reading or enjoying you favorite chill-out music.  You’ll be relaxed in no time flat.

Westmalle Trappist Ale Dubbel

Beer Stats:

Packaging: 12 oz. bottle

BJCP Style: Belgian Trappist Dubbel

ABV: 7.0%

Hops Variety: Saazer or Styrian Goldings

Malts Variety:  Pilsner Malt

Brewery:  Westmalle Trappist Brewery

Beer Connoisseur Rating:  97

LUDB Notes:

  • Bitterness Level: Restrained
  • Drinkability:
    • Would I purchase again? Yes
    • Would I stock it? No
  • Comments/Characteristics: Similar to Chimay Blue – malt forward with big, delightful aromas.  You can expect it to finish a little more dry than Chimay Blue. Great for special occasions; but be aware of the higher ABV.

Westmalle Dubbel is visually pleasing right at the pour.  It has a clear, reddish brown color and develops a excellent thick tan head.  As one would expect from the Trappist style, you’ll encounter delightful and complex fruity aromas; accentuated by grape, raisin, prunes and caramel.  Just taking in the multitude of aromas is pleasing.  Flavor profile follows closely with the aromas profile, but with noticeable hints of alcohol.   Start to finish, this Trappist brew has a nice smooth malty sweetness with a restrained bitterness.  Length of finish is medium and dry, when compared to Chimay Grande Reserve, without a lingering bitterness.

Bottom line:  Heavy bodied, sweet and fruity, Westmalle Dubbel is one of the essential Belgian Trappist Ales.  A nice change of pace from the more popular pale lagers, pale ales, and IPAs.  Another excellent selection for that spending that relaxing night in on a cold, wintery evening.

Thank you for reading and until next time…Let Us Drink Beer!

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