Here’s this (or is it last?) week’s On Tap column for The Advocate. It was originally published here.
We’re now officially into Lenten season, when many people make sacrifices like giving up sweets, soda or beer. (Why would anyone give up beer? That’s like giving up oxygen. But I digress.)
Instead of giving up this fine fermented beverage, I suggest incorporating more beer brewed by monks into your routine to make you feel more holy.
Monastery breweries in Europe date back to the Middle Ages, and there are many thriving today. The Trappist Order is the most widely known of these, and there are strict rules these monks must adhere to.
Today, there are 11 Trappist breweries, most of which are located in central Europe. The International Trappist Association was formed in 1997 to prevent non-Trappist breweries from taking advantage of the name.
Among the rules the Trappist breweries must adhere to:
The beer must be brewed by monks within the walls of a Trappist monastery.
The brewery must not be the primary reason the monastery is in existence.
The brewery is a not-for-profit venture. The beer sales help cover living expenses and upkeep of the monastery, with any leftover money being donated to charity.
Generally, there are four types of Trappist ales: single, dubbel, tripel and quadrupel. Singles are light with lower alcohol levels but rarely make it out of the brewery. These are mostly consumed by the monks themselves.
The names of the others basically refer to the alcohol levels. Dubbels are mostly copper colored and weigh in around 7 percent alcohol by volume. Tripels are more golden colored and feature 8-9 percent ABV. Belgian strong ales, or quadrupels, are generally 10 percent ABV or higher.
In south Louisiana, we only have a few of the Trappist breweries offerings available. Most of these can be found at your local bottle shops or specialty grocers. Grab a bottle or two today, and enjoy these distinct ales.
By far the most recognizable and easiest to find Trappist beer around these parts is Chimay. There are three readily available Chimay beers, which are easily distinguished by the color of their labels: red (the dubbel Chimay Premiere), white (the tripel Cinq Cents) and blue (the quadrupel Grand Reserve). Floral hop notes and a beautiful frothy head distinguish the Cinq Cents. The blue Grand Reserve is my personal favorite with rich caramel notes and a warming finish.
Trappist Achel Blond is a beautiful example of a Belgian tripel. It pours an exquisite gold color with ample carbonation. The aroma is herbal and spicy, with coriander, white pepper and fruit coming through on the palate. The finish is crisp and dry on this 8 percent ABV ale, making this ale quite drinkable despite the high alcohol content.
A pair of beers from this Dutch Trappist brewery are readily available on local shelves. The Quadrupel is a rich and intense 10 percent ABV ale that’s malty and sweet. Notes of banana, orange peel and vanilla accompany the dark bready flavor and warming finish. The Isid’or is a 7.5 percent Belgian strong pale ale that was first brewed in 2009 as a tribute to the brewery’s 125th anniversary. This beer is a dark gold color with notes of dried fruit, grass and a touch of spice.
This Belgian strong dark ale is brewed by Austrian Trappist brewery Stift Engelszell and is named after the abbey’s late abbot. Brewed with local honey, this ale is chock full of dark fruit aroma and flavor, namely figs and prunes. A chewy, molasses-like mouthfeel gives way to a slightly boozy finish, thanks to the 9.7 percent ABV.
All right, I just finished telling you about the rigorous rules Trappist breweries must adhere to just to be able to put the Trappist logo on their beer. Well, St. Bernardus is not a Trappist brewery.
However, for nearly 50 years, St. Bernardus brewed the Trappist St. Sixtus beers, including the iconic Westvleteren 12, which many people claim is the best beer in the world.
In 1992, the Trappist monasteries decided that only beer brewed inside the walls of a monastery could bear the Trappist name. St. Bernardus continued to brew the same beers, several of which you can find on local shelves. Their Abt 12 is the same recipe as the St. Sixtus Westvleteren 12, only much easier to find. Grab a four-pack or 750-milliliter bottle of this robust 10 percent ABV quadrupel, and enjoy the beautiful dark fruit notes and creamy mouthfeel of this classic Belgian strong dark ale.