"Eat and drink in peace, my brothers." - Trappist monk saying
Abbey beers are not Trappist beers. Authentic Trappist beers are brewed by Trappist monks inside a Trappist Monastery, using traditional methods. These methods result in beers that are highly fermented, which gives them a stronger taste and a thicker texture than most other types of beer. Many people consider Trappist beers to be the crowning jewel of beers all over the world. Ironically, Trappist beers are rarely exported - this is not an industry, after all: The monks sell the beer they brew in order to support their simple way of life, not to rake in a tidy profit. Also modest facilities and traditional methods limit the amount they can produce.
There are only six types of Trappist beers in Belgium, so I won't mind writing a node for each of them (even though they exist) :
Orval : The Queen of Trappists was first made in 1931, and has a complex and unusual flavor and aroma produced by a unique strain of yeast. The beer is light in color, slightly cloudy, and has a large, foamy head. There is a complex aroma of leather, horse blanket, spice, and many other earthy components. At first glance, this may not sound very appealing, but it really is one of the best ales. Alcohol : 6.2% vol.
- Chimay : This beer has a soft palate with fruity tones of apricot or blackcurrant, complemented by a hint of bitterness and sharpness. The method of brewing hasn't changed since 1862, when it was first made under the name Première. Three types of Chimay exist :
- Chimay Blanche : This crisp, pleasant beer bears a light orange colour and a very bitter taste (like most high-density pale-ales), and is the most hopped and dryest of the three. Alcohol : 6% vol.
- Chimay Rouge : This beer is a dark brown colour and has a sweet, fruity aroma. The malt in this beer has a nutty character that goes well with the hints of pepper from the house yeast. Alcohol : 7% vol.
- Chimay Bleue : This copper-brown beer has a creamy head and a slightly bitter taste. Considered to be the "classic" Chimay ale, it exhibits an unbelievable depth of fruity, peppery character. The taste continues to evolve and develop with a few years of age. The Belgian's favourite. Alcohol : 9% vol.
Rochefort : The abbey of St. Rémy, in Rochefort, makes about 300 hectolitres of this wonderful beer every week, which is quite the record. Unfortunately for beer lovers around the world, it is barely enough for Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (so don't get your hopes up). Three types of Rochefort exist :
Westmalle : This rich beer is produced in a 1930 brewhouse in the monastery of Westmalle, a bit northeast of Antwerp. It comes in two varieties :
- Six : Red cap. Reddish colour, almost like autumn leaves, very consistent texture with a slightly spicy aroma and an intense taste of caramel, fruit, and hints of raisins. It is only about 5% of the abbey's beer production, so it is quite rare. Treat with respect. Alcohol : 7.5% vol.
- Huit : Green cap. Yellowish-brown colour, with a more pronounced aroma, more fruits and a slight amount of Demi-Sec (a strong alcoholic beverage). Alcohol : 9.5% vol.
- Dix : Blue cap. Reddish-brown colour, with a very compact head and an aroma of figs, feels like honey in the mouth. The alcohol profile is a major component in the flavor of this rich ale. It is very similar to Six and Huit, but has much more of everything. Rare beer : cherish it. Alcohol : 12% vol.
Westvleteren : This Trappist beer has a mysterious past. It all started around 1900, in the monastery of St. Sixtus near the small village of Westvleteren, in the Flanders region of Belgium. From this tiny Trappist brewery come four of the most distinctive, strong, and flavourful Belgian ales produced today. Those beers can be found at the abbey or at the bar named "café De Vrede", which is located in front of the abbey. Needless to say, they are the rarest Trappist beers in the whole world. Bow to them.
- Dubbel : despite its dark colour and strong aroma, the Dubbel is not as rich and full-bodied as one might think on first contact. It does not go straight to your head, and thanks to its soft flavour, it is a local favourite. It has a brown color from dark malts and dark candy sugar as well as a dry finish. Alcohol : 7% vol.
- Tripel : this outstanding example of Belgian Triple ale is made with pale candy sugar and has a very pale color produced from a mash of light pilsener malts. Styrian Goldings hops are used along with some German varieties and the classic Saaz pilsener hop. After a long secondary fermentation, the Triple Westmalle is bottled with a dose of sugar and yeast. It is a memorable drink with hints of fruit and pepper. This beer holds up well in the bottle over time and seems to soften with age. Alcohol : 9% vol.
Achel : Based on an original recipe of Brother Thomas, from Westmalle, the monks of Achel recently decided to start brewing their beers. After Brother Antoine from Rochefort helped them to perfect their recipe, the official brewing started in February 1999. In June 2001, the first bottled Achel beer was tossed into the market, without any advertising except on printed coasters. The beer is a very light pale yellow or straw, made slightly cloudy by a loose sediment, with a low, lacy head. The aroma is soft and very subtle, overall dry with scents of hops, yeast, vanilla and melon-like fruit. The palate is also dry but notably full and fruity, with a big-bodied meatiness unusual in such a pale beer. It turns toffeeish and chewy when swallowed. The finish has a finely perfumed bitterness, with a summery delicacy reminiscent of fresh plums or mirabelles and more estery, meaty tones. There is also a warming alcohol kick as it lingers, along with melon fruit, tasty hops and some flashes of deeper, chocolate-like tones. Extremely rare. Alcohol : 8% vol.
- Dubbel : Green cap. No details given - it is reserved for the monks.
- Special (production stopped) : Red Cap. A complex, spicy ale, very malty and rich. Almost no hop character is evident, as the hops are masked by the intense presence of malt. The fermentation that occurs in the bottles of this beer produces a rich, tall, creamy head when poured. Alcohol : 6% vol.
- Extra : Blue Cap. The most prevalent characteristic of this ale is the fruitiness of the esters produced by the maturation of the special yeast. There are also aromas of citrus, berries, and other fruits. Alcohol : 8% vol.
- Abbott : Yellow Cap. A rich mouthful with a delicious body, quite like the Extra, but with much more of everything, and boasting a mighty amount of alcohol. Very rare. Alcohol : 11% vol.