Those Crazy Belgians

Here is the first in my Belgian-themed posts for the month of October 2011. Once again, the theme came to me on a whim, but its a good whim so bear with me! And please, please, if you get a chance, get out and try some of these. You haven’t tried beer until you’ve tried a real Trappist or at least a Belgian-style beer. Trust me!

Alright, so let’s kick this month of Belgian beers off right! As promised, the entire month of October will be dedicated to beers that are Belgian and Belgian-inspired. Let me start by pointing out why I decided to do this in the first place.

Not only is Belgium famous for making lots of beer, what they produce is pretty damn good too. With 300 breweries, they have more breweries per square kilometers than any country. In addition, it was in Belgium where the venerable tradition of brewing with hops originated. Sure, the Bavarians created a law for it (the Bavarian Purity Law), but they were just jumping on the bandwagon. It was the Trappist Monks who started that, having learned what worked. In short, malt, hops, yeast and water. No mushrooms, no wormwood, no poisonous herbs!

Speaking of Trappists monasteries, there are only seven of these left in Belgium (with one in the Netherlands), and I intend to give them all their due this month. They are, in alphabetically order: Achel, Chimay, La Trappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Most I’ve tried, some I need to reacquaint myself with, and one or two I still need to find!

La Trappe Tripel: Although technically not Belgian, this brewery is nevertheless a Trappist Monastery and hence a Trappist brew. And I can say without exaggeration that its a fine example of a Tripel (a triple fermented ale). By nature, these beers are heavier, stronger, fragrant and flavorful, and are either light in color or rich and dark. In the case of La Trappe’s Tripel, the color is caramel, the nose is sweet, malty and even kind of smoky. The taste is also characteristic of true Belgian ales, being both sweet, syrupy, and slightly floral. In terms of alcohol, it packs a respectable punch at 8% alc/vol. 8/10  

Orval: A recurring favorite of mine, this Belgian ale is a relatively light and lively number, being 6.2% alc/vol, but which is dark, smoky, and with a taste that is just slightly reminiscent of cherry. A good dessert beer, best when served with something chocolatey or fruity. 8/10

Chimay: This breweries lineup comes in four varieties: red, blue, white, and doree (golden). The last I have yet to find, and is quite rare when compared to the others, so I shall confine myself to the red, blue and white.

Red: The Red is the most common and is considered the premiere beer, meaning the most widely distributed and popular. It is dark brown, has a fruity nose, and tastes both sweet and oaky. 8/10

Blue: This ale is classified as the Grande Reserve (meaning of a special stock) that is the second most popular of the Chimay lineup. This beer is a lighter, coppery color, is stronger at 9% alc/vol, has a more complex flavor that is slightly peppery and has notes of caramel. 7/10

White: A golden Tripel, light orange in color, 8% acl/vol, and the most hoppy and crisp tasting of the three. Like many Trappist beers, it has a strong note of fruit to it, reminisicent of grapes and raisins. 7.5/10

I should mention that these beer are definitely an acquired taste, but once acquired, is most appealing to the palate!

La Rochefort 8: Like most Trappist and/or Belgian beers, this brewery produces at least three varieties. In this case, those come in the 6, 8, and 10, corresponding to their alcohol content. The Rochefort 8 is their flagship beer, being the most common and popular. The color is dark, the nose is floral and malty, and the taste is correspondent, being at once smooth, sweet and smooth. Definitely one of my favorites beers and in the top five Belgians! 8.5/10

Westmalle Tripel: As usual, I saved the best for last! Shortly after my favorite beerhall (Vineyards, Ottawa) ran out of my favorite beer (St. Ambroise Millennial Ale), I began searching for a viable replacement. I found it with this, the Westmalle Trappist Tripel. Golden in color, with a crisp taste, slightly hoppy, floral nose and a distinctive, sweet finish, this beer charmed my palate and is still a favorite of mine today. I cannot emphasize enough how this beer combined complexity and subtlety with a fine sense of drinkability, all the while being 9.5% alc/vol. Anytime I pop into Vineyards, I order one. 9/10!

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