Spencer Trappist Ale

spencer_trappistBrewer: Spencer Trappist Ales/St. Joseph Abbey, Spencer, MA
Style: Trappist Ale
ABV: 6.5%
IBUs: Unlisted (mild)

Description: This brew is the Abbey’s only brew, and is made in the Trappist fashion using a proprietary blend of 2 row and 6 row malted barley, and some caramel Munich specialty malt from Wisconsin for color. It is then bittered using a combination of Willamette, Nugget, and other hops from Washington state’s Yakima Valley. It is then unpasteurized and unfiltered with active yeast still in the bottle.

Tasting Notes: This brew was a fortunate find. It definitely has the character of a Trappist ale, possessing that same oaky, yeasty flavor that I have come to associate with beers like Orval and Chimay. But it is also delightfully subtle and lightly colored, and comes with notes of fruit – the foremost being cherry and apricot – that you don’t usually get from a Belgian Trappist. I will be definitely be seeking more in the future.

Appearance: Golden orange, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich malt base, floral hop bouquet, traces of citrus and orchard fruit
Taste: Smooth malt, hints of oak, mild traces of cherry, apricot, yeast
Aftertaste: Lingering malt flavor, oak, yeasty aftertaste, quite clean
Overall: 9.5/10

Trappistes Rochefort 8

Minolta DSCWinter season always seems like the perfect time for Trappist Ales! And thanks to my having discovered a place that is well stocked in my more obscure favorites (Cook Street Liquor Store), I was able to procure a few bottles in preparation for a little sample pack!

To start, I’ve decided to go back to some old favorites that I have not resampled in years. While I’ve found no shortage of Chimay labels and even the occasional Orval here in BC, I’ve been hard pressed to find any of their closely-related kin. Trappistes Rochefort is one such brewery, a renowned operation run by the Abbey St-Remy in Rochefort, Belgium. This Abbey and the brewery date back to the High Middle Ages and continues to produce true Trappist Ale to this very day.

Today, it’s the Trappist 8, the breweries triple-fermented ale and the second in their series of three ales. Colloquially, this one is known as the “green cap” because of the color of the bottle cap, is a brown ale, and weighs in at a hefty 9.2% alc/vol. Of the three beers produced by the brewery, this one is the most renowned and fits in the middle between sugary-sweet and spicier end of the spectrum.

Appearance: Cloudy, orange-brown, good foam retention
Nose: Mild fruit and yeast, notes of plum, cherry, and raisins
Taste: Strong malts, slightly sweet, caramel, raisins and plums
Aftertaste: Mild spicey finish, very nice and smooth
Overall: 9.5/10

Of the three, this one has been my favorite over the years. Whereas the Rochefort 6 is milder and smoother and the 10 is the most fruity and sugary, this one holds a place of honor in the middle. Balancing smooth malts, fruit, yeast and just the right amount of spice, its all around pleasure to drink and well paired with appetizer plates consisting of cheese, bread, fruit and pate, or with desserts featuring chocolate and fruit compote. If you can get your hands on some, do so!

Back from Ottawa!

Greeting all from the nation’s capital! Some interesting things have transpired since our arrival. Some friends came out, some pubs were visited, some pints were tilted. All good times! And as usual, I intend to write about it all, particularly all the beers we drank! Some old, some new, there were many brands that were drunk even thus far that have been worthy of a review. It will take me days to cover them all, so please, your indulgence as I try to do it all justice…

My first review is dedicated to the beers encountered at a timely and impressive event:The Winter Beers and Ice Wines event that took place during the weekend of the 17th/18th. Not only did it coincide with our visit nicely, my darling wife had the foresight to suggest we book some VIP tickets. As such, we got the deluxe experience! In addition to sampling many, many beers from the Quebec side of the border, we got a taste of some true culinary delights in an upscale atmosphere. It all went down at the Maison du Citoyen in Hull, Quebec, and here’s what I thought of what I tasted, by brand and name.

Brasseurs Du Temps:
Located in Gatineau, Quebec, this brewery was the only one at the tasting that had its own booth staffed by its own people. And given the fact that the sample glasses were also stamped with their company logo, I got the distinct impression they were hosting the thing. All of their brews were made in accordance with traditional European and (more specifically) Belgian brewing, at least the ones I tried. As such, they were strong, heavy, dark and deep! Not to mention flavorful.

Dumduminator: Named in honor of its creator, Dominique Gosselin (Dumdum to his friends), this dunkelweizenbock was a nice surprise, calling to mind one of my all time favorites: Aventinus! And like its predecessor, it was dark, strong, had a heady foam, and some rich wheat malts. However, the DD was different in that it had a distinct banana flavor in addition to its spicey notes. A nice opening to this tasting experience! 4/5

La Saison Basse: This seasonal beer, named in honor of the fall, is a blonde ale that boasts a variety of spices with an intense, distinctly Belgian taste. Overall, I was reminded of Duvel, another blonde done in the Belgian fashion that boasted some gruff malts. I should also note, in a move that is decidedly clever, this beer has an opposite known as La Saison Haute, a seasonal spring beer. Unfortunately, this one was not available at the tasting. Guess I’ll have to wait til next year! 3.75/5

Messe de Minuit, 2010: A holiday beer which, quite frankly, is like Christmas in a glass! The color is black, the smell is fruity and spicey, and the nose and taste are similar to a stout. Add to that a rich flavor that is reminiscent of figgy pudding, cloves and spices, and you get a pretty good picture of what this beer is all about. A great finish to this breweries lineup. 4.5/5

I just wish I could have sampled more. A quick perusal of their website would seem to indicate that there’s certainly no shortage! I wonder if they deliver…
http://www.brasseursdutemps.com/beers/our-full-range

IGA Famille Charles:
Said family is a major compact in Quebec which owns the Independent Grocers Association, a number of craft breweries, and the relative giants of Molson, Coors, and Rickards Brewing. Overall, I’d say I spent the majority of my time at this booth, trying their beer, talking to their patrons, and bugging their representatives for info! Here’s what I sampled and where it came from:

L’Assoiffe: brewed by Brasseurs du Monde, from St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, this beer’s name literally translates to “thirsty”. A double brown ale, brewed Belgian-style, it was expectedly strong and quite dark, combining a strong malty profile with the tawny character of a brown. Lightly scented but firmly flavored, it was quite the thirst quencher! 3.75/5

Trois-Mousquetaires Wiezenbock: this beer, I quickly realized, is something we have in BC. In fact, I can recall drinking one or two Mousquetaires not that long ago; luckily they weren’t the Wiezenbock so I didn’t consider this experience wasted! Brewed in Brossard, Quebec, Trois Mousquetaires is another Quebec craft brewery specializing in continental-style beer making. And at 10% alc/vol, this wheat beer was certainly a unique experience, combining strong wheat  malts with a very rich, very dark profile that called to mind brown sugar, molasses and a hint of smoke and bananas. Quite the powerful number, and definitely for the barley wine enthusiast, if not the casual beer drinker! 3.5/5

La Noblesse: Possibly my favorite from the IGA section, this beer was reminiscent of Chimay in a number of ways. For starters, its a dark amber, cloudy in appearance, and boasts a strong oaky flavor that reminds one of sour ale.  I was also told to be on the lookout for a touch of vanilla, though I admittedly took awhile to find it! Definitely something I’ll be on the lookout for in the future. 4/5

McAuslan Brewing:
Technically, the bar hosting McAuslan’s fine products was hosted by the radio station CKOI (104.7 Outaouais), but to me, they were the centerpiece so they might as well have been running it themselves. Several other brewers were represented here; unfortunately, I only got to try one other. Lucky for me, it was worth it since I finally got to try McAuslan’s latest Vintage Ale as well as the rather unique and intriguing Diablo. Of these:

Millesimee: This is the name of McAuslan’s 2010 Vintage Ale. Awhile back, I reviewed McAuslan and claimed that their Millennial Ale, the 2000 Vintage, was the best beer I’ve ever tried. Well that’s still true, but unfortunately, I’ve been unable to offer any opinions on any of the vintages they’ve produced since. Thanks to this event, those days are now behind me, even if it’s likely to be awhile before I can review any of their vintages again. That being said, I have to say that I was unimpressed with this latest vintage by the good folks at McAuslan. Unlike its Millennial predecessor, the 2010 Vintage was an amber ale, very strong, slightly sweet, and quite rough on the palatte. I was reminded of Scotch-Ale, the “Wee Heavy” style of beer that combines rich, heavy malts with a touch of sweetness and a bitter, highly viscous aftertaste. That’s what you got here, and I have to say that I do not think these different elements go together well. This is not to say that the beer is a bad contribution, far from it! In fact, its without a doubt a faithful adaptation of an extra-strong amber ale and an interesting choice for their latest vintage. It just didn’t agree with me personally. Mainly because the strong flavor has a way of really lingering. Seriously, after a glass of this, everything tasted rough and bitter! 3/5

El Diablo: Last of the festivals lineup comes to you from the Brasserie du Lievre located in Mont-Laurier, Quebec. And I can honestly say that my choice to try this over several others from this bar was thematically consistent, given the fact that it too was a strong amber, rough on the palatte, and quite rich and chewy. However, the Diablo combines all of this with a strong, vanilla flavor that is surprising and quite palatable. A touch of velvet you might say to an otherwise rough and tough brew. Little wonder then why they call it Diablo! 3.75/5

Well, that is all for now. Like I said, there were many drinking experiences during my Ottawa trip, and it will take some time to do it all justice. Lord knows I spent plenty of time this trip with a beer in one hand and my PDA in the other, constantly drinking and typing, hoping to get all my impressions down so I could do faithful reviews later.

Coming up next, the Mill Street Brewpub, a newly opened branch of the Toronto-based craft brewery!

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!