Tag Archives: rochefort

At Year’s End: So Long, 2015

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I’m up at the family cottage for the holidays. Currently I’m sipping on some decent coffee, have Big Trouble in Little China playing in the background, and looking through my notes from the book reflecting on the past year.

And what a freakin’ year it’s been. One that truly has underlined the blessing and curse of the saying “may you live in interesting times”.

Professionally, this was probably one of the best years for The Thirsty Wench and me as a beer writer. Some notable highlights included finally getting my own column in Torontoist. The punny Inherent Weisse has been chugging along every two weeks and it’s…actually been pretty nice. For the first time in a good long while I’ve been forced to look at my local beer scene and it’s been an interesting and often frustrating dance making my focus go smaller.

And oh yeah, the book haha.

IMG_20151210_113643Since the announcement of the Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Jordan St. John and I have sampled beers from all of the province’s breweries (with a cutoff of two weeks before the manuscript was due) and we’ve learned a few things from it. Firstly, despite how it may sound, drinking every beer in the province is not fun. Mainly because you’re not drinking for pleasure, you’re drinking for work, and have to maintain a strong focus and sharp senses from your first few beer samples all the way to your 50th. Because of this, you really start to develop a deep appreciation for small samples. That said, the both of us found a LOT of surprises in the unlikeliest of breweries and found that a lot of much-hyped breweries were, surprise surprise, not as great as many would believe.

Secondly, it was great to see the changing landscape of beer in Ontario. I’ve been happy to see that “simple done well” has been on the rise in terms of beers, with some wonderfully complex and understated offerings. Additionally, I’m really fond of how breweries, mostly outside of the cities, have really gone out of their way to be active members of their local communities and it turns out that said communities have always wanted a good quality local beer available to them and that the fierce loyalty to Molson or Coors is a bit more bullshit than I would have originally thought.

And finally, I learned about the whole book writing process, which was a tough and stress-filled lesson. For this edition I found myself awake at 3am, knocking back energy drinks like they were water, writing frantically, and listening to Death in Vegas. So basically it was like I was in college again and at my ancient age of 31, that wore me the hell out. By the time we submitted the manuscript I was practically feral, with plates, glasses, and cans scattered around my desk like monuments, and a foul smell that comes from forgetting to abide by the basic rules of personal hygiene. Ah, the glamour of writing!

Anyways, the year is over now. Well, almost.

Because I write about beer, I often get asked on what to drink for New Year’s, but I often disappoint when I answer because they’re really asking what to drink at a New Year’s party and hahahaha I don’t party. Most times I either go to a Buddhist temple to reflect on the lessons of the year or I spend it quietly with my family doing very much the same. All I can really say is…drink whatever makes you happy and make sure you’re where you want to be. It could be out with friends or alone at home. As long as you’re comfortable, that’s all the matters.

Me, I’m going to probably open up a bottle of Rochefort 8 from my cellar. Originally brewed in 1955 as a beer specially for New Year’s Eve before becoming year-round in 1960 and containing beautiful notes of caramel and dried fruit, I’m looking forward to cracking it open. After that…we’ll see where it goes.

2016 is going to be fun. Have some travel planned, the book will be launching, and I’m planning some really interesting posts for the site. Way more than there was in 2015 for sure! So stay tuned.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2016 bring joy and wonder to you and yours.

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Gateway Beers Part 3: Trappist Beers

Yes, GATEWAY BEERS.  Maybe you noticed some strange things happening with your son and/or daughter.  Leaving craft beer magazines lying around the house, starting a collection of coasters or glasses from brewpubs and microbreweries or even having a schedule of beer events happening WITH SEVERAL OF THEM CHECKED OFF OR CIRCLED. Yes, there’s no way around it.  Your kid is a Beer Fiend, a Hophead, a Malt Maniac, a Liberal, or whatever the hell kids are calling them these days. And it was all thanks to that damn Lambic!

Basically, this was inspired by the friends and family I have who have said “I don’t really drink beer, but when I do I usually drink _______.  What should I have?”.   

But you know what?  Today I feel reckless.  Today I don’t think I’m going to go with the template of “I usually drink ________”.  Today I’m going to just suggest a type of beer that you HAVE TO TRY before you die.

I am talking of the holiest of them all, the Trappist Beers. Cue the music to play along while reading this!

Trappists, also known as The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, are an order of Roman Catholic contemplative monks who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict to the letter and have taken a vow of stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.  While they don’t go so far as to take a vow of silence, talking too much IS discouraged.  Apparently speech disturbs a disciple’s duty for quietude and receptivity, and may tempt them to exercise their own will instead of the will of God.  A special sign language was created to further discourage speech and all meals are spent quietly listening to a reading.

There are about 175 monasteries and convents in the world and most of them make stuff! Turns out the Rule of St. Benedict encourages the monks to produce stuff with all income going to the monastery! This stuff ranges from clothing to food to toys…and BEER (which works because the monks don’t abstain from alcohol or think it’s particularly wrong).

In response to breweries, clothing companies and other non-Trappist purveyors abusing the Trappist name by calling their product Trappist, the International Trappist Association was formed which put a smackdown on the fakers and set up some strict rules to determine what is worthy of getting the “Authentic Trappist Product” sticker on their product.

Because this is a beer blog, I’ll give the rules as they relate to the making of beer:

  • The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks (although this has been stretched to allow outsourcing to breweries outside of the abbey as long as the ENTIRE process is overseen by the monks).
  • The brewery, the choices of brewing, and the commercial orientations must be of secondary importance within the monastery and should reflect the monastic way of life.
  • Profit is not a goal.  Money received from sales goes towards the living expenses of the monks and building and maintenance of the grounds.  The rest goes to charity.
  • Trappist breweries must be constantly monitored to ensure the best of quality.

And if any one of those rules are broken BAM, The sticker comes off and they are no longer considered Trappist.  But why is that considered a big deal? After all, There are thousands of Abbey breweries out there.  This is true…but there are only seven Trappist breweries in the entire world (six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands), so staying on that list packs a lot of prestige.

Now I’m going to go through the seven breweries and say what I can about them.  Keep in mind that, due to limited availability, there are several that I have not tried and therefore won’t be able to comment on them.  Though with that it should be said that trying all the Trappist beers is something that should be put on your bucket list.

Bières de Chimay: Comes in three different, wonderful colours.White, Red and Blue. Chimay Red Cap was actually the very first craft beer I ever tried and the complexities just blew my mind.  First brewed in 1862, Chimay Red Cap has  a lovely copper colour, sweet apricot aroma and a taste that reveals the fruit nuances and delicious malts.  These folks also put more in to advertising than any of the other breweries and with their easy availablity are often a gateway in to the world of Trappist beers.

Brasserie d’Orval: This brewery makes two beers; one for the public and one just for the monks (but can also be purchased at the monastery itself or the cafe near it). The public one, Orval, has a light cloudy colour, is somewhat high in carbonation and with a spicy, leathery aroma.  Taste is sweet with some citrusy tones and a distinct note of pear and apple.  Slight hoppiness due to dry-hopping during the three-week maturation period.  Also should be noted that the brewery uses a unique local wild yeast for fermenting.

Brasserie de Rochefort: Never tried the three beers from this brewery. Rochefort 6 is only brewed once a year and is very difficult to hunt down, Rochefort 8 is their most popular brew and Rochefort 10 packs a punch with an 11.3% ABV, which I imagine adds some lovely distinctions to the flavour.  A fun note about this brewery is that they obtain the water from a well within the walls of the monastery.

Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle: Westmalle makes three brews speculated to be based on the Holy Trinity. A Dubbel, a Tripel (the first golden strong pale ale to be called one) and Westmalle Extra, which is pretty rare.  Not going to lie here folks, when I first tried Westmalle Tripel I actually wept tears of joy.  The aroma is quite sweet, with hints of lemon zest, orange and sweet spices but the the taste is another matter. VERY creamy mouthfeel to it with such a complex flavour.  Really, nothing I can say about the flavour will do it justice.  Every time I try to do a tasting I’m just left dumbstruck.  Combinations of sweetness, bitterness and earthiness combine to form a holy trinity on its own.  For the love of all that is Holy (and these folks are pretty holy) try the Westmalle Tripel.

Brouwerij Westvleteren: These folks do absolutely no advertising, make just enough beer to support the monastery and the only official sell points are the brewery itself and a cafe across from the abbey.  Any other places you get it should be punished because once purchased the buyers are given their receipt with “DO NOT RESELL” on it.  No pubs have it either.  They have not changed the amount of beer they produce since 1946.  This kind of thing brings out the romantic in me and makes me want to go on a pilgrimage.

Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis: The smallest of the breweries, the building of which was assisted by the monks at Westmalle and Rochefort. They brew six beers, two of which are available only on tap at the Abbey, one available in bottles only at the abbey and the remaining are distributed worldwide but to quite limited availability. I regret to say that I haven’t tried any of these beers, though I have been told that Achel Extra Brune, which seems to be their most popular beer, is “what a strong ale should be”, with a creamy mouthfeel and hints of rye, caraway, molasses and cloves.

Brouwerij de Koningshoeven: More known as La Trappe.  The only one of the Trappist breweries not based in Belgium, but in the Netherlands.  While they make about seven beers plus one seasonal, in my experience the three most popular are the Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel.  As luck would have it, a pub right down the street from my office serves all three on tap.  The tripel  has a rich, bittersweet taste with hints of pears and coriander while the quadrupel would have to be the sweetest of them all, with strong tastes of molasses, cloves, bay leaf, vanilla and raisins, a sticky mouthfeel and a very slight bitterness that only comes from it’s alcohol content (10%).  A personal goal of mine is to try the oak aged batches of the quadrupel, which adds a whole new element to an already fantastic beer.

PHEW!  So that’s all of them.  So here you have a group of breweries with a very rich history and a way of life that is so unique.  Not to mention that by buying the beer, you know the money is going towards maintaining the monastery with the rest going to charity.  In all respects Trappist beers are feel-good beers.

So now that this post is written, I’m going to get something to eat, head down to my local pub, purchase a bottle of Orval and let out a very solemn “hallelujah!”

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