Imagine you’re a Trappist monk. For me, it’s pretty much impossible; I don’t have that kind of discipline. But, just think for a minute about what life would be like. St. Benedict is The Dude. You follow his rules to the best of your abilities. It would be pretty quiet; you didn’t take a vow of silence, but St. Benedict loved him some silence. You use a sweet form of Trappist sign language to talk to your fellow monks. You live a life of silent contemplation and manual labor. You make various things to sell to provide income for your monastery. And maybe, if you’re lucky, your abbey makes beer. It’s at this point that you realize that you can deal with the work and the silence, but to go without beer (and in this case, good beer) would be a deal breaker.
There are only seven Trappist breweries that sell their glorious ales (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel and Koningshoeven). You can find them by their logo.
In order for these beers to be considered Trappist ales, they also need to follow a few rules:
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks.
- The brewery, the choices of brewing, and the commercial orientations must obviously depend on the monastic community.
- The economic purpose of the brewery must be directed toward assistance and not toward financial profit
Luckily for us, these ales make their way over from Belgium and the Netherlands to make our taste buds happy. Of course, you can do like St. Benedict would do and enjoy these beers in silence, but I recommend enjoying and even sharing these beers with someone and discussing the incredible flavors that you’re about to experience.
Three of a Kind:
OrvalThe first of my Trappist ales was the Orval. This beer is a bit out of the ordinary as they use the Brettanomyces yeast strain (as opposed to the typical Saccharomyces) in the brewing process, so it’s a bit sour. It pours a copper/bronze color with a huge head. The aroma is spicy and floral with a little of that Brett funk sneaking in. The flavor is nice. It’s crisp, slightly sour, with a dry finish. The beer is dry-hopped, and its spicy, floral hops dominate the flavor. The Orval bottle has an interesting picture of a trout holding a ring. It’s from a story of how Orval got its name. Check it out at good ol’ Wikipedia. Overall, I’d give the Orval a 7.
Rochefort 10The Rochefort 10 was a huge difference from the Orval. It pours a deep brown color that’s nearly impossible to see through. The aroma is all malt, very sweet with some minor fig notes. The flavor is sweet like molasses with some raisins mixed in. It has a fairly clingy mouthfeel, but it’s like drinking a delicious dessert, so the clingy mouthfeel is acceptable. I’d give this one an 8.
Chimay RedThe Chimay Red is another delicious, complex beer. It pours an opaque auburn color. It has a nice malty aroma with mild floral hops and a spicy, fruity mix. Its flavor is sweet and spicy, with an interesting mix of flavors that left my tongue overwhelmed. The finish was surprisingly crisp and slightly dry and bitter. Overall, a 7.
Wild Card:My wild card, this time, is the Ommegang Abbey Ale. This beer is not a Trappist ale; it can’t be (see the rules above). It’s brewed in New York, far away from the monestary. But, it does a fantastic job of representing the Trappist style. The Abbey Ale pours a deep red color with a slight bit of cloudiness. The aroma is malty and spicy. Its flavor is sweet and spicy with a mild fruitiness. The finish is a bit heavy and clingy. But, again, with all the sweet and spicy flavors, that extended taste isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This beer is basically a mix between the Chimay Red and the Rochefort 10 (on my purely scientific Beer Compar-O-Meter). It’s generally easy to find, and tends to be quite cheap. If you’re looking for an introductory beer into this style, it may be the way to go. Definitely an 8, on my completely arbitrary scale.
If you’re looking for a beer that is going to give your tastebuds a huge work out, consider a Trappist ale. They’re very unique, full of flavor, and you’ll be helping out a monastery in the process (it’s win-win!).
These beers can be found at Brasserie Beck, RFD, and any Belgian restaurant (I would hope). If you’re looking to purchase and keep them in your cellar for a few years of aging and safe-keeping, they’re available at Whole Foods, Total Wine, and most likely your favorite beer shop.
I look forward to hearing about your Trappist experiences in the comments.