Trappist

Beer Monks and the Men Who Love Them


An interesting dichotomy exists in the relationship between clergy and alcohol. One would think that the consumption or production of the world’s happiest poison would be strictly off limits. The opposite is the case, as far as production goes. One wonders if the collective cloistered thought is, “If Jesus can turn water into wine, why can’t we?”

They won’t get an argument out of me.

A casual drinker need not look further than Belgium for the greatest example of this. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – or Trappists for short – has brewed their own beer for almost four hundred years.  So revered are their wares, some staunch critics believe them to be among the best beers in the world.

My brother and I discovered this firsthand in mid-July at the Portland International Beer Festival.  One of the multi-tokeners (i.e. pricier) beers was a Trappist tripel. The Christian sensibilities in my sibling drew him to it; I was curious by proxy. At first, he thought that there was gunk in the glass, and he was right. Because Trappist beers are bottle-conditioned, residual sugars and yeast remain from processing. The result was a sweet, somewhat sour, but not overly pungent ale with a lot of character. I was hooked. Line. Sinker. All that.

The desire to delve into the monk muck again, however, took a back burner to other beer styles – mainly because of price. I assumed, given the amount of tokens it took for a 5oz sample, that Trappist beers were out of range of my moth-infested wallet. A grocery run to my nearest Trader Joe’s corrected that.

Among the various 20s and 40s on display, I saw a rather robust bottle of Chimay Grande Réserve. Also known as Chimay Bleue, it was a darker ale – 9% ABV (drunk-dose by volume) – in a bottle large enough for at least two pints worth of goodness. It was an impulse buy.

The moment I got home, my bro-roommate and I cracked it open. It took a second for me to figure out how to undo the wire knot around the cork, but eventually my dumb arse did it. The cork came out with a loud pop, sounding almost like a shotgun blast. Fizz oozed from the mouthpiece like a boy’s baking soda volcano experiment.

As I predicted, the bottle poured two pints, but on the second glass I had to wait for the foam to settle. That took awhile. The liquor color was amber-to-cherry crossed with briar brown. The aroma was light, crisp and pilsner-y. Taste-wise, it was sour on the forefront, pungently sweet in the middle, and possessed an almost tannic aftertaste like over-brewed English Breakfast tea.

If I were to draw a comparison, the closest I could think of was bourbon cask-conditioned ales but a bit stronger on the taste.  Such an impression was probably due to the bottle-brewed aspects. The verdict between the two of us was the same; it was good but not “Trappist tripel” good.

A stint to Wyoming delivered me a second round with another Chimay bottle – this time, their Première (or Rouge). It was described as a brown ale with a fruit-sweet aroma. My step-dad purchased the bottle as a gift, mainly because we were both looking for an excuse to drink something after moving furniture all day.  Unlike the Grande, it was lighter and didn’t yield a sour forward punch. The liquor was smoother, sweeter, and reminded me more of the excellence of the Merchant I had months prior.

I liked the Première so much I subjected my pipe-smoking friend to the breed. He preferred his beers on the wheat-y side, anyway. Said palate was the subject of considerable debate between us – light-hearted, though, I assure. Oftentimes, I avoided Belgian beers and stuck to my hoppy beer-candy. The Chimay proved to be our middle-ground – our tasty truce.

At the same time as the Chimay, we also picked up two bottles of Rochefort’s Trappist. For the life of me, I can’t remember which of the three types – titled 6, 8, and 10 respectively – that we had. If I were to wager a post-buzz guess, I would say 6. I remember the ale being expensive and a wine-like crimson.  The Chimays were quite good…but the Rocheforts were f’ing superb. While not called a tripel, it certainly tasted like one; dark, sweet, nuanced, and packing arse-kickery.

I never thought something from Belgium, close to it, or brewed in that small country’s sugar-sweet style would appeal to me as much as it did. But wow – oh, wow – it did. Sometimes I have to be torn away kicking and screaming before I change my paradigm. When I do, though, I extol the changed virtues from the ramparts.

Recently, my brother looked at me and said, “I can picture you as a monk. Writing, brewing beer, contemplating…praying to God.”

Can’t say I disagree with him on most of those points. The only problem might the distance between me and the barrels. Clearly-labeled “Geoffy No Touchy” signs would be required.

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Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 Beverage Blog No Comments

Beerfest on a Budget

The advent of July signifies many things – the death-breath of the summer blockbuster season for another year, blistering hot iced tea weather, and a cavalcade of fire-signed birthdays. None of these hold a torch, however, to the greatest reason July exists; at least, in the Northwest. And that is Oregon Craft Beer Month.

I always knew that this was the time for a myriad of brew-oriented bacchanaliae, but I never put two-and-two together. Oregon – and by extension, the entirety of the Pacific Northwest – has prided itself on its homebrew and microbrew culture. Many a basement-dwelling brewer surface and socialize, drinking merrily in celebration of taste instead of toastiness. Although the latter is often an end result.

I’ve missed some of the plethora of parties due to scheduling or spaciness. The first beerfest (that I knew of), which preluded the festivities was the North American Organic Brew Fest. In June of ’09, I had the pleasure of attending and enjoyed it immensely. Alas, the following month of that year, I missed it’s sister festival – The Portland International Beer Festival. This year, the roles were reversed.

Although on a tight budget, nothing would make me miss this splendid little event. As luck would have it, the event fell on the weekend of my brother’s birthday. What better way to celebrate than with a gourd-filled globe-trot?

The only factor I had to keep in mind this time, alas, was my pocketbook. One of the disadvantages for the disenfranchised, on this little excursion, was that some of the beers up for sampling required multiple tokens (a dollar each) per 4oz. thimble. That could add up. $25 only guaranteed you ten. As such, my brother and I devised a way to maximize our tasting treasures. Sample, share, sit. We claimed territory at a table and took turns venturing back into the festival fray for frothy goodness.

By the end of our outing, we had sampled a good seventeen or so…and, boy, did we feel it. Luckily, this year I convinced myself that I was there in an “official” capacity. I brought a notebook to remember what I tried. These were my thoughts – chicken-scratchy and sketchy, though they may be – at the time I tried them:

Arko Amber Grand Imperial Porter

When we first started out, the bro and I decided to go dark first. He had a preference for darker beers anyway. While I liked ’em, they didn’t compare to my usual beer candy – IPAs. This year, though, I decided to steer (mostly) clear of my heavenly hoppies and diversify. Even though it was a splendid “double IPA” year.

The Arko Amber Grand Imperial Porter is a Baltic-style porter from Belgium. Some “internets” digging turned up that Arko is a distributor of Polish products. I suppose that includes beer. Alas, I could find no other mention on the product other than for a “Grand Imperial Porter” via BeerAdvocate. I didn’t know whether or not they were the same product.

Anyway, I felt that this porter had a toasty finish. It was malty, pungently sweet, but overall a decent dark.

Flyers Brewery Kentucky Uberwine

Flyers is a restaurant/brewery hailing from Oak Harbor, Washington. Their website mentions they maintain six staple beers on their menu. For this festival, they brought the big guns; a bourbon oak-aged barleywine they dubbed “Kentucky Uberwine”.

I love me some barleywines, although such a love affair can be chancy. I’ve tried some that I’ve absolutely adored (Stone’s Old Guardian) and others I never want to taste again (Deschute’s Mirror Mirror). Coupled with that, the bourbon cask process. Sometimes, it can add an excellent bite to the brew or give it too much of a liquor lean.

On first taste, I noted how extra bitter it was. This didn’t bother me at first, but the scotch-bourbon-ish hint bubbled up from within, burning my nose. If I wanted scotch, I’d drink scotch. I wasn’t expecting it in a barley beverage. My brother noted that it had a licorice taste to it. In summary, not recommended. Too bad, though, the rest of their beers seem delicious.

SBS Imports Batemans Mr. George’s Ruby Porter

SBS Imports is a Seattle-based beer/cider import company that’s been in business since 2003. Among their wares are offerings from a brewery established in England in 1874 by George and Suzanna Bateman. The Ruby Porter we tried was obviously named after the original founder.

It had a very cream-like nose on first whiff. To the taste, it started off thick and malty but ended on a crisp – almost pilsner-y – finish. I wondered what it would be like at a UK-like room temperature draft serving. Overall, not bad.

Spaten West Munich Dunkel

I’m sure many (all two of you) who read this have heard of Spaten. Anyone with a fair share of German restaurant or Oktoberfest badges earned have at least seen the brand somewhere. From humble beginnings 600+ years ago to the veritable beerhemoth it is today, it’s contribution to the world of “Weisse” cannot be ignored.

My brother chose to sample this Dunkel. While usually a stout/porter fan, he actually liked the deep-bodied flavor of a good dunkel. I can hardly blame him. “Dunkel” in German translates to “dark”. The first one I ever tried was on tap – a McMenamins seasonal – and it was exquisite.

This one fell a bit short on the darkness. The liquid was cherry-colored. Initial taste was Bavarian crisp but a bit on the light side. I can’t say it was bad, but it fell short by Dunkel standards.

Arko Black Boss

Yet another Baltic porter from Arko and Poland. This one had a weird nose to it – liquor-like, even. I also noted that in the taste. On the tongue it was reminiscent of one of those vodka-filled, dark chocolate candies you give to family members during the Holidays. Odd, but I liked the effect.

Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti

The name on this fascinated, for the last time I tried something called “Yeti”, it was a pale lager from India. It was recommended by an in-law, and I regretted it. Great Divide is a brewery out of Denver, Colorado. I want to say I’ve tried their Titan IPA before, but I can’t remember. Some beer-ish experiences have hazed together over time.

Their Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti is a new twist on their stout mainstay – aptly entitled, “Yeti”. Cocoa nibs and cayenne pepper were added to the recipe to bring out some extra kick. And kick it did a little. It had an ordinary carbonated beer nose that didn’t betray what lay beneath. Taste-wise, it was woodsy, bitter, not all that chocolaty, but *damn* thick. In short, loved it.

Caldera Rose Petal Imperial Golden Ale

Caldera is one of two breweries in Ashland, Oregon that I know about. The first being Standing Stone. Before now, I hadn’t sampled any of their brews. Their Rose Petal Imperial Golden appealed to me just by the main ingredient. I’ve imbibed my fair share of rose-flavored teas. This made me wonder if they could steep well in a bubbly beer.

Alas, that wasn’t much the case here. It barely had a scent that might have been floral but very light. To the palate, it had a rosy aspect on aftertaste, but I had to try really hard to spot it while swishing it around in my mouth. Other than that, it stuck to it’s original namesake as a golden ale and didn’t deviate much from that. Good but not through rose-colored eyes.

Merchant du Vin Westmalle Trappist Tripel

This Trappist beer caught the imagination of my brother. Apparently, this is a beer brewed by a Catholic order of monks called the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or Trappists. Of the 147 monasteries of the order in the world, only seven produce beer; six in Belgium, one in the Netherlands. This was a Belgian one.

This was also a two-token sampler, but my brother went for it anyway.

The first thing he noticed was that it seemed to have “stuff” floating around in it. He first thought this was beer rot. After a complimentary refill, he gave it another shot. And liked it. I, then, gave it a go. It had a typical pale ale scent; fresh and clean, not unlike an Outkast song. To the taste – while on the forefront, fairly typical of a Belgian-styled ale – it had a completely wonderful, sweet finish.

We fell in love with it.

Sierra Nevada Brewery 200*8* Bigfoot Barleywine

You – fair reader – might be wondering why I put little doohickeys around the “8”. There’s a reason for it. Allow me to explain:

I never thought much of Sierra Nevada Brewing. Their pale ale always tasted, well, pale. It reminded me of college, cheap and wasted. One time while on my way to visit family in NorCal, I was almost tempted to stop at the brewery. However, that would’ve meant spending more than five minutes in Chico.

Uh…no.

If I had known a barleywine had been produced there, I probably could’ve made at least a four-minute pit-stop and justified it. Originally, in our handy-dandy beer guide for the ‘fest, the Bigfoot Barleywine was listed as a 2009 vintage. The volunteer corrected me as I was having it poured. It was actually a 2008 varietal. I’d never imbibed a two-year-old barleywine. Score!

This had a frothy nose on initial spashdown, a wonderfully balanced hop taste, and a surprisingly smooth aftertaste. I even handed off to my brother – an “un”-fan of barleys as a general rule – and he greatly approved, noting that it reminded him of a double IPA. I wouldn’t tarnish it’s type with that title, but I can see how that comparison could be made. This was the best barleywine of the brewfest. Er…not that I tried that many.

21st Amendment Brewery Hell or High Watermelon Wheat

Originally, I intended to try 21st Amendment’s Double Trouble IPA. I searched high and low for the damn beer, but it was nowhere to be found. A volunteer later informed me that they ran out of the stuff on the first day, replacing it with some golden ale. This upset me a smidge.

Luckily, they had a uniquely-named, oddly-flavored wheat that begged to be imbibed, a watermelon wheat. While weisses are a hit-or-miss affair with me, there are a few that catch my fancy. Usually, there’s something unique about the recipe. Sometimes it’s the addition of oranges, others, maybe a type of flower. In this case, it was a rather large, unassuming green fruit.

As a sidenote, I should point out that whoever the volunteer was that poured me this…well…she was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Red hair, green eyes, devilish smirk. I even sputtered out, “By the way, this isn’t a drunk statement, but I love your hair.”

Oh yeah, I’m that smooth.

But I digress. This wheat had a very strong watermelon taste with a smooth “weissbier” after-whip. I approved.

Yet another sidenote. My brother and I racked our brains trying to figure out what the 21st Amendment was. It wasn’t until we got home, and learned it was the repeal of Prohibition, that we felt like idiots.

Spaten West Franziskaner Dunkel-Weisse

Yep, yet another Dunkel from Spaten. This time it was a Bavarian dark wheat. I really don’t have a lot to add her other than to say it was good, sharp and dark. No superlatives necessary. Moving on.

Laurelwood Brewery Olde Reliable

I’ve frequented the Laurelwood Public House on a few occasions in Northwest Portland. It’s been a good couple of years since I visited there last, but I don’t ever recall them having a barleywine. Or…maybe I did try it and I forgot. Beer does have that effect.

I had a bit of an altercation with the volunteer who was serving this. He asked for my beer token, and I thought I already gave it to him. Little did I know that I was still holding onto the darn thing. I apologized profusely. But on to the barley…

This had a slightly humble but barley-rich nose and a thick, copper color. On the flavor-front, it was a hopslosion of taste, almost too much. Luckily it settled on the palate eventually. Just in time for me to recover and notice a girl in a lime green, sci-fi-esque jumpsuit stroll by. Perfect.

Skelton Brothers Kulmbacher EKU Pils

Initially, when I went to try this, I thought I was going for the the Kulmbacher Schwarzbier. I read that it was another type of German dark – like the Dunkel – only more thick. Somehow, I ended up requesting the EKU Pils instead. I “think” I changed my mind at the last minute to give pilsner another shot (having never been my favorite). However, keep in mind, I was about two pints in of 8%-or-higher beers. Details were hazy. I thought this was the Schwarzbier I originally asked for.

Not the case, it was the pils. And I hated it. Glad to be reminded of that…after the use of a valuable token.

Old Lomboc Proletariat Red

A couple of friends of mine arrived at the festival two hours after my brother and I. They chose to play a wee trick on me on arrival. The female of their group grabbed me from behind and cooed, “Hey sexy.”

I knew this couldn’t be an actual person, and responded with, “Oh, hi [insert name here].” Mouth in mid-sip. I was un-phased by un-truths.

One of the beers said female tried was the Old Lomboc Proletariat Red. Said brewery was situated in the Pearl District of Portland, and I visited once with my stepdad. I remember liking their beers, but I didn’t recall the Proletariat. I asked for a sip. It possessed the usual sharp amber taste…and for some reason, I wrote the word “bubbles” down in my notebook. No idea why.

Almar Orchards J.K.’s Scrumpy Organic Cider

When I originally went up to try this, I couldn’t find it. Little did I know that I hadn’t looked at the name close enough. By the time I finally found it, I was let down to see that it cost two tokens. I had hoped it was only one, for I only had a sole one left at that point. One of the friends that arrived sung its praises and tossed me an extra token.

And, boy, he was right. Like a hard cider should be, it was heavy on the apple flavor. No acidity with a bit of a honey-ish note at the end. I was floored. (No, not literally.) It was worth the two tokens.

Double Mountain Brewery Devil’s Kriek

Double Mountain is a brewery I visited with my stepdad on an excursion to Hood River. The small-ish, waterfront town boasts three breweries – two micro, one macro (Full Sail). Double Mountain was right across from the macro. When we stopped through, they were still in the process of opening up for business. The main bar wasn’t even complete yet. But they were still serving beer, so we didn’t care.

Among the best (and strongest) we tried was Devil’s Kriek, a 9% berry beast of a beer. Purple in color, sour to the palate, but divinely presented.

I related this story to my brother, and he instantly wanted to try it. I took a sip for good measure, hoping it was the same beer I remembered. (Memory was hazy from that trip, yadda-yadda.) And, oh yes, it was. He liked it, and I liked recalling it.

Beers I “Think” I Tried…But Forgot to Take Notes For

Perusing my old notes, I found mention of Hopworks’ Bourbon Barrel Mystery Beer. I wrote down the name, but had no written information on it. I can only conclude that I tried it, but I’m not certain if I liked it or not. Secondly, I noticed scribbles of Wandering Aengus’s Anthum Cherry Cider. I believe this was one a friend of mine token’d, and I mooched a sip of it. All I wrote for it was, “It tastes like cherries.” Hardly a detailed description.

For a beerfest outing, this was perhaps my most responsible. I ventured (and adventured) in a well-mannered fashion, sampled many a libation, and maintained my wits…for the most part. Strong, though the ales were, I only poured two-ish pints worth down my throat. When I returned home, I slumbered. It was the contented nap of a busy brew-taster. A sleep of a thousand hops.

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Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 Beverage Blog 1 Comment

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