Tag Archive: Trappist Beers


Chimay: Blue (Belgium: Belgium Strong Ale: 9% ABV)

Visual: Dark caramel brown. Slightly creamy inch of browned head that leaves lace.

Nose: Walnuts. Brown sugar. Crushed coffee granules. Yeastie touch. Puff crisps. Slightly creamy at times, slightly dry at others. Cinnamon touch. Orange skin.

Body: Bitter chocolate to malt chocolate. Bitter, just slightly milky coffee. Yeastie feel. Walnuts. Peppery. Quite savoury. Cashews. Slight mature cheese. Brown sugar. Lightly bitter.

Finish: Cashew nuts. Malt chocolate. Walnuts. Lightly bitter. Slight mature cheese. Generally nutty. Peppery. Mild Palma Violets.

Conclusion: This is both smother than I remember, yet also showing the nicer rough edges of the style that come out of my favourite Belgian Trappist beers. It really eschews the sweeter side of the trappist beers, it is not heavily bitter, but much more savoury – nutty, often in a cashew style way.

There is a chocolate character, but it is in a more malt chocolate drink kind of way, which again leans away from the sweetness, this mixes with a milky, lightly bitter coffee style to really emphasise the point. The beer is smooth in feel, slightly funky but not heavily so, slightly peppery, and it has all the rougher Belgian beer edges coming from the flavours rather than any harsh alcohol or imperfections in the brewing.

Any sweetness used is subtle, even the brown sugar notes feel restrained, behind a more prevalent savoury, nutty character. Savoury really does seem to be the word of the say here – from the nuttiness, to the unflavoured puffy crisps, to a very mild amount of mature cheese, it feels restrained in style, but powerful in the weight of character. It underlines this with moderate but well managed peppery character and bitterness.

There is a lovely feel backing this, a gentle yeastie funkiness giving a bit more character to the mouthfeel and a lot to feel, taste and examine.

This was my first Trappist and still great. I have had better since, but I am never going to shun this one. It is high quality, restrained in showiness, but big in flavour. Delicious.

Background: As mentioned in the main notes this was the first Trappist beer I ever tried, found it in York while drinking with a mate. I had been getting into German Weisse beers, and was intrigued to find something different and new to me from Belgium.They had red, white and blue, and with me being young, I went with this, because this was the one with the highest abv. Hey I never claimed young me was smart. Or current me. There are more Trappist breweries around than there were back in those days, when there were only seven recognised Trappist breweries (or maybe six at the time, it may have been during the time when Le Trappe were temporarily not recognised). I once had nearly tried all the Trappist beers that existed. Nowhere near any more. Anyway, this was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Laura Jane Grace’s Stay Alive.

Trappistes Rochefort: Tripel Extra (Belgium: Tripel: 8.1% ABV)


Visual: Hazy lemon juice colour. Evident sediment in the body and a moderate sized white tight bubbled head.

Nose: Slight lemon. Bready hop bitterness. Dry. White pepper.

Body: Sherbety mouthfeel initially. Dry attenuated character later. Naan bread. Lemon sherbet. Cheese puff crisps. White pepper. Slight mature cheddar. Lemon juice.

Finish: Moderate bitterness. Moderate yeastie funk. Wotsits crisps. Slight mature Cheddar. White pepper. Dry lemon. Slight sulphur.

Conclusion: Now this is definitely an interesting one. A lot of Tripels go for the sweeter route, with either evident residual sugar, or a smoother malt sweet style.

This says “Fuck that noise”

This is dry, very well attenuated, with lots of flavours that would normally be expressed in a sweeter way instead being so dryly done that they come across almost savoury here.

Yet it also defies the smooth American take on the Abbey Tripel style – it has good levels of bitterness, which is very unexpected, a savoury yeast funk that calls to the rougher edges of some of the best Belgian takes. It has all the polished brewing skilled mixed with a touch of rough gem style you would expect of a Belgian Tripel, just drier.

This slightly different take allows it to play with more unusual flavours. The dry lemon matched with an unleavened bready bitterness for a refreshing yet savoury base – then with white pepper spiciness and subtle mature cheddar notes that give the complexity and challenge. There is a lot more savoury style than you would expect.

So how good is it? Well it may not win a place as a favourite, return to often beer for me, but it 100% got my attention, and with that I enjoyed it more than most other Tripels I have had recently.

It is a challenging one, and doesn’t declare itself as a must have for me as there are just some aspects that don’t quite click – but those are more personal things than signs of its quality, I still dig it, and would still recommend it in general.

A more bitter, more attenuated, more different Tripel. Brilliantly made, just not for everyone nor one for every time.

Still worth trying.

Background: I’ve had a few of these, before doing notes today. This is the first time it poured with the very evident sediment mentioned in the notes. As a huge fan of Rochefort, hearing that they were turning out this – a rare new beer release from them, was very interesting so this was a must grab. So grab it I did, from Independent Spirit. Yes again. Went with Stay Alive by Laura Jane Grace as music while drinking. I’m a big fan of Against Me! So was interested in this solo album. In other thoughts, was nice to have an excuse to break out the Trappist beer glasses again

Westmalle: Extra (Belgium: Belgian Blond Ale: 4.8% ABV)

Visual: Straw coloured, lots of carbonation. Medium sized white bubbled head.

Nose: Hay fields. Lightly earthy. Very crisp. Palma violets. Lightly peppery. Lemon cakes. Doughnut dough.

Body: Good bitterness. Earthy and doughy hop character. Mineral water. Vanilla. Dry fudge. Greenery.

Finish: Good bitterness. Slight granite touch. Mineral water. Lemon cakes. Greenery. Good hop character. Dry honey.

Conclusion:So, this is the for so long hidden Trappist. I will admit this is not like what I expected. For on thing, mineral water like notes? What is up with that?

I guess that that odd character may be part of why this is viewed as the session Trappist beer, so now I just need to work out if that is a good thing or not.

Ok, so let’s warm up gently and start on the more standard side of the beer; The body is gentle in the malt styling with vanilla and dry fudge character. It is nicely attenuated, not too heavy. It is flavoursome but sessionable. A good start.

The hops character is probably the strongest point of the beer. This is heavily hopped for a Belgian beer and done in a crisp way that is very drinkable. Starts out very crisp on the nose, then lightly earthy and peppery. It manages to give a real solid bigger character and a doughy hop feel that adds character and heft without an accompanying weight that would ruin the sessionable character.

There is also some light citrus counterpoints that keep it fresh, but the more bitter hops are what keep my attention.

So after all that, mineral water character. This is very minerally. Initially I disliked it, it felt watery, and intrusive. Now, after a few bottles tried on separate occasions I actually find it interesting. I’m not 100% sold, but the mineral side of it adds flavour and the water side seems less intrusive, which means I am interested enough to grab a few more and see how I find them. It is different, and not unpleasant now.

Right now it is very good, and interesting even if I am not 100% sold on it. Well worth a try to see how it suits you. Probably not the “ultimate Belgian session” in my opinion though. Possibly got hyped up due to how hard it was to get.

Background: Oh this is something I was very excited for. I first heard of this in “100 Belgian Beers To Try Before You Die” Where it is described as “The ultimate Belgian session beer”. At the time it was only available to the monks in the monastery, and occasionally to visitors to the monastery. So, pretty unlikely to get hold of. It only just got a general bottled release so I jumped on that as quick as I darn could. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, my old faithful during lock-down, I drank this while listening to Billy Nomates: No. A quirky, politically active album, which still warms my heart. Worth noting, the 100 beers book lists it as 5.5% abv as opposed to the current 4.8% so it is likely the recipe has changed slightly over the years. Also the book lists it as having “like mineral water” elements, though it seems to view them more favourably than I did.

Chimay Grand Reserve 2016 Viellie En Barriques

Chimay: Grand Reserve 2016: Viellie En Barriques (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 10.5% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Moderate creamy brown coloured small bubbled head.

Nose: Crushed almonds and peanuts. Funky yeast. Popcorn. Dry. Wholemeal bread. Fig rolls. Sour red wine.

Body: Smooth. Carmalised brown sugar. Fig rolls. Plums. Hazelnut liqueur. Vanilla toffee. Lactose. Fizzy and sherbety. Liquorice. Malt chocolate. Gummed brown paper. Raisins and sultanas. Red wine and Madeira.

Finish: Hazelnut liqueur. Cream. Plums. Vanilla toffee. Lightly woody. Gummed brown paper. Slight sulphur and smoke. Brown sugar. Slight funky yeast. Cloves. Cognac.

Conclusion: Chimay blue by itself is a big, rewarding beer. In fact one I really should have done notes for by now. This is bigger, and possibly even more rewarding. At this level of quality it is hard to say.

At its base it is a very familiar, big dark fruit, brown sugar, creamy and malt led drink with obvious Belgian yeast influences. So, at its base still the same dark heavy delight the blue is.

So, what makes this different? Well the ageing has given it smoothness. You still feel the weight that says this is an alcohol heavy drink, but a lot of the rough edges are worn down. Thankfully not completely – it still has enough charming prickly edges to not be mistaken for the (in my opinion) overly smooth American take on the style.

Ageing in the barrels seem to have given it some unusual characteristics to play with. There is a light oaken sour note mixed with malt drinks below that which remind me of a good quality Flemish red. There is also a definite mix of sour red wine and sweet Madeira styling – the second of which I’m guessing may be from the cognac ageing. Maybe. Any which way it works very well backing up the strong dark fruit flavours. The final odd note is a much larger nutty character – generally it stands well, though it is slightly overly dominant in the aroma which gives a weak first impression to what is an excellent beer.

As you can probably guess from the examining above, I am very impressed by this. Very smooth, yet booming in flavour. The only difficulty in detecting new flavours is managing not to get washed away in the flood of what you have already encountered as there is so much going on.

The only real flaw is the nuttiness which can be too present occasionally. Everything else is an excellent Trappist beer carefully nurtured in oak. Slightly less nuttiness would let the other notes roam more, but that is a minor thing.

Suitably subtle Flemish sour ale notes meets Trappist dark ale meets multiple barrel ageing. Not perfect, as said above, but definitely very well done. Wish I had one to age further.

Background: OK, this is a big one, Chimay Blue at the base, aged in a mix of French oak, new chestnut, American oak and new cognac barrels. Fermented in tank, barrel and bottle. It was an expensive one picked up at Independent Spirit, but you don’t see many barrel aged Trappist beers, and I am a huge fan of Chimay – I think the blue was the first Trappist beer I ever had if I remember rightly. There are very few Trappist breweries, and the beer has to me made or overseen by the Trappist monks themselves – so they don’t tend to play with the more new wave brewing tricks, like this. Drunk while listening to a mix of History of Guns tracks on random.

Rochefort 6

Rochefort: 6 (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 7.5% ABV)

Visual: Light cloudy brown with overripe banana skin touches. About a centimetre of white tight bubbled froth for a head.

Nose: Raisins. Wheat. Quite crisp. Brown bread and brown sugar. Fruitcake.

Body: Raisins. Brown bread. Restrained bitterness. Frothy feel. Very smooth. Peppery. Dry and wheat. Malt drinks.

Finish: Some bitterness. Nan bread. Dry feel. light pepper. Slight funky yeast effects.

Conclusion: The restrained Rochefort, welcome back, how are you? Ok, it is only kind of restrained – it is a Rochefort after all. Actually, no, it is pretty restrained all things considered. The heavy intense fruity notes that are so telling of Rochefort have been reined in here – pushing forwards but never really pushing past the background of the beer.

It is instead marked by a quite dry, bready front with a bit of an orval feel to it, albeit with much less funky yeast effects. It is the most sessionable a totally unsessional 7.5% abv beer will get.

Now it is not as strong or as intricate as the eight or ten, but there is something very much moreish about it. The malt base is solid, but restrained, as is the bitterness. There is a lovely frothy front to the mouth feel, smooth, but soon becomes contradictory and drying towards the end into a pepperyness that is by far the longest lasting element. It really does invite another sip.

Quite a few people seen to find this a let down compared to the other two, but for a long while it was actually my favourite Rochefort. Lots of fun, very easy to drink without the boozy alcohol notes of the others. In recent years I will admit I have been taken by the weight of the aged versions of eight and ten, but even now returning to this reminds me what a charmer it is.

If you go in expecting a heavy duty Trappist ale you will be disappointed, but I think this is worth giving a try for something high quality but a bit different from the monks.

Background: You know, I have never done a note on Rochefort 8. I was convinced I had. I thought picking up the six for notes would compete the set, but no. Turns out for all the times I have drunk the eight, I never got around to noting it. Huh. Anyway, Rochefort is my second favourite of the Trappist ales, after Westvleteren. I had found this at Corks of Cotham a while back so grabbed it.

Trappist Logo

Now, one of the things I love about tasting notes and beer reviews is the conversations it starts and where they lead. In this case a conversation that started in The Craft Heads bar in Tokyo. Despite my limited Japanese skills (Seriously, I realized days later that I had used the same completely the wrong word at least six times), I had a very fun chat with a fellow patron in a mix of Japanese, English and mime over some shared Hair Of The Dog beers.

The reason I bring this up is we ha a short debate on what Trappist breweries exist. We both agreed on Achel, Orval, Westmalle, Westvleteren, La Trappe, Chimay and Rochfort. The classics. He mentioned an Austrian Trappist Brewery existed, which I looked up and confirmed as of a year ago Stift Engelszell was approved as a trappist brewery. I have the feeling someone mentioned this a while back and I completely forgot, but I concede he was right about the existence of the eighth brewery and look forwards to trying their products.

The reason I am writing this article however is to ask for assistance on the still disputed point. He mentioned a ninth Trappist brewery – Saint Joseph’s Abbey.

Now there are Saint Joseph beers, most relevant seems to be a Belgium Blonde and Bruin from Lefebvre. However those I would qualify as Abbey Ales as they are not made by trappist monks, but rather by a secular brewing organization that uses the name (see http://www.brasserielefebvre.be/fr/page/3/accueil). It was these beers I initially presumed we were talking about during the discussion.

However he mentioned the Trappist brewery was American so I did some searching and found (http://www.trappist.be/nl/pages/nieuwsbrieven), an announcement of an American monastery be recognized as an authentic Trappist product maker. However they seem only to be recognized for preserves and vestments. I checked their website just in case they had released an update (http://www.spencerabbey.org/work.html) but found similar information there.

So, without further information I presume the Saint Joseph beers to be unrelated to the Trappist Abbey and so Abbey Ales rather than Trappist beers. However I am open to the fact I could be wrong, and since we have a huge amount of beer fans in my audience – Does anyone know about any Trappist Brewery apart from the eight agreed on above? Especially any from Saint Joseph? If you know, e-mail me or drop a comment please.

Oh and if the man I was having this discussion with is reading this, thanks again for helping to make my last day in Japan so much fun and thanks for putting up with my mangled Japanese! かんぱい!

(EDIT: Nearly Forgot: he also mentioned Abdij Maria Toevlucht – I had a look and it seems they are working on a brewery: Trappistenbrouwerij de Kievit: but best I can see it isn’t planned to open until end this year. I shall watch with anticipation to see what happens with that)

(EDIT 2: Bloody Hell: you lot work fast: Just got info by e-mail, apparently Saint Joseph is working on building a Brewery and training up monks to brew. So, if it is completed we may be looking at a new Trappist Brewery in the USA. Thanks to everyone involved in this little information hunt)

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