14 October, 2008

Sometimes you feel like a monk...maybe that's just me.

I feel rather like reviewing tonight, so I set myself to the task somberly in pensive silence. Rather like a monk, come to think of it. That's it! I'll review a Trappist beer tonight for the enjoyment of all.

True Trappist products are surprisingly easy to find in any self-respecting beer serving establishment, so as I cross the threshold of my local haunt the image in my mind of the libation that shall soon quench my privation of refreshment is poignant and taunting. That was overly complex, but I taste no simple malt-water tonight.

Trappistes Rochefort '10.' A Belgian Quadruple or "Quad," this is an example of the high-test brew that the Trappists Abbeys produce. Dark and rich, complex and subtle--I can hardly stand the wait.

Trappist Abbeys are interesting--rather, of the 170 or so abbeys that exist in the world, the seven that produce beer commercially are of particular interest. All but one reside in Belgium. The Trappists themselves sprung from the Cistercian monastic order in the mid 1600's when the Abbot in La Trappe, France founded an offshoot order because the Cistercians were becoming "too liberal." Interesting parallels to the past are to be found everywhere, it seems. Thus, strict observance was born in the new Trappist order--where only water was to be drunk.

Time will heal all wounds, they say, and so some years later in the 19th century the Trappists began brewing beer. One of the rules of the order maintains that the monasteries must be self-sustaining--why not supply the masses with the deliscious and restorative ales they so strongly desire?

The brewing system that became typical of these monasteries is to produces several types of beer under the labes 'Enkel,' 'Dubbel,' 'Tripel,' and 'Quadrupel.' These rankings were formerly distinguished only by the color of the bottlecap or container as bottles were unlabeled at the time. These names or a system of numbers described the relative strength of the beers, Enkel or single being the weakest, Quadrupel of course being the strongest. The monks themselves would generally consume a hearty, but very low alcohol brew to sustain them during their fasts.

Enough of history, though, I came here with a purpose. Rochefort '10,' as I said, is in the Quadrupel style, weighing in at an impressive 11.3% ABV. You would hardly notice by the taste however, so consume responsibly.

The beer pours a very dark brown, appearing almost opaque with a full pour into a deep chalice. A full finger of creamy light-tan head rests atop for a few minutes before subsiding to a thin layer that leaves consistent lacing all the way to the bottom. The nose on this beer is surprisingly mild, yet subtly screams of complexity. I don't have dates very often, but that rich smell comes right up front, gently but distinctly saying, "how 'bout this Friday?" There is a lot of fruit in this beer, bringing immediately to mind a full-bodied wine. Dark odors drift inside the rim of my glass: grapes, raisins, berries--you name it and it's there, all with a sugary alcohol and roast just behind it.

The first sip is full of flavor, but this isn't the kind of beer that coats your mouth and leaves you wondering how long it will be until you can handle another drink. The malts are right there to be had, with sweet and caramelly flavors that come across as smooth as melted vanilla ice cream. The alcohol is soft and is understood more than it is tasted. The warmth that half a glass of this beer brings is second only to that brought by a full glass. I can't call this dry, but neither does it linger overlong and leave you unrefreshed. It's almost foamy, but so gently you're not sure. Remember how a saison feels like if fizzes up as soon as it hits the tongue? Nothing like that.

Served not-too-cold poured from a bottle, this beer was perfect. Even as it warmed, the character and flavor did not change much, only my reasoning capacity. Look for the blue cap and the number 10, and you will not be disappointed.

Enjoy yourselves. 10 days and counting!


spencer said...

Cassady, you are surely destined to be one of this century's greatest beer critics! A tour de force!

higgy said...

Good Lord - reading that made me wish I lived somewhere with delicious, reasonably priced, and easily available beer! Monk's Cafe downtown (http://www.monkscafe.com/body.cfm?nav=beers&data=beers) seems to have something of the Trappist variety on tap, but you have to be willing to pay $10+ per pint.