Food, Beer, and Travel

a dump from the mind of Jon Piper

Posts Tagged ‘Trappist’

Westvleteren – St. Sixtus

Posted by jwpiper on February 10, 2009

Every trip I take to Belgium involves a stop in Westvleteren at In de Vrede at the very least and a stop St. Sixtusabdij to pickup a couple of cases of the monk’s brew in the best case.

Having successfully transported several cases of the great elixir over the last several years, I figured I’d share my now tried and true method as well as some of the stumbling blocks I’ve met along the way.

First is reserving the beer. The availability of each type of beer is announced on this page. This is a recent addition which augments the old way of calling in and navigating the phone message system to determine the same information. Indeed, even with the phone system, the English translation is a relatively recent and welcome addition. After you’ve determined what beer they’ll have and that you’ll be available to pick it up, you have to call back at the specified time to reserve the beer. The number is on this page. They have one line open between the hours of 09:15-12:00 (which is 03:15-06:00 EST), so it can take several hours or commonly several days to get through. Once you’ve connected, you must give a vehicle registration to associate the order with. More recently, when originally it took pleading and explaining, it has become much easier to just give them a name. Now they even store this information. In fact – the brother in charge of the reservations seems to remember me quite vividly at this point, laughing at me and my antics on my last call.

Once the beer is reserved, you’re given a time slot to pick up the beer. Even if you get through on the first day, a lot of the slots fill up. The system is clearly designed to accommodate locals and not a more broad audience like the beer has attained. Getting to the abbey is also not the easiest thing. For this, I strongly recommend driving. This may be obvious since you’ll be transporting 2-3 cases of beer, but my first visit was via train and taxi/bus. It was a pain and took forever and wouldn’t be easy to get beers back, so I won’t even describe the process. It’s a beautiful country drive whether coming from Lille, France or Brussels or Antwerp. Fitting in some of the picturesque old towns, like Ghent or Brugges is also recommended on the way to or fro. Once you get to the abbey, there’s a circle drive which leads to the building where you can pickup the beer. You give your registration number or your name and phone number and they’ll check their list, give you the beer, and take you inside to pay.

So now you have the beer. The last question is what’s the cheapest, safest, easiest way to get it home? After trying several transport strategies including a suitcase with a specially created foam insert, I’ve settled on Brouwerij Bosteels plastic crates. These will either have Tripel Karmeliet or Kwak labels on them. If you pick them up from a distributor, they’ll run you €2.10, but I’ve also gotten them for free at a supermarket. Other crates will also work, but be sure they’ll fit all the bottles before you risk it. Every neighborhood in Belgium has a day when used cardboard boxes will litter the streets (it’s called garbage day); I like to grab a healthy looking box, buy a box cutter and some tape, and make a top for each of the crates. This approach will also allow you to save some money on the Westvleteren wooden crates which would be entirely useless for safe shipping. These run €9.60, which ends up being more than 20% of the overall cost if you don’t return them.

Flying the beers back can also be an adventure. Give yourself plenty of time to check the beers in. Depending on what airline rep you get, they are fairly likely to have no idea what to do with you, even when you talk them through it because you have much more experience with it than they. They may even be adamant that you can’t fly with the beer. Stick to your guns and wait them out, insisting that they go through the proper channels to find the proper protocols. Now, clearing customs can also be interesting. I always declare the beer and the true value, and that’s never the problem. From experience, I will be taping the whole crate (or at least the holes and labels, so at US customs they won’t wonder about the liquids or amount of beer. Using the uncloaked crates has gotten me two stops at border control and one bottle stolen by a airline baggage person.

So, that’s what I do. It’s not too much of a hassle and if you’ve got the time and will be in or around Belgium anyway, I’d say it’s 100% worth it to pick up some Westvleteren 12 or Westvleteren 8.

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1999 Chimay Blue

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

The beer which I wasn’t going to leave Kulminator without trying was an aged Chimay Blue. I figured 1999 would be just about right – old enough to be one of the older beers I’ve had, but young enough that I shouldn’t tun too much of a risk of it being way over-oxidized. I was looking for something which would allow me to make some generalizations about aged Chimay’s which get some pretty high billing as extremely cellerable beers. As before, it was brought straight from the cellar and poured perfectly into the Chimay glass, leaving a finger of beer left in the bottom with most of the yeast.
Appearance
5
Basically black with a nice off white head which holds well through the session.
Smell
4
A little thin. Smells of cardboard. Some rich fruits. Sweet.
Taste
4.5
Again a little thin. Cardboard yeast dominates. Extremely well balanced flavors. Port flavors, but not too much. Rich fruits: prunes. There’s a lot going on in this beer.
Mouthfeel
4.5
Smooth and mildly tingly.
Drinkability
5
So smooth, well balanced, and alcohol completely hidden.
Overall
4.55
A fine beverage. Might have been a bit over-oxidized for my taste, but still quite good.
Price
€8/33cl or thereabouts. Unfortunately I don’t remember exactly. I’d buy it again, but I prefer the

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2003 Rochefort 10

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

My original plan was to grab just a couple of beers at Kulminator before going for dinner and maybe return afterwards. So, I had to go for something special from the start. Since I’ve always thought Rochefort 10 should age well, I figured I’d give a bottle from 2003 a try. The numbering on the bottle was 281008, which means it was brewed at the end of September in 2003 – more than five years ago. It came to me straight from the cellar and was poured perfectly into an old school Rochefort glass, leaving the last 2 cm in the bottle with the balance of the yeast.
Appearance
4.5
Pours a dark brown with amber highlights, developing a nice tan head which quickly recedes.
Smell
5
Some port qualities – less than expected. Nice rich fruits, like dates. Caramelized sugars.
Taste
4.5
Still has the caramelized sugar backbone. A bit thinner than I expected, but very little alcohol bite. There was minor oxidation. Rich fruits on the palate as suggested by the smell. Some chocolate as well.
Mouthfeel
4.5
Much thinner than I usually prefer for this style, but it is so smooth and the thinness deceptive – as the flavor is by no means thin. Provides a tickle of carbonation.
Drinkability
5
So easy going. A sipper, but not because it couldn’t be consumed faster, but because it’s a precious treat. Very, very easy going down.
Overall
4.65
Delicious – again, not nearly as delicious as Westvleteren 12, particularly with a few years under its belt. Final pour is thick and sludgy. It adds some smoothness and bready notes – quite good. Don’t be worried about mixing this in unless you prefer the appearance of a clean pour.
Price
€6.50/33cl. A no brainer in my mind – or age your own. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever buy enough of this to hold onto for 5 years, so I’d likely go for this again if/when I’m back at Kulminator.

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Rochefort 10

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

To accompany my Coq Spinnekopke at In ‘t Spinnekopke, I chose a bottle of Rochefort 10. Now here’s one beer which I just can’t bring myself to buy in the US. I know I’m in the minority on this, but in my experience this beer doesn’t travel well. I’m not sure how that could be with it being such a big beer, but at $6 a bottle at stores in Ohio, it’s not worth it for what you get. Fresh in Belgium is a completely different story. This is an exceptional beer which is pretty easy to find (and cheap), so I’ve had quite a few of these when I’m overseas.
Appearance
5
Thick, rich, dark brown color with perfectly lacing off white head.
Smell
4
The smell is caramel, candied sugar and dish soap (I suppose that means bright, fruity smells). It richens as it’s consumed – more caramel and some fruity smells.
Taste
4.5
Reminiscent of Gouden Carolus Noël or a La Trappe Quad without metallic or burnt sugar flavors. Very much caramelized sugars with some chocolate, rich fruits, and a nice bittersweet finish. To compare with another quad: not nearly as complex as Westvleteren 12.
Mouthfeel
4.5
Carbonated and smooth. Not cloying or heavy, but rich.
Drinkability
4
Perhaps too sweet to be extremely drinkable. Hides ABV very, very well, though. A sipper, largely because of the sweetness.
Overall
4.45
An excellent beer. Much better in near the source than in the US.
Price
Not sure what this ran at the restaurant, but in Ohio it’s usually $6/330ml.

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La Trappe Quadrupel 2002

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

After my surprisingly pleasant experience with a fresh La Trappe Quad, when I saw an aged bottle at ‘t Arendsnest Nederlands Biercafe, I had to give it a try. The bartender went through a door in the back of the bar and down some stairs for a few minutes, ascending with the bottle of La Trappe Quad bottled in late 2002 in hand. The 6.5 year old beer was poured at cellar temperature (about 55 to 60 degrees) into a La Trappe chalice leaving a couple of cm at the bottom of the bottle with most of the yeast.
Appearance
4.5
As compared to the fresh bottle, it’s thicker, cloudier, and richer in appearance. A nice head developed (it truly was a perfect pour complements of the bartender). Perfect lacing on the glass with each sip.
Smell
4.5
Port all over the place. Prunes and raisins. After tasting, an underpinning of cardboard emerged in the nose – in a good way.
Taste
4
Sweet prunes and raisins. Rich. Yeasty in that cardboardish way. Still a bit metallic. The apples have gone, which is something of a detractor, but I don’t miss the sourness much, just the extra layer of flavor. There are plenty of layers to replace it though. The finish falls a touch flat. Not as sugary sweet, there is a port sweetness instead. The finish is more attenuated. A yeasty finish with still some bitter notes. This becomes dominant about halfway through.
Mouthfeel
4.5
Smooth and rich without being cloying. Plenty of carbonation. Wonderful. A bit drier than the fresh bottle.
Drinkability
4.5
Goes down smoother because of the smoothness. The richness makes it more inviting.
Overall
4.3
I find this beer to be quite interesting. There was no difference except appearance between the first and second yeasty pour. I wonder if it was disturbed on the bartenders climb up the stairs or if the yeast doesn’t stick to the bottom even during a perfect pour. The beer was overall better than the fresh bottle, but I did miss the candied sugar and sour apples.
Price
€7/33cl, I believe. Definitely worth it to try from time to time.

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La Trappe Quadrupel

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

I’ve had and not really enjoyed La Trappe Quad in the US. From all the praise it gets and the fact that I was in the country in which it is produced, I figured I ought to give it a try. Not to mention that it was the cheapest beer on the menu at In de Wildeman. When I ordered it, I had the choice to get it from the cooler or the shelf at room temperature. I, of course, selected the latter which was about 65 degrees.
Appearance
4
A thinner looking, clear, amber quad with a tall white head after being poured from a 33cl bottle into the brewery glass.
Smell
4.5
Candied sugar, raisins, toffee, and green apples fill the nose.
Taste
4
All the smells are replicated in the flavor as well – jumping off the tongue from the get go. Just a tinge metallic. Lots of apples in the middle and heavy on the candied sugar. Also some burnt sugar from the middle through the finish. Minor bitterness in the finish for balance.
Mouthfeel
4
Smooth, but a bit thinner than I’d like in a quad. Not sticky or cloying despite the high level of sweetness.
Drinkability
4
A but to sweet and the the burnt and candied sugar flavors build more than anything else. Reminds me a bit of Gouden Carolus Noël in that way, but much more multi-faceted.
Overall
4.1
Much better than in the US. I’m actually rather impressed and will have to get this again when I’m in Belgium/Holland in the future. It is reminiscent of Westmalle Dubbel with lots of candied sugar.
Price
€3.50/33cl, I think. It was less than €4, unlike the Belgian beers on the menu which were generally €4 and up. It was the best deal on the bottle menu and very worth it at this price.

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Westmalle Dubbel

Posted by jwpiper on January 10, 2009

I’ve enjoyed plenty Wesmalle Dubbels in and around Belgium. It’s a wonderful complement to many meals and its pervasive availability make it a good stand-by. I’ve been told that asking for a Trappist bier without further specification will produce a Westmalle Dubbel.

The versatility of this beer demands having some on hand, and if it’s not too rich for your blood, it makes an excellent cooking beer – for example in this recipe for Carbonnades Flamandes.

Matt C. and I split a 33cl bottle between two Westmalle glasses at cellar temperature. It opens with a forceful hiss – indicating its desire to get out of the bottle and into my glass. The bubbles which spill out if not poured within moments of opening convince me of the need to oblige.

Appearance
4
Tootsie roll brown with some amber notes and a substantial off-white head which turns to lace.
Smell
4.5
The smell is apples, apples, apples: green, fresh, and sour. Also, a sweet biscuity yeast is present. Delicious.
Taste
4
First is that green apple, though less sour than on the nose. Then there are sweet malts, and it’s complex with an almost nuttiness and yeasty goodness. Very interesting and impeccably balanced. Just a touch of bitterness carries more green apples through the finish. The final finish is bready yeast.
Mouthfeel
4
Medium-bodied, dryish, airy, and effervescent. A very nice clean feel.
Drinkability
4.5
It is the easiest Trappist to drink. Well, maybe the Westvleteren Blonde, but that’s tough to compare given the lack of availability.
Overall
4.15
An incredible, perfectly balanced, versatile beer. I love this offering from Westmalle.
Price
$4.65/330ml. That’s the US price. I’ve been able to find it at $3.55CAD in Ontario. At the US price, it’s tough to justify to be honest. But at the Canadian price, it’s tough not to.

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Fresh Westvleteren 12 vs. Aged Westvleteren 8

Posted by jwpiper on January 3, 2009

There’s something about the most excellent of beers which makes the memory of every other beer you’ve experienced up to that moment fade. For me, those excellent beers include Alesmith Speedway Stout, Thomas Hardy’s Ale with some age, Westvleteren 12, and Westvleteren 8 with some age, to name a few. That moment becomes a singularity – as if nothing like it happened before or since.

I have a decent stash of 2-3 year old Westvleteren 8 which I open only on special occasions – though sometimes the occasion is only made special by the opening of one of these bottles. A few months ago, I returned from Belgium with a set of fresh Westvleteren 12. A series of innocent events (described along with reviews, here: Westvleteren 8 and here: Westvleteren 12) drove me to perform the comparison of these two beers which I intended those months ago.

Objectively, I recognize the incongruity of the times I’ve had that moment with Westvleteren 8 at my home and the singularities I’ve experienced with Westvleteren 12 at In de Vrede over the past 2 years. As an aesthete, this contradiction doesn’t bother me; indeed I revel in it. However, some (I concede the possibility that this group includes only myself) might call me hyper-rational. The scientist in me could not abide the inconsistency and savored the possibility of so worthy an experiment. To be fair, at the first sip the aesthete savored it as well.

While the comparison will never fade from memory, I fear I may have robbed myself of the deliciously contradictory singularities which could have continued in each new experience with either exemplary beer. I do relish in the still unanswered question, “At what point, if any, will an aged Westvleteren 8 surpass a fresh Westvleteren 12?” In the meantime, I can only hope, and indeed suspect, that these divine Trappist brews will continue to transcend reason and recollection to demand the title, “Best Beer in the World” in that moment.

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Westvleteren 12

Posted by jwpiper on January 1, 2009

Out comes the Westvleteren 12 after hearing its named maligned in my previous post, Westvleteren 8. Same procedure as the 8, a 330ml bottle at cellar temperature split between Westvleteren chalice glasses. The date printed clearly on the bottle is 13.08.11, which corresponds to a dramatic pickup on one of my last visits to Belgium. Being only 4 months old, I’ll call this one relatively fresh.

Appearance
5
A more vigorous head builds upon pouring – about 2.5cm after pouring half a bottle. The head is slightly more tan than the 8. The beer color is also darker brown, but with caramel-amber notes around the edges.
Smell
5
The smell is dramatically different than the 8. Much, much more rich fruity aromas with caramel undertones. I also get some cherries and pears. Amazing.
Taste
5
Wow – the debate is settled. They are different beers, but fresh Westvleteren 12 is better and much more complex than 2 year old Westvleteren 8. There is so much going on here, much of which I doubt I can identify. Again, figs and raisins; caramel and dark sugars. A hint of chocolate in the finish. Much more hops than in the 8 with a flowery sweet profile. The bitterness is there in the perfect amount to balance the powerful malts. The finish also carries yeasty notes that are hard to name with everything else that’s going on. The flavor lasts for about 20-30 minutes after the last sip.
Mouthfeel
5
Very smooth and silky feel. The carbonation is incredibly soft, but present. My wife calls is velvety. This is a pinnacle and makes all other 5’s I’ve given seem like 4.5’s for the moment. There is an alcohol warmth on the palate which the breath carries if it’s been a while since the last sip, but this is dominated with the complex flavors.
Drinkability
5
This beer is even easier to drink than the 8. I’ve sat at In de Vrede for hours enjoying this brew, entirely paralyzed from ordering the blond or the 8.
Overall
5
So, if the 8 is incredible, it’s tough to conjure to a word for this beer. Definitely the best beer I’ve ever had. I wanted it to be hype the first time I went, but this beer has a way of surprising me with how good it is every time I drink it. One of the most transcendent of man’s concoctions.
Price
€36/24-bottle case (€1.5/330ml) + travel to and from the abbey and the pain and hassle of checking a couple of cases. An incredible value if you’re in Belgium.

For the record, this is the first beer I’ve given all 5/5 ratings. And this is after 3 years of drinking the beer – not a fluke and not hype as far as I’m concerned.

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Westvleteren 8

Posted by jwpiper on January 1, 2009

Now, had I been smart about this, I would have recorded an independent review each time I drank this beer from purchase time on, but I wasn’t. I was inspired by a Trappist Dubbel (Westmalle and Westvleteren) tasting we had at the Pirozzi’s last night. I only got a few sips of the Westy 8, and it left me yearning for more. And since I’ve never recorded a complete review for this beer, I thought I should remedy that. My wife and I will share a 330ml bottle just below cellar temperature split between Westvleteren chalice glasses. The cap indicates, with a faded 20.12.09, that it’s just over 2 years old.

Appearance
5
Not 100% opaque dark brown pour with a hint of caramel and amber. 165ml pour builds a 1.5cm head which turns to the prototypical lace. Each sip leaves some lace on the back of the glass – playing with which is half the fun of drinking these beers… ok, maybe not.
Smell
5
Smells like caramel and mollasses, and raisins, and dates, and figs. Very rich aroma which invites you to take a sip. A swirl generates mustier and yeasty smells.
Taste
4.5
The taste is incredible. A very powerful combination of the smell. The yeast is more prominent on the flavor profile than the aroma and contributes sweet biscuity flavors. This is definitely a rich, sweet beer, but there is just a hint of bitterness which balances. At times there’s just a hint of alcohol warmth. Further into the glass, the hops come forward and carry some acidic flavors which adds to the complexity of this offering. The finish carries all the flavors: rich, sweet, tart, and yeasty. Last night, when drinking this immediately after Westmalle Dubbel, I was ready to give this a 5, but tonight with more focus and a cleaner palate, I’m pinning it at a 4.5 – closer to a 4.75. Many times when drinking this beer with a year or more of age on it, I thought it has to be better than Westveleteren 12. Tonight, I can imagine otherwise. The flavors are not as rich, dark fruity, sweet, or chocolatey.
Mouthfeel
5
The mouthfeel is perfect – smooth, effervescent, still quite carbonated, thick but not sticky.
Drinkability
5
I could drink this non-stop. Less alcohol than the Westvleteren 12, and as such easier drinking. Not quite as inviting as the 12, but this is a sipper which keeps me sipping. Again, this is one of those beers which you sip out of respect not necessity.
Overall
4.8
Umm, incredible. Thinner than the 12. More complex than I remember a fresh 8 being.
Price
€30/24-bottle case (€1.25/330ml) + travel to and from the abbey and the pain and hassle of checking a couple of cases. A definite value.

We’ll see if a 12 pops out of the cellar for a comparison. To end my internal debate once and for all: is an aged Westvleteren 8 better than a fresh Westvleteren 12?

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