Tasting: September 29, 2011
Beer has been brewed in monasteries since the middle ages. That along with making cheese and other products has been a way for monasteries to be self sufficient — funding the infrastructure and charitable ventures of the religious order. Iâ€™m not sure how church and beer became connected â€“ I had heard once that beer acted as a fasting substitute for bread and water â€“ since they share 3 main ingredients (water, grain and yeast). I canâ€™t confirm that, so Iâ€™ll just leave it as a money generating venture.
Today in beer aisles you will see phrases like â€œTrappistâ€ or â€œAbbeyâ€ tossed around and itâ€™s worthy to note the difference. Trappist monks of the Cistercian order originated in LaTrappe, France. It wasnâ€™t until 1997, that an alliance of Trappist breweries established the designation of â€œTrappist” to relay a quality assurance to consumers. This label tells consumers that beer carrying the Trappist seal must be brewed within the walls of the monastery either by the monks or under the direction of the monks. It also says that the beer brewed does not generate a profit. So, if you want to fund the works of the order â€“ enjoy some ales made by the seven main Trappist labels â€“ Achel, Chimay, LaTrappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren. There are other Trappist orders that brew beer — but don’t have breweries (as of yet). The term â€œabbeyâ€ might conjure up images of monks brewing under a vow of silence â€“ but in fact itâ€™s just a term that is used for beers that mimic monastic style beer. It may be brewed by monks or other religious order â€“ but more than likely it isnâ€™t.
This one is from Rochefort — a brewery located in the Abbey of Notre Dame de Saint Remy near the town of Rochefort, Belgium. This brewery is operated by about a dozen or more monks. The brewery is not open to the public nor does it do tours, so little is known about their operation. Monks do not feel the pressure to increase production to meet demand, so it’s not uncommon for steep prices for Trappist beer and for $6 for an 11 ounce bottle, they should be able to easily fund their projects — maybe they need a new jet.
The monks make three main ales — Rochefort 6, Rochefort 8 and Rochefort 10. Each increase in number represents a stronger ale (7.5%, 9.2% and 11.3% ABV respectively) Rochefort 8 is the most common of the three. Rochefort 6 is the rarest of this brewery’s production. It is reported that Rochefort 6 makes up only 1% of the breweries total output.
This one pours a dark brown with a fizzy and rapidly declining head. It does settling into this very attractive “rolling boil” looking head. Caramel on the nose can definitely pick up the alcohol. First sip is very astringent and fizzy. Carbonation is kind of impeding by tastebuds. You must let this sit and calm for quite some time. I do get big in the way of figs and grapes. Alcohol warming comes in later. The monks are known for their own proprietory strains of yeast and these yeast release all sorts of fruit comparisons and is the “star of the show” when it comes to their ales.
I’ll admit, in pecking order Belgian ales fall far behind IPA and Stouts in my book. I’ll have to say that initial fizziness interfered enough with my early impressions enough to knock it down a few pegs, but this one was enjoyable. I can’t say I’ll go as ape as others do — but this one is about 86 points for me.