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Belgian Abbey/Monks Beer

monks beerAbbey Ale, also often called Monks Beer in Europe, describes two different forms of Belgian beer - the first is Trappist Abbey beer, the second is a larger group including beer brewed by Trappists, beers brewed at other monasteries or beers brewed in circumstances or according to recipes that mimic the production of beer in monastery settings.

Trappist Beer

In 1997 six Trappist abbeys in Belgium: Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel, one in the Netherlands Koningshoeven and a final one in Germany Mariawald, came together to create the International Trappist Association (ITA). The ITA works to stop non-Trappist organisations using the Trappist name to sell non-Trappist goods.

For a beer to be Trappist beer it needs to have been:

  • brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks
  • brewed to create a beer that is sold to assist the community not to create financial profit.

In other words, Trappist beer is much more like an appellation contrôlée - the designation that says something is genuine if it is created in a certain place and in a certain way. Chimay Red Trappist is a perfect example of a Trappist beer with the rich resonances of monastery-brewed beer and the profits going back to good causes.

Monks Beer

The Abbey Ale or Monks Beer label is much more of a ‘style’ of brewing than an appellation contrôlée - it can be used to refer both to Trappist beers, to beers brewed at (or by) other monasteries or beers brewed to approximate beers created in an abbey.  These are the most common forms of Monks Beer:

Dubbel

Dubbel (also called brune) is a brown ale. Called dubble - double - because they were originally brewed to be twice as strong as the standard abbey beer they are often malty, medium to heavy in their weight and very carbonated (fizzy) with a thick, dense head. An Affligem Dubbel is a caramel coloured ale that offers a first note that is highly fruity off a very high head. The first taste then deepens into sweet, slightly woody, aftertaste.

Tripel

Originally developed by Westvleteren, these ales are lighter in colour than a dubbel, strong and hop-flavoured rather than malt-flavoured. Alcohol levels are increased by adding sugar and then the beer is hopped to give it balance. Again, very effervescent, but much dryer in after-taste than a dubbel, the tripel often has fruity and spicy top notes. A Grimbergen Tripel, now brewed by Heineken under licence, offers a great hop/malt balance with wonderful light spicy top notes.

Quadrupel

Quadrupel (also known as Grand Cru) is the highest alcohol content of the Monks Beers. It has a less clearly defined taste and content with a wider range of taste but can generally be said to have the dense body of a dubbel with an even deeper colouration. The flavour will be complex but is highly varied from brewer to brewer, ranging from a malty form close to a dubbel, through to a hoppy/fruity form like a tripel (but far deeper in hue) and, very commonly, a spicy rich taste that is particularly popular in the winter months. Augustun Grand Cru is a fine example.

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