Sunday, 10 June 2012

Mondial Beer Review #1: Trappists, Abbeys, and the Belgian Inspiration

As a slight disclaimer before kicking into my series of five beer review posts from Mondial, I should say that I will slightly lump together some similar, but different beer styles to review a few together and note the best of the bunch first in their respective categories.  Sometimes these categories will be a bit catch-all and slightly unfair but will help organize things.


I'll also note that, when accompanied by some assistants on Saturday (thanks to Hec and Hec!), I tasted a few beers more than once and was reminded of the differences from day to day in what appeals.  These, as always are according to my palate on a given day and are of course personal, but also hopefully helpful!  Unfortunately, I only tasted 55 new beers at the event and cannot compare all of them, but of those, here begins a barrage of posts!


On the Belgian beer trail, I'll be including not only true Belgian beers, but beer styles associated with Belgium.  I have categorized these as 1) Dubbels; 2) Tripels; 3) Quads; 4) Saisons; and 5) Belgian Pale Ales.  Next, I will do a post on Pale Ales/IPAs/Old/Vintage/Scotch Ales/Barley Wines/Browns and Reds.  The next post will cover Stouts, Porters, and variations therein.  The fourth post will review my tasted Wheat beers and Lagers, and finally I will post on various sours and oddities.


Dubbels:


Having staggered upon a few desired dubbels that were sold out, I did manage to have two long-awaited Trappist offerings narrowing my list of untasted Trappist beers to just the Westvleteren ones and Achel's quad, but Westmalle and Achel's dubbels were worth their high ticket price at the event.


Personal Best of the Fest: Trappist Achel 8 Brune (8% ABV) is simply stellar.  Plummy aromas greet the nose alongside faint hints of figs and dark bread and an even fainter note of floral hops esters.  This presented a thick, creamy, yet smooth head of fine carbonation with excellent lacing and retention.  It is, indeed, best described as brown, though since (both of my) samples came from the top of a new bottle, no yeasty cloudiness was discernible.  Flavorwise, it is sweeter even than anticipated, not so much in the sugary way of many Trappist and Abbay beers, but in a very strong malty fruitiness dominated by figs, plums, and prunes, with a trace of raisins.  Despite being sweeter than many, it was so fruity (as opposed to artificial) that it was delicious and refreshing both times.  There was no sense of its booziness as it offered a smooth creaminess alongside a medium body and nicely drying finish.  This probably equals Trappist Rochefort's as my favourite dubbel.  Grade: A+


Also: Westmalle Trappist Dubbel (7% ABV) is similar in aroma, with dark fruits up front but there is also some cherries, perhaps even smelling like a candied variant - sort of like a cross between maraschino cherries and what cherries would be like if candied like a candy apple.  I wasn't crazy about this artificial sweetness scent (or flavour) but did mostly enjoy it nonetheless.  This beer pours a darker brown than the Achel, but with a whiter, if equally creamy, head that also expressed excellent lacing and retention.  Though still sweet, it is more dissimilar in flavor to the Achel than in aroma insofar as raisins, molasses and pumpernickel bread flavourings were more predominant.  Likewise, this is also medium bodied and nicely creamy with a perhaps slightly drier finish, yet I found it to taste boozier despite a lower ABV.  Overall, a very good beer (in a style I enjoy) but one that was simply bested by Achel according to my tastes.  Grade: A-


Tripels:


As someone who generally prefers dubbels and quads to tripels, I was surprised by the tripels that rocked my world at this event.  Despite tasting the famous Westmalle Tripel for the first time, and liking it, I found myself adoring two other tripels in ways I never knew I could love this style (though the recently tasted Tripel Karmeliet and Dominus Vobiscum Tripels also entice!).


Personal Best of the Fest: A two way tie between...


Trappist Achel 8 Blonde (8% ABV) smells excellent with notes of honey, pears, and rind most evident alongside sweaty yeast hints.  Quite cloudy (with only fine particulate), this fine Trappist ale pours a nice golden colour with a very nice (and nicely retained) white head of medium bubbles.  Flavourwise, it begins with sweet notes of pear, apples, and faint citrusy whisps, yet follow with a drying floral semblance of hoppiness with traces of cloves and spicy yeast.  It is quite carbonated with a medium body that well masks its high ABV.  This beer is not boozy in the least!  I am a convert to the ways of the Tripel!  Grade: A+


and it is tied with...


Allagash Curieux (11% ABV) offers a variant on this highly respected beer style insofar as it is aged in Jim Beam Bourbon barrels.  Aromas of sweet apples, bread, and rind meet the nose alongside an appearance that offers golden, lightly cloudy beer though with only a faint head (with a bit of spottyness on the surface) though the head may have been absent due to a bad pour.  Curieux is delicious: a sort of sweet and simultaneously sour apple is predominant alongside vanilla hints from the Bourbon barrels that are clearly present and enticing, yet not overwhelming.  Somehow, the two flavours balance perfectly with a sufficiently drying finish presented by a medium body with a tingly-crisp feel of fair carbonation.  Simply blissful!  Grade: A+


Yes, the legendary, original tripel, Westmalle Trappist Tripel (9.5% ABV) comes in behind these others to my tastes (on that given day, anyway!)  Aromawise, I was met with spicy notes exemplary of Belgian yeasts, alongside sweet pears and alcohol.  Also golden, but not as cloudy as the Achel, this could be due to topping the bottle, while it was poured with a good and comparably retained/impressive white head.  Though there is a complexity of spice and fruits in the flavour, I was a bit disappointed by an excessive booziness and obvious warmth alongside an equally excessive sweatiness to the yeast that - while not bad - were to me less pleasant than its peers offered.  Much drier and perhaps better balanced, though with a lighter body and carbonation than their peers that perhaps prevented the masking of the booze.  Perhaps it was overhyped for me, but though enjoyable and quite drinkable, I was more blown away by the nuance of the others and wonder if this simply commands its great respect (primarily) on legacy.  Grade: B+/A-


Quads:


Personal Best of the Fest: Microbrasserie Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Hibernus (10% ABV) wins out by a slight fraction over Malheur's below in my estimation.  It offers scents primarily of raisins and yeasty spices alongside faint remnants of caramel-like maltiness.  A bit lighter in colour than anticipated, it was still beautifully dark red with a near glow while the head was a perfect tan with remarkable retention, lacing, and yeasty surface-spotting. In the mouth, plum and berry notes are present, but so too are the raisins and spicyness evident on the nose.  A bit of dark bread makes its way in before the quite drying finish that comes off as very port-like.  It was a bit lighter bodied than anticipated, yet crisp in a moderate carbonation.  Very, very nice, even if a bit drier and lighter than desired.  Grade: A


Malheur 12 (12% ABV) finished just-a-shade below the Hibernus in my 50-point rating assessment (based on the BJCP).  The nose is dominated by sweet plums, caramel, and bready yeast.  It is dark brown with a fantastic creamy, tan head with superb retention and smooth lacing.  It is quite sweet in flavour as well with faint hints of chocolate alongside the ever-present dark fruits, but this sweetness is pleasant to me as it hides the ABV that could otherwise take over.  It brings a fairly full body with a medium carbonation, but perhaps not quite enough of a drying finish (if somewhat present) to balance for the sweetness, but it presents those notes so well, that this 'flaw' is, at most, negligible!  Grade: A


Ommegang Three Philosophers (9.8% ABV) is dominated on the nose by sour cherries that are quite enticing, as is brown colour and ample beige head of noteworthy retention, though with negligible lacing.  Flavourwise, I found it complex, yet overly sweaty and the cherry flavours became sweet but in an artificial sort of way.  Still nice, but not enlightening enough for me!  Though creamier and smoother than the other quads, I found it insufficiently drying and overly boozy despite a lower ABV.  Was it good?  Hell yes!  Was it worth the hype?  Not for me.  Grade: B+


Saisons:


I have sometimes loved a saison, and other times loathed them.  I do not consider myself well versed in the style though and one of these two was a taste of a peer's sample at the end of the night and I was unable to add too much nor smell too much, so I will say little, but I will note the following:


Personal Best of the Fest: Microbrasserie Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Saison Sainte Réserve (6% ABV) is fruity with pear and banana notes, alongside a slight spiciness and earthiness that can almost be called musty, but in a raw and appealing manner.  It is golden and slightly cloudy with slight head, yet fair spotting and retention though only slight lace.  The flavour is mild and mellow, yet faintly sweaty and earthy.  It is light-bodied and crisp on the tongue with a moderate carbonation evident.  It is nice, but a touch too dry bordering on astringency, yet I gather that this is style exemplary!  Grade: B+ (but on a scale I am just learning for this style that is yet to inspire a personal 'saison-spree')  (A shot follows with reviews continuing afterwards)



Again, I tasted a helper's beer called "Ichthus" according to the sign at the Le St. Bock booth - as it was on draft, I presume it was from Le Saint Bock.  It was called a "Saison Sushi" and was stated as 6.1% ABV, but the brewer was not listed, the beer is not in the program, and I cannot find it via internet search.  If anyone can help offer more information (or verify the brewer) or a link in the comments below it would be most appreciated.  All I can say for sure now is that it smelled and tasted a bit too murky, earthy, and/or funky for me at the end of the day and I would tentatively give it a Grade: B- 


Belgian Pale Ales:


I could call Ommegang's Rare VOS the best Belgian Pale I tasted, but I could also call it the worst as it was the only one I had at the event!  That said, it was good, if well overhyped for me personally!  It has citrusy and bready aromas, but they are dominated by the yeasty sweatiness.  It is lightly cloudy and spotty on the surface, while light amber in colour with a fine white head that boasts excellent lace and retention.  A hoppy pine quality not present on the nose comes through on the tongue, as does some yeasty spice.  It is bold and very, very dry nearly to the point of astringency, yet in an odd way: it is the combination of sweaty yeast and piney hops that dries as if merging the Belgian and American Pale Ale styles, but is closer to what could be called a Belgian/India Pale Ale possibly.  It has a medium body and a low carbonation that, if higher, could suit the dryness a bit better.  Grade: B-


That's it for now!  More to come soon as I'll continue with Stouts, Porters, Etc as soon as possible!

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