It all started when few of my colleagues in Belgium planned a visit to the monastery which produces Westvleteren XII, hailed as the best beer in the world. As this beer is produced by monks in limited quantities, finding this beer anywhere else is close to impossible. After their visit, thankfully they carried 2 bottles back home. Courtesy of my colleague Sachin, I got one of these exotic bottles.
The first look at the two bottles with no labels (all the info that you'll ever need is printed on the crown), shows the modest nature of the brewers which further elevates the greatness. I was really thrilled to finally see the beer in my hand which I've waited for quite some time. After a toast, I started indulging in the brown beer. The real experience started when I reached half way through. With 10.2% alcohol, it is nowhere the lightest and it was already knocking me down. The rich aroma and smooth taste with caramel/vanilla flavour (also a hint of chocolate), was one of the better tasting beers I've ever had. This, combined with the heritage of being the rarest Trappist, I could easily see why it is named the best beer. It made me one happy man!
This whole experience, left an unforgettable impression on the Trappist beers. There are 7 Trappist beers in the world which are basically brewed by Trappist monks for their livelihood - Westvleteren being one of them. Hence, the greatness extends from the fact that it is brewed in spiritual institutions with non-business intent to the unmatched quality of the product which is among the best.
With this, I initiated my own spiritual journey to try out all Trappist beers and write down my experience. With one down, I moved on to the next beer - Rochefort. Now that I started this Trappist adventure with Westvleteren XII, I thought of sticking with the strongest version of each of the beers and went for Rochefort 10. Most Trappist beers come in 3 styles, normal, dubbel and tripel - tripel being the strongest. Few are given numbers like 8, 10 etc. - 12 being the strongest.
Rochefort 10, at 11.3%, by far is the strongest of all Trappist that I'll be trying here. This dark beer has a very smooth fruity, sweet taste balancing the high alcohol content, with a hint of mild acidity. It feels a little overtly carbonated with satisfying burps after every few sips. If you want to get knocked down without realizing, this is the one for you.
After Rochefort, I picked up Achel while scanning for my next Trappist in the supermarket. There was just one style and it was of 8% alcohol content. The color is dark amber with fruity, sweet taste and not much bitterness. I felt this to be quite light and refreshing. Definitely, the most normal tasting of all beers. The one to go for on a nice sunny day.
The next beer in line is the one with a catchy name - LaTrappe tripel. Even though its a tripel, with only 8% alcohol is one of the lightest here. It's a blond beer and the taste is again quite fruity, sweet but ends with bitter taste on tongue. With medium carbonation, it is perfect for those who like some bitterness.
Time to Wiki and learn more about Trappist beers. Apparently, there seems to be another Trappist being added to the list now. Engelszell beers, discontinued in the early 1900s is now back in production and obtained the Trappist logo in 2012. As with Westvleteren, this is quite rare - actually, the rarest. The name of the beer is Gregorius. This could be rare to find but that doesn't mean you can't find it in Brussels... right... So I went for a hunt towards central Brussels and landed in Beer Planet. I scanned the entire shop and in the bottom most rack of the farthest corner of the shop, I finally saw the name. Voila! Though quite expensive, I succeeded in finding the rarest Trappist of all!
With the same excitement as with Westvleteren, I started indulging in it again. The taste of this dark beer is quite rich with very sweet malty flavour (and hint of clove, cinnamon) ending with slight bitterness. There's something about being rare, which makes it more desirable and tasty. With 9.7% alcohol content, it is not as strong as I hoped; but after Westvleteren, this is the one I enjoyed the most.
Now it's time to move to the beers which are commonly available everywhere. These beers are sold alongside the other commercial beers in most of the pubs and restaurants. Few are available in India as well.
I thought of starting with Orval - the first beer introduced to me as Trappist, by one of my Belgian colleagues. This reddish blond beer has a bitter sweet-citrus taste (with a hint of rose flavour) which is quite unique. With 6.2% alcohol, it is the lightest of all the beers I tasted here, so you can party longer with this one.
The next beer, in contrary, can end the party pretty quick. Westmalle tripel has a reputation of knocking people down after couple of glasses. At 9.5% alcohol content, it may not be very strong when compared to other Trappists; but if you consider that it's a commonly available one, it's quite strong for regular drinking. It is also the first brand to introduce dubbel and tripel styles. The blonde beer starts bitter but settles in with a dry sweet-citrus taste, tempting you to go for the next round. To stay out of trouble, give it a few minutes before you order your next glass.
Now comes the final Trappist beer. And according to me, the most likeable Trappist - the Chimey bleue. It's an acquired taste to like dark beers, which I acquired over time, thanks to Chimey. With 9% alcohol content, it's also quite strong; however, it has a very good blend of rich dry fruit, brown sugar taste which defines dark Trappist beer for me. It felt smooth throughout without any bitterness and with just the right carbonation was very satisfying. If you want to try a dark beer the first time, this is the one for you.
There are beers and there are Trappist beers. These beers are for those, who appreciate the rich taste and heritage of these unique traditional drinks. Of all the Trappist beers, Westvleteren is the best. However, considering its quite hard to find, the best commonly available one is Chimey. With this, I end my article on Trappist beers. My respect for these beers only grew higher with this experience!