Sunday, May 10, 2009
An aged Trappist beer tasting at Cafe Goede Vrijdag (Good Friday)
The group at the aged Trappist beer tasting
Trappist beer lover, photographer and reporter Danny Van Tricht, standing
When my good friend Danny Van Tricht told me he had procured several crates of aged Trappist brews a couple of months ago, I was understandably excited. I knew I'd have the chance to taste a few during my trip to "Het Bierland" in April.
Then, fate intervened: a big tasting that Danny had planned for mid-March at Cafe Goede Vrijdag (Good Friday) in Herselt, Antwerp Province, had to be postponed.
The rescheduled date? Why, Friday, the 24th of April, Danny informed me. GAME ON!
I have had the pleasure to taste quite a few aged Trappist beers over the years at places like Bierhuis Kulminator in Antwerp, as well as various other cafes. I've also savored such brews at Danny's home, as well as with beer lovers such as Joris Pattyn, the well-known beer researcher and co-author of "100 Belgian Beers to try Before You Die."
But I've never had the chance to taste so many at one time and one place. Danny, who authors several Belgian beer blogs, such as Trappistbier Beleven, and is a reporter and photographer for Reisreporter really put on a show for the tasting.
He created tasting sheets for each beer, and also reserved the upstairs room of Goede Vrijdag. There was plenty of bread and water as palate cleansers between beers.
In attendance was brewer Jef Goetelen of 't Hofbrouwerijke, whose beers are available now in the USA via Shelton Brothers. See: thofbrouwerijke.be. There were also several beer lovers from the area, including Hans Bombeke, former owner of 't Waagstuk in Antwerp, and now a teacher at a local college. What does Hans teach, you ask? Beer appreciation, of course! I hear his classes are full....Hans also is a member of the local Zythos-affliated beer appreciation club, Antwerps Bier College (ABC)
Hans Bombeke studying an aged Trappist brew
Jef Goetelen, brewer/owner, 't Hofbrouwerijke
The beers on hand for the tasting included Petit Orval and Orval from 1983, which Danny started with; both had aged nicely, and there was still noticeable brett character in both brews. We then moved on to Westmalle Dubbel, circa 1980. One of the 33 cl bottles was spot on, with noticeable chocolate in the taste and little oxidation. Another bottle, which appeared to be from the same batch, was very port/sherry like and more oxidized. Several bottles of Westmalle Tripel from the same era were similarly very sherry like and fairly oxidized. Of course, Westmalle never intended for its Tripel to be aged.
Danny then broke out 75 cl bottles of Chimay Grand Reserve from the late 1980's and the mid-90's, which had aged very well. Next up was Westvleteren Abt, produced before the name was changed to Westvleteren 12. This one, dating to the late 80's, was perhaps the best of the day. It had aged beautifully, with low oxidation and a great depth of malty character. Somewhere in the mix, Danny threw in a 1989 St. Sixtus Pater, which was brewed at St. Bernardus when they had a contract to brew the Westvleteren beers for commercial sale. It had aged well also, though not as well as the Abt.
The next flight was "newer" Westvleteren 8 and 12, from a few years ago. Served with the older Abt, it gave quite an insight on how these beers have changed over time.
The last Trappist beer was also the newest: La Trappe Quadrupel, aged in French oak casks for nine months. "I have been experimenting with aging in French oak for a while now" brewer Lodewijk Swinkels had told us, just a few hours earlier, as we savored his brews on a nice sunny day. The venue was outside seating at the new tasting cafe at La Trappe. The Quad was our lunchtime dessert beer, after a meal of Trappist-raised beef and croquettes, served with La Trappe Blond and Dubbel. Yum!
After the aged Trappist tasting was over, everyone enjoyed rounds of fresh Orval (Cafe Goede Vrijdag is an Orval Ambassador) as well as Jef's Hoftrol, a fine brew of 6.2% abv, with a distinct brett character. Jef must be an Orval fan.....
Cafe Goede Vrijdag carries beers from all seven Trappist Abbey breweries. There are also beers form local breweries Achilles, Den Hopperd and of course 't Hofbrouwerijke. There are others as well, on a menu with 60 brews. See goedevrijdag.com.
Danny Van Tricht with the French oak aged La Trappe Quadrupel