Friday, August 19, 2005


Belgian Beer: The Big Trappists (or the Battle of the Giants)

Admittedly, it was an ambitious task for a late Friday night, after a long week at work. I think it was spurred by the recent news reports on Westvleteren's inability to meet the demand for their world class beer, rated the best in the world at ratebeer, extensively discussed on the yahoo group belgianbeer, moderately by Flemish beer enthusiast Filip Geerts.

I still felt a head-to-head tasting would be appropriate to learn more about the characteristics of these unique beers. I was tempted to add a third beer to the tasting, St Bernardus Abt, which I believe is very closely related in style to these two great trappist beers, in addition to the historical links with the Sint-Sixtus abbey of Westvleteren. However, Westvleteren 12 and Rochefort, 10.2% and 11.3% alcohol by volume, respectively, are heavy enough to handle by themselves, adding a third heavyweight to the scene could just turn ugly.

Though I have to add that these are a rather young (and in my opinion, marked by so many visits to Beer Heaven on Earth, alias beer café Kulminator in Antwerpen) premature examples of God's own beers. I suppose this is how His beers would taste on the first day of creation. My Westvleteren beer has an expiration date of 14.03.08, so it was bottled three years earlier, in March 2005. The Rochefort has 18.05.10 printed on the label; so the bottling date would be five years before, in May 2005. As you can see, the bottles did not last beyond August 2005.

Both are deep reddish-brown beers, the Rochefort being ever so slightly darker. Both pours with a nice (though restrained) heads that leaves a lot of lace on the glass. The froth of the Rochefort is rather tan, whereas its sister at Westvleteren shows off an off-white head.

Aroma (and flavour) contradicts the initial impression, though. Using terms from the wine tasting world, I am tempted to apply light-coloured fruits to describe the aroma and flavour of Rochefort and darker fruits for the Westvleteren beer. For the latter I felt the chocolate taste was more present. Light-coloured fruit includes pears and bananas , whereas for darker fruits I get associations to prunes and raisins in this case.

I have to admit that I have always had a soft spot for the Rochefort 10, feeling that it has not received the attention it deserved from beer lovers (as opposed to the mythical Westvleteren beers). Loving the bitter chocolate, toffeeish, raisiny flavours of aged beers it should not come as a big surprise that my sympathies have been changed by this tasting. Or maybe Rochefort 10 is the (not so ugly) duckling that needs a few more years before showing off its superior qualities?

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