Monday, May 01, 2006


Labour or Leisure: Extra or Tripel?

It is the International Labour Day. It is a day to demand more leisure time, it seems, or maybe just to enjoy the extra day off work. A celebration of work it is hardly, though it might have been appropriate, seeing the mass unemployment on the European continent.

The trappist monks at Westmalle (or more specifically, at Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van het Heilig Hart at Westmalle) have made their choice clear- they have committed their lives to Ora et Labora, prayer and work.

Part of this work has been to create the mother of all Belgian trippels for the rest of us to enjoy at our leisure. Brewing is thirst-bringing work, so the monks have also made a weaker, everyday beer that is normally only enjoyed inside the abbey gates.

Finding the Westmalle Extra outside the abbey is indeed rare (but it seems to occur more often these days alongside the workday beers from Orval and Chimay). On the contrary, even the Norwegian state liquor store with its limited beer range sells Westmalle Tripel, though turnover is hardly overwhelming (the evidence is the old beer labels, and more thorough investigation indicated a bottle date some 10 months ago.)

The Extra is hazy golden, so lighter also in colour than its more cloudy, orangey big sister. The white foam is leaving nice lacing on sides of the glass. The aroma is deliciously sweet and malty with notes of candy sugar and raisins. Admittedly, it is slightly less complex than the tripel with its subdued floral and yeasty nose. The Extra begins with sweet and malty flavours, but with good offsetting bitterness it ends very dry, drier indeed than the tripel. On the other hand, the tripel is more fizzy and has a fuller body as well as warming alcohol that you won't find in the Extra. All in all, these are two surprisingly different beers- both highly drinkable and complex.

Labora seems to bring advantages both to leisurely beer drinkers and to the monks themselves.

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