On a balmy September Monday, five beer geeks gathered in a suburban garage for their weekly beer tasting appropriately dubbed Garage Beer Monday, or GBM for short. What started between two neighbors shooting it over a beer after yard work and snow shoveling, GBM turned into a regularly scheduled Monday night event.
The group has been meeting for over three years now, or at least that is how long they have been keeping record of the brews they have shared. Attendance started off with just two and has grown to include six, with a mix of seasoned craft beer drinkers and novices. Those with little history or knowledge learn quickly as each night comes with a variety of styles and brands to be opened.
The lineup for each Monday is decided ahead of time and could be anything from a grab bag of options or bottles that a few have been waiting for a chance to open, to a full on theme that focuses on a style, brewery, or region. Tonight’s bottle list circled around Trappist beers with each member of the group assigned a specific Trappist brewery to bring to the table.
The evening was kicked off with two offerings from Brouwerij Westmalle, their Tripel and their Dubbel. The slightly sweet, banana, and citric base of the Tripel made for a good start. Clean and light on the palate, it laid good groundwork for the Dubbel and it’s bouquet of dark fruits, candi sugar, and some spice.
After a quick rinse and reflection on some Trappist history, mainly the purpose behind their brewing and why so few variations are made from each, the trifecta of brews from Brasserie de Rochefort made their way to front and center. Rochefort’s beers have long been compared to those of Westvleteren with a slight tip of the hat toward Rochefort for the sole reason that they are readily available on shelves, whereas Westy’s require quite a few more steps.
Orval Trappist Ale held a special place on the bottle list as not only is it the only beer that Brasserie d’Orval produces (overlooking the Petite Orval) it is also the only Trappist beer brewed using Brett. This gives the overall smell a bit of a funk aroma that you usually find in wild and sour beers, but the taste is a balanced malt and hop bill of a pale ale. The yeast gives very little tartness but more so provides a crisp and refreshing mouthfeel. This came at a perfect time, as the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife.
A pair of La Trappe beers were set out, the Quadrupel and the Isid’or Strong Pale Ale, and each bottle had its oak aged counterpart in tow. The tasting illustrated the effect of oak barrel aging and how some characteristics are heightened or evened out due to the effect of the wood. One of the unique facts about the La Trappe Oak Aged Quad is that it is the only Trappist oak aged quad in the world.
As Westvleteren’s 12 has long been revered as one, if not the best beers in the world, there has been rumor that St. Bernardus Abt 12 is actually the same recipe. The tasting notes vary between the beers and the St. Bernardus Abt 12 has less on the banana character and more on the dried fruits and sweet malty flavors. Figs, plums, and some caramel wander through the taste. The medium bodied beer tends to be less dry and ends somewhat creamy. All in all a great beer to offset the light, citric, carbonated Tripel.
No Trappist tasting would be complete without the colorful addition of Chimay. Starting that journey with the super dry, spicy and crisply fruited Tripel through the figgy bread qualities of the Dubbel and then onto the rich, dark fruits and bread crust-like overtones of the Grande Reserve.
16 bottles in all, the only stone left unturned was that of Westvleteren, but was seen as a forgotten issue as all of the beers poured are readily available at most craft beer stores, with maybe an exception given to the La Trappe Oak Aged Quad.
Over the course of two and a half hours, the spectrum of Trappist beer was explored and another GBM comes to a close with a short conversation about what the next week’s tasting will bring, who sweat the most throughout the evening, and future plans and beer releases. For most, Monday’s are something to loathe, but when you have something like this to cap off the night, it makes starting the work week a little easier to swallow.