Saturday, February 28, 2009

Trappists IV: Westmalle

Its been awhile since I posted in my series of trappist breweries. Well today's post covers the Westmalle brewery, home of the original tripel!

The Trappist abbey in Westmalle was founded 6 June 1794. Martinus Dom, the first abbot decided to brew their own beer, and the first beer was brewed in 1836. The first beer was described as light in alcohol and rather sweet. By 1856, the monks had added a second beer: the first strong brown beer. This brown beer is today considered the first double (dubbel, in Dutch). The current Dubbel is derived from a recipe first brewed in 1926. The monks began local commercial sales in 1856.

The brewery was enlarged and rebuilt in 1865 based on the example set by the Trappists of Forges (nearby Chimay). Father Ignatius van Ham joined the brewer team. Further commercialization and sales to traders commenced in 1921. In 1933 a new brewery was built and in 1934, the brewery brewed a strong pale ale of 9.5% abv giving it the name TRIPEL - the first known use of the name! The brewery was remodeled in 1991. It currently has a bottling capacity of 45,000 bottles per hour, and yearly output of 120,000 hL (in 2004).

The brewery produces three beers.

* Westmalle Dubbel, a 7% ABV Dubbel. Despite its dark color and strong aroma, it is not as rich and full-bodied as one might think upon imbibing. It does not go straight to the head, and is a local favorite because of its soft flavor. It has a brown color from dark malts and dark candy sugar as well as a dry finish.

* Tripel Westmalle, a 9.5% ABV tripel, was first brewed in 1934 and the recipe has not changed since 1956. It is made with pale candy sugar and has a very pale color produced from a mash of light pilsner malts. Styrian Goldings hops are used along with some German varieties and the classic Czech Saaz pilsner hop. After a long secondary fermentation, the Tripel is bottled with a dose of sugar and yeast. This beer holds up well in the bottle over time and seems to soften with age.

* Westmalle Extra, 5% ABV, a beer produced only for the monks (patersbier). It is not available for sale, but can sometimes appear at local beer festivals.

The abbey also produces milk and cheese.

Drink like a monk,


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Spotting a Unicorn - the famed Obamagang

Last weekend Meg and I hit up Paradiso in Gtown for dinner. I had been searching the area for the mythical Obamagang by the Cooperstown brewing giant Ommegang (I think that they qualify as "giants" now that they are part of the Duvel family of beers, no?). Well I found it, sure enough the 'diso had it on draft downstairs in the birreria paradiso (try saying that three times fast). If haven't heard of the Obamagang it was a special release brewed for the inauguration of one Mr. Barrack Obama. The TTB wouldn't officially let them call the beer Obamagang on the keg labels, so it is known legally as Inauguration Ale 2009. It had a limited release in DC, NYC, Syracuse, Philly, Chicago and Boston.

So how was it? I enjoyed this one immensely. Perhaps in line with our new prez, this beer defies any style classification. I think it is described somewhere as between a porter and a stout with kriek added. I guess that's a pretty decent description. This beer is all about malt, so don't go expecting much in the way of hops. In the above picture (sorry for the graininess, I used my cell camera) it is the beer on the right. As you can probably see it pours up an opaque brown with a small amount of white lacy head. The smell is largely toffee and chocolate. The taste has notes of chocolate, espresso, and interestingly roasted peanuts. I actually was drinking while eating some salty olives and the combination of the two left me with the distinct after taste of pretzels. The beer actually finishes with a little bit of tartness due to the kriek, which I thought was really unique.

If you can find this special release in your neck of the woods, don't delay because I'm sure its drying up fast.