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La Trappe Double Feature

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La Trappe always seems like a lesser Trappist due to the fact that they're the only one not located in Belgium. On the other hand, they seem to be the only Trappist that does much in the way of creative new beers. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Breweries like Chimay and Westmalle trace their recipes back to the 19th and early 20th century, originating and codifying some of the styles we know and love today, like dubbels and tripels. La Trappe, on the other hand, coined the nebulous style Quadrupel way back... in the 1990s. And they're still going. Both of today's beers were first released within the past couple years (though one is simply an old beer that was barrel aged).

Alas, since I have no pre-bankruptcy Hostess snacks to pair these with, I had to settle for my normal pairing of beers with movies. In this case, since we have two very different beers, one relatively light (but not super pale), one relatively big and dark, I went with the cinematic whiplash pairing of ParaNorman and A Separation. I can't say as though I recommend the pairing, but each movie was pretty good in its own right, especially A Separation, which I found a little languid at the start, but slowly and deceptively turned into a captivating movie. I felt sorta like the frog placed in cold water that was slowly heated to boiling, cooking me alive in the process. Or something. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, beer:

La Trappe Isidor

Koningshoeven La Trappe Isid'or - When I first saw this, I thought it was a Lord of the Rings tie-in (Yeah, yeah, not the same spelling, so sue me in nerd court. I'll totally go free because of the Irony defense.) But no, this was brewed to celebrate the 125th anniversary of La Trappe, and is named after their first brewer, Brother Isidorus. It pours a hazy light brownish orange amber color with tons of fluffy white head. Smells of fruity, spicy Belgian yeast, one of them bananas and clove affairs. Taste is sweet and spicy, again with the lighter fruits and lots of Belgian yeast spice, more malt character than you typically get out of a Belgian pale, but it's not a dubbel or anything. It's actually a hard beer to classify, which isn't to surprising whenever you're talking about Belgian beers, but it's very fruity and doesn't really fit in with the usual pales, nor is it particularly dark. Somewhere inbetween. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, spicy, relatively dry, all in good proportions. Overall, a very well crafted Belgian ale. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a goblet on 12/30/12.

La Trappe Quadrupel oak aged batch 7

Koningshoeven La Trappe Quadrupel Barrique (Oak Aged) - Batch #7 - I previously had batch #3 of the oak aged Quadrupel and really enjoyed it. That one was aged in a mixture of new oak, old Port wine barrels, and previously used quadrupel barrels, and it was all a pretty great match with the beer style. This time around, we've got a batch that was aged in old Scotch barrels. The distilleries in question (Bowmore, Tamdhu, Strathspey and Laphroaig) seem to be a mix of Speyside and Islay, which can be troubling. In particular, I've found that beers aged in old Islay Scotch barrels are a bit challenging in that the peaty, smoky flavors really tend to overpower the beer. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some Islay Scotch (Ardbeg 10 is a standard at my house, and their Uigeadail is a recent acquisition that I'm sure will find a place in the rotation), but mixing those strong flavors with a beer that is as highly attenuated as this seems to be a lot trickier than, say, mixing stouts with bourbon. I thought perhaps the Speysides would calm things down a bit, and indeed, this isn't the worst attempt at an Islay barrel aged beer, but it's not particularly special either.

Pours a dark brown color with some orangey amber highlights and almost no head, just a ring of bubbly stuff around the edge of the glass. The smell is mostly Scotch, lots of peat, some smoke, and some of that base Quadrupel spiciness and fruitiness, though the Scotch character is clearly the star here. Taste is all Scotch, lots of peat, but that smokey, medicinal character comes out a lot more here and overpowers things. Mouthfeel is much less carbonated than the usual quad, making this feel a little gloopy. Overall, this is a lot less balanced than the regular Quadrupel or even Batch #3, and the flavors just aren't meshing well. As it warms up, things even out a bit, and like I said, I like me some Islay Scotch, but it's still not working that well. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 12/30/12.

It looks like Batch #7 is the odd man out, a misfire in a series of otherwise pretty well received oak aged beers. Batch #8 is supposed to also use Scotch barrels, but they blended that with new oak, which I think could really help tone down some of that peaty, smokey flavor (the reviews on RateBeer and Beer Advocate seem to bear that out). Batches 9 through 11 were aged in old Malbec barrels, and batch 12 used old Bourbon and Cognac barrels. So yeah, pretty much every batch of this sounds great, but avoid #7.

La Trappe Quadrupel Barrique (Oak Aged)

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I don't typically think of the Trappists as being trendy, but here they are, barrel aging their beer. Of course, barrel aging beer isn't a new thing at all, and the Trappists over at Koningshoeven were using barrels back in the late 19th century. Well, they recently decided to restore that tradition and since I'm a total sucker for this sort of treatment, here we are.

The base beer they used was their most excellent Quadrupel, and they've used a variety of different barrels throughout several batches. The bottle I got my hands on was from Batch 3, which featured a blend of beer aged in 3 different barrels:

  • New Oak Medium Toast - 18% of the beer in this batch
  • Port Medium Toast (French Oak) - 55%
  • La Trappe Q. Medium Toast (French Oak) - 27%
At their website, they even list out the common flavors attributed to each type of barrel (at the bottom of the linked page). Ok, so let's get this party started:

La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged Batch 3

La Trappe Quadrupel Barrique (Oak Aged) - Batch 3 - Pours a cloudy (visible sediment), deep brown color with a finger of puffy head. The aroma is full of sweet, dark fruit (raisins are clear), bready Belgian yeast, and a sorta red wine-like character (which I suspect is from the port barrels). The taste starts sweet and spicy, complexity emerging in the middle with more pronounced fruit and some of that oak aged quality (vanilla and leather), and a boozy finish (again, wine-like flavors here, probably from the port). Mouthfeel is a little lighter on the carbonation than the regular Quad (less effervescent), but still rich and full bodied. Overall, a wonderful and complex take on an already great beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked mini-mag). Drank out of a goblet on 2/10/12.

These early batches seemed to favor port barrels and new barrels, but they apparently went through a phase of aging in white wine barrels and have since moved on to old scotch barrels with their latest batches. I'd love to catch up with some of those varieties as well. In fact, it seems like each batch is unique, so if I ever see these again, I'll probably pick up another bottle...

La Trappe Quadrupel

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Trappist monks know how to live. At least, the ones that brew beer do. Of course, there are only 7 Trappist breweries (there are many other abbeys that put their name on beers brewed externally, but the Trappists are strict - their beer is brewed on the premises and lead by monks), but their beers are among the best in the world. So these guys spend all their time brewing and drinking world-class beer. On the other hand, I wonder if they ever drink beer from other breweries? Or do they only drink their own? Interestingly, most Trappist breweries have their own internal "House" beer that isn't normally released publicly (and is usually toned down in terms of alcohol), so I get the impression that they don't really seek out the novelty of other beers. Well, I'm certainly not bound by any restrictions, so I've had beers from 4 of the 7 Trappist breweries. They're all fantastic, without exception (ironically, my least favorite might be the most popular - the Chimay Red - but then, even the worst Trappist beer is wonderful), so when I saw a bottle of the La Trappe Quadrupel at the store, I figured it was time to up that to 5 out of 7. I should be able to find some Achel around somewhere, but the real challenge will be Westvleteren, which is only officially sold at the brewery itself (i.e. in Belgium). Westvleteren 12 is currently the top rated beer in the world according to both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, though I have to wonder if the hoops you have to go through to get your hands on the bottle have anything to do with the high ratings. But I digress.

La Trappe is interesting in that they're the only non-Belgian Trappist brewery in the world. The brewery is offically called Koningshoeven and is located in the Netherlands, and along with Chimay, their beers seem to be among the most widely available of the Trappists. The particular beer I picked up is a Quadrupel. The numeric Belgian beer system is mildly mystifying in that there doesn't seem to be any real rules for what constitutes a Dubbel, a Tripel, or a Quadrupel, except that in terms of alcohol content, each style tends to be stronger than the next (though it's not an exact multiplier - Dubbels tend to be around 8%, Tripels 9% and Quads 10-11+%, with lots of variation inbetween). Interestingly while Dubbels and Quads tend to be dark styles, the Tripel is light colored. I've had a few Quads before, starting with (of course) Ommegang's excellent Three Philosophers (I haven't reviewed this yet, but I have one waiting in the wings) several years ago. In the past year, I've tried a few others (including another Trappist Quad, the Rochefort 10) and I even have a few waiting in my fridge (including St. Bernardus Abt 12, which I'm also greatly looking forward to). For now, we'll have to settle for this one though (and quite frankly, don't expect any double features with Quadrupels, though I suppose the subsequent shenanigans could be amusing to you, if not particularly enjoyable for me).

La Trappe Quadrupel

La Trappe Quadrupel - Pours a gorgeous cloudy orange/brown color with a sizable head. Smells fantastic. It has a spicy belgian yeast character with some sweet, dark fruits and maltiness apparent. Taste is very malty and sweet with some dark fruits and spiciness present. A relatively clean finish. The booziness comes out a bit more as it warms up, but the sweetness seems to hide it well. It's got plenty of carbonation and maybe a bit of a harsh mouthfeel, but that's just about right for this beer. It's not quite as full as other Quads I've had, but on the other hand, it's exceptionally good! I had no problem putting down a 750 ml bottle, though I was obviously a bit tipsy by the end. Still, with beers like this, it's not hard to see why Trappists have a great reputation for beer brewing. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a Goblet.

I don't believe I've ever seen an Achel beer in any of the stores I frequent, but I'm going to keep my eye out. Westvleteren will be more of a challenge. But I will eventually try both, thus completing my sampling of Trappist brews. Oh yes.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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