Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beer Club, Volume Seven - Trappists!

We're finally back to another episode of Beer Club that has no rhyme or reason for the month other than that I've really started to like Trappist ales and wanted to expose the rest of the group to them. They have such a cool background and history behind them (for some great info on them, click here).

In a nutshell, Trappist beers are those brewed by or under the control of Trappist monks. There are seven Trappist monasteries in the world that brew beer and they are the only brewers who are allowed by law to use the Authentic Trappist Product Logo.
Of these seven breweries, only six of them are readily available in the United States. The seventh, Westvleteren, does not distribute their beers beyond the monastery. While discussing this brewery with an importer of these beers at the Four Firkins last week I learned that they used impose much lighter restrictions on what they sold at the brewery (used to be ten cases per car) but that led to gray market sales of the beer that they had to change their policy. You are now only able to buy one case per person, per vehicle/license plate, per month and you must call ahead to reserve that case (they will not sell to you if you just drive up without calling). Or you can enjoy it at their cafe as well.

Since I wasn't driving to Belgium any time soon, we had to limit our choices to the six breweries that did distribute their product in the US. With Alvey's help, I picked up an impressive cross section of Trappist beers that showcased not only each of those six breweries but that also represented several of the styles that the Trappists are famous for brewing.

The lineup:
Orval (easy choice, they only make one beer that I could buy)
Westmalle Dubbel (recipe unchanged for almost 150 years!)
Westmalle Tripel (they invented and coined the tripel style of beer)
Achel Blonde (smallest Trappist brewery)
Chimay Blue (my personal favorite)
Rochfort 8 (this beer represents the largest proportion of Rochfort's production)
Koningshoeven Quadruple (the only Dutch Trappist brewery)

I knew this wasn't going to be a cheap month for Beer Club since these bottles are typically $5-6 per bottle and since we were spending extra this month anyway I decided to splurge and got some cheese to go with it. Last month I discovered that Chimay also makes cheese and was able to try two of the varieties of it so I once again went with both of them and also one more recommended by a Surdyk's cheese expert (I forgot to jot the name of it down but I think it was Taleggio). For one month, dues went from $10 to $20 but we got to live the good life and experience some of the finer things in the world.

There was another reason this month was going to be a special month, not only was it the most people we had for a month but we got to welcome two newcomers to the group, Pete and Brett. Pete is a friend of Paul's and we've been working on him to check out a meeting for awhile. Brett is a homebrewer/beer geek/all around good guy that I "met" on Twitter and convinced him to give our event a try.

When Josh joined our group, it was a huge addition for us because his homebrewing experience brought a lot to the table. Brett was no exception and delivered a lot more than a hop grenade, he was dropping knowledge left and right giving us some insight to how these world class beers were crafted.

The big group made it difficult to discuss as many things as I would have liked to because of so many side conversations going but the main things that I got were that even though some of the guys had some apprehension of how they'd like this style, they did find a style or two or three that they indeed liked. Those of us that already knew a bit about the style just reaffirmed how much we liked them. With any luck, a few people will leave a comment or two about their thoughts for the month.

As for me, I was thrilled to get to pull off this edition of Beer Club. Trappists continue to wow me every time I have one and even if I got a few of the group to find one in the lineup that they liked, I feel like my mission was accomplished. As for me, my chalice will be filled on a regular basis from now on while I explore new options and enjoy my already discovered favorites. I'm looking forward to pouring a work of art in my goblet, kicking back and as the monks so eloquently put it, "tasting the silence".