I was in Holland last weekend visiting friends. We were walking around the town of Den Bosch and decided to pick up some food for lunch at Albert Heijn, a major Dutch super market. Guess what I found there? A six pack of La Trappe Tripel for six euros! Can you believe that? That is one euro per bottle of an authentic Trappist product. La Trappe Tripel is brewed by Koningshoeven, the only Dutch brewer amongst the seven remaining Trappist beer making monasteries (the others are all Belgian). Such a fine beer would likely sell for about $10 a bottle in Canada. I was so dumbfounded and excited that I took the picture below. Curse BC and it’s stupid liquor laws.
La Trappe Tripel for one euro a bottle!
What trip to the Netherlands is complete without a visit to Amsterdam? None I say. Sadly our day was soddened by the weather, but we did manage to visit Anne Frank’s hiding place and a fantastic Dutch beer bar. On the other side of town, far from the hookers and stoners Amsterdam is famous for, we found ‘t Arendsnest on a peaceful canal street. It’s a cosy “brown cafe“, complete with beautiful wooden bar, filled with locals reading the paper and eager foreign beer nerds such as myself. They serve only dutch beer, thirty on tap and a hundred more in bottles. I love such examples of beer national pride. Sadly, I remember little of the first two beers I tried. Dutch is not an intuitive language for me, neither in spelling or pronunciation. However, I do recall the IPA and the porter I had as being excellent. The standout was an oak barrel aged La Trappe Quadrupel, definitely worth the trip. If you’re ever in Amsterdam, I highly recommend ‘t Arendsnest.
't Arendsnest in Amsterdam, should have taken a picture of the inside
Hand written 't Arendsnest beer menu
I sometimes flinch when people say they do or do not like Belgian beer. A year ago, I might have said something similar, but I’ve since learned that Belgium is country and not representative of a beer style. In fact, Belgian beer comprises a vast and diverse collection of very delicious beer styles. The most interesting moniker attached to a category of Belgian beer, to me at least, is Trappist. Trappist is also not the name of a beer style, but signifies that a beer has been brewed under the control of Trappist monks. Trappist beer is available for sale, but the monks use any proceeds to carry out their monastic lives, not for profit. I find this pretty freaking cool, that I can drink beer made by monks in the same way they’ve been making it for hundreds of years. Check out the Wikipedia page for more info on Trappist history.
There are currently only seven Trappist breweries remaining in the world, six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands, and all are currently attached to active monasteries. They are Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achelse Kluis, and Koningshoeven (the Dutch one). Trappist beers were traditionally brewed with greater strength to help sustain the monks during their fasts (which may or may not explain some saintly visions). Today, Trappist ales can generally be categorized among the dubbel, tripel, Belgian pale ale, or Belgian strong ale styles. Many confuse Belgian beers sporting the abbey label with trappist beers. The abbey label arose around the same time that Trappist beer became popular, but abbey is only a competitive marketing term. Abbey and Trappist beers are generally brewed in the same styles, but the abbey label does not necessarily signify that a beer was actually made by an abbey, not that it really matters. There are many fine examples of excellent abbey beer (Unibroue in Quebec brews some of the finest belgian trappist/abbey style beer in the world), but you can be sure that authentic trappist beers are of the finest quality.
The seven Trappist Beers
I for one am excited to get into the stockpile of Westmalle, Rochefort, and Chimay authentic Trappist beers I have recently amassed. A Belgian tasting night might be in order, complete with sasions, browns, wits, lambics and more. If you haven’t tried any Belgian beer styles, I highly recommend you do so. There will definitely be at least one that strikes you as lovely, and you don’t want to be missing out.