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4×4: Quads Compared – La Trappe v Ommegang v Straffe Hendrik v St Bernardus

February 5, 2012 8 comments

In general, one does not associate Belgium with extremism, but they have given the world some wonderful strong beers. Zak Avery says in 500 Beers that “the journey up the intensity scale from dubbel to tripel must logically conclude with quadrupel”.  However, reading about the style you could be forgiven for thinking the debate about “black IPAs” is merely a little local difficulty.  Much of the literature (excluding Zak, of course) displays a weary disapproval of the naïve, American-influenced neophyte, fooled into drinking and enjoying an inauthentic beer style.

One struggles to find a proper definition, and Ratebeer would seem to suggest that there are two distinct styles or sub-styles: dark, maltier Abts (eg Westvleteren, St Bernardus) and paler “peachy” Quadrupels (eg that of the Dutch Trappist brewery, La Trappe).  Other accounts would have it that “Abt” (“abbot”) or “12” is merely the original Belgian designation for the style described as “quadrupel” elsewhere, the latter term originating with La Trappe.

However,  reading about beers is a poor substitute for drinking them, and I had accumulated four quadrupel/abt style beers.  Given the pleasing symmetry, I thought they were worth trying and comparing over a few nights.

La Trappe Quadrupel (10% ABV)

Pours russet, with a large dense, lasting cream-coloured head. Sweet malty aroma. A rich taste with a lot of sweetness up front quickly revealing a toast (actual buttered toast) and caramelised sugar flavour. Not especially bitter, perhaps just enough to add a bit of definition to the finish. Although it has a thick, oily mouthfeel, it’s actually quite mellow and enjoyable in a warm butter croissant way, although I was left wondering whether there was anything to distinguish it from an English barley wine.

Brewery Ommegang 2011 Three Philosophers (9.8% ABV)

This American quadrupel is actually mixed with 2% cherry kriek. The big head is slightly fluffier and a touch more nicotine-stained than the La Trappe. The aroma shows off a tart sour fruitiness at the edges of the sweet maltiness. In colour it’s slightly darker and redder than the La Trappe. In comparison the taste is still sweet but less so; deep and drier with a kriek tartness. I’d like to try a version without the cherry, but suspect the flavour would be more elusive.

Straffe Hendrik 11° “Brugs Quadrupel Bier” (11% ABV)

When we did the brewery tour in Bruges last summer, they told us that this relatively new beer had been suggested by their American distributors.  The very big fluffy loose head has a bit of yellow to it. This is obviously a much darker beer than the previous ones: deep reddy -brown that looks beautiful held up to the light. There’s not really much of an aroma, perhaps slightly of malt loaf. The taste is immediately warming and alcoholic, a tingle in the mouth.  The sweetness is vinous but tart: almost a hint of brandy, perhaps fortified red wine, and a little dark chocolate. It’s really very enjoyable, a warm bath of a beer.

St Bernardus Abt 12 (10% ABV)

St Bernardus is brewed by the commercial brewery that held the licence to produce St Sixtus beers, before this was withdrawn and the “Westvleteren” beers, including “Abt” (Ratebeer’s best beer in the world) were taken back in-house, or rather in-abbey.  As to how similar the equivalent Westvleteren and St Bernardus are, see this post from Boak & Bailey.  St Bernardus scores very well on Ratebeer too, although it commands less mystique than the hard-to-find Westvleteren.

St Bernardus pours with a relatively light-coloured head, the beer as dark in colour as the Straffe Hendrik, but less red. The aroma is more upfront, signalling the sweet, dark, vinous maltiness within. It has a similar character to the Straffe Hendrik: a little bit of red wine, some dark chocolate, raisins. There’s something else there though, a little spicy, lifting the taste: vanilla, maybe even cardamom.  This, and a less thick body than you might expect from the ABV, makes it very drinkable.

In conclusion it does seem to me that there is a definite difference between the La Trappe Quadrupel and St Bernardus Abt 12, most evident in the colour, but also the taste.  My personal preference is for the darker, deeper “Abt”, and it’s a style/sub-style that I’ll definitely be coming back to.

For another comparison of this style of beer, see this post from Mark Dredge, the comments to which display some of the best and worst of online beer discussion.

Beer In Bruges: Beer Matching Dinner at Den Dyver

September 1, 2011 6 comments

It’s fair to say that Bruges is an expensive city.  You’d be lucky to pay less than €20 for a bowl of mussels.  However the most extravagant thing we did whilst we were there was to have dinner on our last evening at Den Dyver, a fine dining restaurant with a focus on matching beer and food, which has previously been featured on The Hairy Bikers.

The restaurant looks minimalist from the outside but inside has something of a mediaeval tavern feel, with hanging lamps and some gothic/churchy fittings, although this isn’t overdone and is offset with some pieces of modern art on the walls.  Despite this, it definitely had the quiet and refined tone of a fine dining restaurant, but with a certain warmth.

Rather than having a beer list for you to choose from, each dish is matched with a particular beer in what Around Bruges In 80 Beers describes as a “dictatorial” approach, but is perhaps more accurately described as “prescriptive”.  There is a similar approach to wine, should you opt for that instead.   There is a short a la carte menu but Kate and I both opted for the  three course set menu.  She chose a fish starter and main whilst I went for the least ethical options: a foie gras starter and a veal main.

Aperitif

The night started with a champagne flute of the house beer, which is from Brouwerij Van Steenberge, who also brew the house beer for De Garre, which I think the founders of Den Dyver previously owned. It’s a similar and similarly excellent beer, although I don’t think it’s the same one, as I’ve read in some places online.

With the bread came some crispy sea bass goujons and a dipping sauce, which went well with the blonde hoppy beer.  We also received an amuse bouche: mussels on a herby mash, a shot glass of gazpacho and a piece of (raw? cured?) herring.  Everything was a little treat in itself and a great start to a very special meal. 

Starter

Kate’s starter read as follows:”Redfish filet. Spider crab. Broad beans. Leek. Oca leaf. White radish. Parsley flower.” This came with a bottle of Petrus Blond from Brouwerij Bavik.

Mine was: “Baked goose liver. Pata Negra. Grilled green asparagus. Pearl onions. Avocado pear. Westphalia rye bread.” This came with a bottle of Kapittel Pater from Van Eecke, a soft dark beer to match the rich dark flavours of the foie gras and the crisp asparagus.

I thought it worked well, although the starter was so delicious I had to remind myself to drink.  The only criticism I would have is that there seemed to be two starters, really: the asparagus and ham wasn’t really needed alongside the foie gras, although all were very lovely.  You could extend this criticism to the main courses but they probably sat together more convincingly.



Main Course


Kate’s main course was: “Grilled monkfish. Rosemary potatoes. Palissons and lemon lentils. Broccoli and lettuce. Ratatouille.” The fish main course similarly came with a blonde beer, but this time the hoppier Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor  from Brouwerij Het Anker.  It was an excellent beer and she was very impressed with the fish.



My main course was “Baked veal. Ravioli of calf’s head and chanterelle mushrooms. Swiss chard. Sour-salt red cabbage. Celery and lavas.”  This absolutely delicious plate of rich, slightly autumnal food was well-matched with another dark beer, a Gusto Ruby Red from Brouwerij De Koninck.

 This beer was more interesting than the first and really very well suited.  The veal, which I choose to believe was ethically sourced, was really very delicious.  Kate didn’t like the ravioli when she tasted it and although I did, I can see why: it was slightly offally, but again this was a good match with the beer.

Dessert

Kate opted for the dessert whilst I decided to go straight for the cheese.  She had:Fresh red fruit salad. Yogurt mousse. Basil biscuit. Lime-honey popcorn. Ugandan dark chocolate sorbet.”  This looked absolutely superb and came with a glass (not a full bottle) of Goudenband  from Brouwerij Liefmans

This was Kate’s favourite course.  The fruity, sour and sophisticated beer (an Oud Bruin) was a good match for the bitter chocolate and light tart berries.  I’m not a massive fan of desserts but this one looked and tasted great.

I can’t remember the name of the cheeses on the cheese course but I do remember that they were wonderful, and were matched with some chutney, nuts and  a St Bernardus Pater 6.   This was a great beer, although I had actually tried a few other St Bernardus beers earlier in the day and thought the rich cheeses could have coped with their Abt, but there’s probably something to be said for a level of sweetness so that you can fully appreciate the flavours of each cheese. 

After our final course we had a final little amuse bouche of pannacotta.   It was one of the more expensive meals that we’ve had recently, although certainly less than the Devonshire Arms.  I really felt that it was worth it though, with some very special food and wonderful beers.  If you’re looking to really treat yourself on a holiday to Bruges, I would recommend a visit, although be sure to make a reservation as it was full even on a Monday night.

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