I don’t really like wine, so when New Year’s Eve rolls around, I’d rather pop the cork on a big bottle of Belgian beer. Maybe you’re like me, and prefer beer over wine. Fortunately, there are a family of beer styles that can fill the roll of champagne; abbey-style Belgian ales. Dry, effervescent, and high in alcohol, these fine beers are often sold in 22 ounce corked bottles and can be found at many grocery stores now. Many are brewed by Trappist monasteries in Belgium. Westmalle, Chimay, Rochefort, and Orval beers have wide distribution in America now. In order to use the Trappist name, the beers must be brewed by Trappist monks, but the styles have become widely emulated.
The abbey family of ales include single, dubbel, blonde, tripel, and quadrupel. Single is pale, malty, and easy drinking: a low-alcohol beer brewed for the monks themselves to drink. Dubbel is malty, copper-to-brown, and 6-8% alcohol. Blonde is pale, dry, and 6-8% alcohol. Tripel is similar to blonde but drier, less sweet, and 8-10% alcohol. Quadrupel is the strongest and darkest of these beers: dark brown to jet black, full of dark plum and toffee flavor, and 8-12% alcohol. Originally, these names were simply designations for strength, and nothing more. Westmalle Abbey defined the styles by making a dark brown dubbel and pale tripel, and for the past 75 years other brewers in Belgium have followed suit.
The key to these styles is making sure they are nice and dry, or low in residual sweetness. With the exception of tripel, all of the abbey styles are low in bitterness and balanced towards malty sweetness, but they are also brewed to finish dry, much like champagne. This keeps them from being cloyingly sweet, and keeps them light on the palate. In order to keep them dry, sugar is used in the brewing process. Many Belgian brewers use candi syrup sugar, a special caramelized sugar that adds a unique flavor. We use authentic candi syrup from Candisyrup Inc., an American company that makes the best syrup in the world.
Crooked Run has several abbey styles in its line-up. Hopsail (single), Heartsong (dubbel), Realize Truth (quadrupel) and Warden’s Lament (sour tripel). One of the great joys of drinking these beers is enjoying them slowly. These styles of beer bloom as they warm; the maltiness and fruitiness of the yeast become more apparent. Always enjoy these styles in a glass, and be careful when pouring to avoid yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottle. There is really truly nothing like a glass of a great Belgian ale; it is the fine wine of the beer world.