Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Falling in to La Trappe

I have mentioned in previous posts that I find the highly rated Orval somewhat difficult to get in to, however I have no such problem with the beers from the Abbaye St-Remy in Rochefort. While preparing last night’s dinner of roast pork, marinated in a mixture of honey, mustard, Chodovar Dark Lager and my homemade chilli chutney, I decided to pull out the second of the Trappistes Rochefort I bought at the cheese shop last week, the 8.

The Rochefort 8 weighs in at a very respectable 9.2% ABV and pours a wonderful rich dark caramel colour, almost opaque but with a silken quality. So powerful is the aroma of burnt sugar, that even before I put my nose anywhere near the glass I can smell the delights to come. The Rochefort 8 shares the quality of being sweet with undertones of bitterness that was the overriding sensation with the 6, however this one is altogether far smoother. I found that the initial tastes make you want to simply sip the beer, as if in some perverse manner this will help you to savour the flavours. However, after about the third taste, I couldn’t help but taking decent sized mouthfuls to just enjoy the fullness of the beer. Certainly this is a beer that will be taking up more space in my little cellar.
My enjoyment of the Rochefort ales makes me wonder about my lack of enjoyment of Orval, perhaps I am doing it wrong, perhaps the shape of the glass was wrong, perhaps I am yet to reach the level where I can truly appreciate the beer. But then perhaps I am just a fairly normal Scot who has a very sweet tooth, if you read the history of beer making in Scotland, it is dominated not by hops, but by the malt. There are no native hops which grow in Scotland, and so the ancient Gaels, Picts and Vikings found other things to chuck in their brews, such as heather and even pine and spruce shoots – traditions which are kept alive to this day.

For a drink which has long been the tipple of the masses, the beer world can sometimes be intimidating – in particular when it comes to passing comment on the various ales, lagers, porters, stouts, wheats and myriad others that are available. I sometimes wonder that in trying to turn judging and rating into an objective science, we forget the magic and mystery that is inherent in beer.


  1. Could it also be the Brettanomyces characteristics of the Orval? They might be the only Trappist to include Brett, so that flavor may throw you off if comparing it to other lighter and sweeter Belgians.

    It might be worth revisiting a year or two down the road. But my opinion of the Rochefort 8 has not changed: it's still delicious!

  2. I have heard that from several people, so I am assuming that is the root of the issue. Am planning to re-visit Orval in a few months, although next time in the presence of someone more knowledgable than me.

  3. As to Orval and La Trappe, I love them both. I especially love the 8, rather then the other offerings. I enjoy the maltiness especially-just as I enjoy the maltiness of good Scottish Ale offerings. My preference normally goes to this type of beer (add in the spicy/estery Belgian yeast components and I'm in Heaven!).

    Orval is unique among the Belgian offerings in that it is dry hopped and has a bit of hoppy bitterness to it. The Brett character adds to this bitter, tangy component to make a very unusual Belgian beer.

    My hoembrew club is going to do a commercial tasting of Blegian beers (no other requirement than that) next Sunday and I am thinking of trying to procure a bottle or two of Rochefort 8 for that occasion...I'll report back as to the outcome of the tasting (there are several memkbers bringing beers, it should be fun).

  4. I'm also not a fan of Orval, rather strange taste IMHO and not the best of the Trappists.

    Other Belgian beers to consider: Westmalle Tripel, anything by de Dolle Brouwers, Westvleteren (if you can get your hands on any...), Maredsous, Duvel, Glazen Toren (they do a v. nice Winterscotch called Canaster together with seasonal specials in 75cl bottles for sharing with friends).


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