March 16, 2008

Beer education at The Trappist

Four friends excitedly entered The Trappist on 8th Street at Broadway in Oakland. We knew from the website that the bar offered "15 rotating taps and over 120 specialty bottles" and we were looking forward to tasting some of them. Fortunately we found a table because we tried ten beers over the course of four hours. Last night I learned a few things: (1) Maredsous is produced as a double (dubbel or 8) or triple (tripel/ trippel or 10); (2) bottles of Belgian beer sold at local groceries are priced inexpensively in comparison to prices at The Trappist; and (3) there are as many beer glass styles as there are styles of beer.

Today I borrowed Michael Jackson's Beer Companion (1993), in part because I felt that I incorrectly described saison style beer. I told my companions that saison beer is farmhouse style beer, and according to Wikipedia, I am correct. I also wanted to learn more about the beers we drank last night. So first, saison. According to Michael Jackson, the recently deceased "beer hunter", saison is a "refreshingly crisp, tart" summer beer brewed in the spring, March to be specific, in French Flanders and southern Belgium. We drank the Hennepin Saison (pictured below, left) which was quite crisp, carbonated, and orange, all characteristics noted by Jackson. The saison tasted similar to the flagship beer of Great Lake Brewing Company, said T.P., a former Cleveland, Ohio resident.

Avery IPA, Houblon Chouffe, and Old Rasputin Stout were also drunken in the first round. IPA or India Pale Ale is famous for its hoppy character. IPAs were shipped from Britain to India without refrigeration and the hops, according to Jackson, served as "an anti-infectant." Avery Brewing is located in Boulder, Colorado, so technically Avery IPA is an American IPA. Beer Advocate also distinguishes the American IPA from the British version noting that the
hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt back bone.
Houblon Chouffe is not listed in the Jackson's Beer Companion index. The beer has an alcohol content of 9% which was not evident in its taste. It came with a wonderful head of foam (pictured above, right). The Brewer and Robeer first drank La Chouffe in June 2005, at Cafe Belgique in Amsterdam. The final beer in the first round, the Old Rasputin Stout, pictured below, was described as "chocolate in bottle."

Our band of four drank two tripels in round two (La Divine Tripel and Maredsous Tripel), an Allagash Wit, and a Konig Pilsener. Tripel designates the strength of the beer in the Trappist style of brewing. Michael Jackson notes that only six breweries can use the word trappist on their labels: Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Sint Sixtus, and Schaapskooi. All except Schaapskooi are located in Belgium. Trappist is "in law an appellation of origin, not style" (Jackson). Interestingly very similar to French wine appellations. Breweries that produce beer in the Trappist tradition can use the word abbey or the phrase trappist style.

La Divine Tripel; Konig Pilsener, right

Allagash White Ale, as you can guess from the name and the photograph below (right), is a type of wheat beer. Allagash is located in Portland, Maine. One of our group described the wit as "a stoop beer...nice and refreshing," which is congruent to Allagash's own description: "it is a beer that is very drinkable and smooth any time of the year." Jackson writes that the South Germany, particularly Bavaria, style of wheat beer has been the most influential. This style is known as Weizenbier whereas Weisse is from Berlin. Belgian witbier or biere blanche is brewed with spices like orange peel and coriander. Beyond these place distinctions, Weisse (white) or Weizen (wheat) refers to beer "bottled with a sediment" while Hefe refers to the addition of yeast. Dark wheat beers, where dark malts have been added, are known as Dunkelweizen.

Pilsener is named for the first brewery that produced it - Pilsen, Bohemia. According to Jackson, prior to 1842, "all beers were dark or cloudy." Jackson stresses that Pilsener (or pilsner or pils) does not just designate a golden, clear brew, but rather, a true pilsener "has good malt character, but is accented toward the hop, in its floweriness of aroma and dryness of finish." This description accurately describes my experience of the Konig Pils. I was expecting typical American pilsners. The Konig's complexity was a pleasant surprise.

La Penneffoise; Blanche des Moines, right

The final round consisted of two beers: Blanche des Moines, a Flemish White and La Penneffoise, a Belgian Blonde brewed with prunes! It is fitting to end with the latter as it was Michael Jackson's favorite beer, according to another patron at The Trappist. I could not verify this information, but La Penneffoise was included on Michael Jackson's Rare Beer Club list in October 2007. I really like this beer. It is a terrific combination of a blond ale and subtle fruit. I saved the bottle.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Things That Are Brewed. Great account. About your sources: Brewers Association is just releasing updated version of Michael Jackson's book.

    But I recommend Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium. It's published by CAMRA Books, the publishing arm of the English Campaign for Real Ale. The most recent edition is two years old and Tim has a new one coming out in a few months. It's very authoritative and accurate and has lots of background. You can buy it in good bookstores (those that survive) at Amazon or order it directly from Tim at

    william brand/