Blue Collar Brew Review – Westmalle Dubbel Trappist Ale

Westmalle Brewery

Tonight we partake in a beer that was purchased at Friar Tuck’s Beer Store in St. Louis last Saturday. Along with two sixers of IPAs and Pumpkin ale, I had to try a dubbel, one of my favorite styles of beer, but brewed by some brewery that didn’t distribute to north central Illinois. Amazingly, Friar Tuck’s sells homebrew recipe kits and equipment. Not as wide a variety as an online, but if you run into trouble during a brewing session at home, FT is there with sanitizer, bottle caps, siphons, etc. Gotta like that.

I had been in a discussion with one of the fine gentlemen that works there and I asked him what was the best dubbel in his opinion. He led me down the aisle and over around a corner where all the Belgian beers were on display. He reached down and grabbed a bottle of Westmalle Trappist Dubbel. “This. There are better ones in the world but they’re not available in this area. Westmalle is the way to go.” He pronounced the name, west mall. Alas, no Westvleteren or Sint Amatus.

I took the bottle, a 750, and grabbed another one completely disregarding the price. I was eager to compare the taste of this authentic beer to the others that I’ve grown accustomed to greatly enjoy on a regular basis.

I asked the FT rep, “What’s your recommendation for the best imperial IPA?” He trotted me over to a section along the beer wall and pointed at beers as if he was giving a lecture on physics, pointing and talking as I listened completely rapt. “My personal favorite is Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid. I’d bathe in it if it was socially acceptable.” Pfft! But I remembered seeing that beer on the shelf at the Four Seasons back home. I made a mental note and thanked the man.

Friar Tuck’s beer wall in Peoria, IL

I was done. 4 sixpacks and two 750s would put a dent in my credit card. One last trip down the beer wall and one last kid-in-a-candy-store sigh.

One week later, I’m back in the Manly Garage and ready to share with you the taste of another authentic Belgian beer. I could hardly wait to dive in. Until we get hop stupid later on.

It took a while to get the cork out of the bottle. I poured the contents into the glass and the foam rose up to about a half-inch and dissipated (may be the glass, maybe not.) Right away, I was welcomed with wonderful dark fruity aromas from about a foot away. The beer was a dark, rusty-brown in color, but the Craftsman flashlight revealed otherwise. A magnificent close-to-orange color sprang forth from the light. Carbonation was rather vigorous with streams of micro-bubbles. The aroma was almost wine-like. A little plum, maybe some dark cherry and raisins. Time for a big sip.

The body was full. Sweetness invaded my mouth bringing with it slight hints of grape or grape juice. What a treat! I couldn’t get over how different this beer was from its American counterparts. The richness of the overall taste was amazing. From the first intake to the swallow, a nice sweet flavor coated all the mouth parts. The swallow was worth it. Only a small zing, perhaps from the carbonation, but no hop flavors came forward.

There were no overbearing malt flavors or roastiness. Just a unique big beer flavor that I could possibly compare to that Sint Amatus 12 quadrupel I had some time ago. Even though this is a dubbel. All those dark red fruit flavors were here as they were in the quad. A bit less alcohol, 7% for this one and 10.5% for the latter, but the similarities were almost scary.

One thing that bothered me was the best-by label info. “Best before end” didn’t make it crystal clear as to when was the best time to drink this beer. There was a date immediately below: 03/08/12. That was exactly 6 months ago. This was my thinking: the beer could quite possibly be at the end of its shelf life. Or is best before the end of 2012? Or best before the end of March? Or best before the end of March 8th?

There was another date immediately below the first one which was exactly 2 years earlier. Was that the window of opportunity for drinking this beer? In which case, the beer I was drinking was expired. But it still tasted damn good and I’m not going to lose any sleep over this paradox. It would be interesting however, to compare this beer in hand with one that had a fresher best-before-end date.

I have learned that the higher alcohol beers (except for some IPAs) can be cellared for years, with the taste improving and mellowing. Perhaps that was what I’d been drinking tonight. An aged, mellowed beer. In the same vein, Goose Island’s Pere Jacques (often my go-to beer and also a dubbel) can be aged for up to five years, so why put the confusing dates on the label in the first place? I’ve eased my conscience and can now concentrate on appreciating this beer for what it is.

Ahh. Each sip was a symphony of dark fruited flavors covered in bubbles. I have now ratcheted up my opinion of Belgian beers and Westmalle. This beer was a silk lined journey through the northern area of Belgium right here in the Many Garage. With enough of this fine liquid, even I could speak Dutch. Or something that sounded close.

The SixPackTech summary for Westmalle Dubbel Trappist Ale:

Taste: Exquisite. My tongue must be dreaming.
Smoothness: It’s mag-lev beer with no-friction swallows.
Drinkability: Only you will know when you’re finished.
Bang for the buck: The taste makes it worth the dollars.
ABV: 7.0%
Paid price: About $11.50 per 750.
Get it again? Hell yes I’d get it again. And again.
Brewer’s website
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: (Sniff, pause. sniff) I get the burnt coffee. (sip)… (sip) That’s really… (sip) It hits you and you expect all this stuff to go down. But it’s watered down. There’s no aftertaste or anything. (Are you sick? Come here and let me check to see if your nose is cold.)

BeerAdvocate rates
RateBeer rates

The pour – or why I question the date or my glass.

Video review from The Master of Hoppets – Hmm. Pronunciation.

Trappist brewing

West Mall


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