Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: A Quadrupel from New England's TrappistsBy JIM BEAUREGARD January 09. 2018 11:36PM
Today we’re going to take a look at a new offering, a Belgian quadruple ale made not in Belgium, but just down the road in Spencer, Mass., by the Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey.
This is a big deal actually, because Spencer is the only Trappist brewery in the New World, all the others being in northern Europe.
In order to get ready for the tasting of what I can already tell you is a very good beer, we need to touch base about two things: First, Belgian quadruples, and second the world of Trappist Ales.
So, the quadruple (or “Quadrupel”) thing. What do you do when you live somewhere that is too cold to grow grapes? You make beer instead. They’ve been doing that in Belgium for a very long time, courtesy of Trappist monks and others both within the monasteries and without. When they are made outside of monastery settings but in the same style they are referred to as “abbey beers.”
These beers tend to be top-fermented ales, fermented at fairly high temperatures, and as a whole they tend to have fairly high alcohol content. They can range in color from bright golden to almost black.
Considering the different beer levels, one needs to go by the alcohol content, not by the color. From lightest ABV to strongest, it’s Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel. But by color, a Tripel is light, a Dubbel darker and a Quadrupel darker still.
A Belgian Tripel tends to run from a lighter to a deeper gold, and weigh in at around 9 percent alcohol by volume. The hops may be fairly strong, or more subdued, and these beers tend to have good fruit aromas and flavors.
The beers are made with malt, but sometimes the darkness and the coloring comes from caramelized candi sugar syrups. They tend to be dry beers, but they can have intense caramel flavors that may make them at first seem sweet.
Next come the quadruples, which may be darker still and tend to have pretty high alcohol contents, catapulting up into wine bottle range, some as high as 14 percent alcohol by volume. This can work, or it get the brewer into trouble. It may give the beer depth and complexity, plum and fig fruit flavors, or it can throw the alcohol out of balance and make the beer taste “hot”. These tend not to be made in Belgium; quadruples are more common here in America, as well as in Denmark and in Brazil.
Then, the Trappist part. To be a Trappist Ale there are several criteria that must be met. The bottle has a hexagon symbol on it identifying it as an official Trappist beer (today’s beer has the logo on the neck label). This means that the beer is produced within a Trappist monastery, that the processes overseen by the monks of the community, and that the profits from the brewery are directed toward the monastic community and social services that they support.
Spencer Monk’s Reserve, a Trappist Quadrupel: Spencer, Mass., 10.2% alcohol by volume. The four pack I bought at Harvest Market was about $11. Now, those of you who are regular readers of this column know that I have previously confessed to preferring Belgian Tripels, the golden beers with typically lower alcohol content, but in this case, yowza! Huge creamy tan head, a bit frothy. The beer itself is dark brown, unfiltered, with a medium-plus nose with caramel, bread and even some hints of chocolate.
On the palate the beer is dry, with the caramel flavors I mentioned above, medium acidity and bitterness. The 10.2 percent alcohol is lower than the typical Belgian quad, and in this case quite well integrated. The body is medium-plus in character with very good weight and balance of components. The texture is creamy and the flavor intensity is at the high end of the spectrum with rich mulch, dried fruit, and bitterness all blending well together into a very long finish.
Perfect for the snowstorm I am sitting in the middle of as the wind howls against my window. Definitely a worthwhile choice for a winter beer.
Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org