Sunday, December 11, 2011

Brother David's Double and the Trappist Investigation

There's nothing quite as consistently excellent as an Abbey Style beer. Sophisticated, delicious, warm (in, like, you know, a conceptual sense, not a temperature sense. They're best served at around 45 degrees), Abbey Style beers are beers that are firing on all of their little flavor cylinders and are sort of like celebrating how completely and entirely awesome a good brew is.

And why shouldn't they be? Their modus operandi is to emulate a recipe that came from the very cradle of good beer - Belgium. Notice how I say emulate- actually, we come to a fun little lesson with this one.

You know how the booze world is filled with little distinctions that qualify the origin and quality of a certain type of alcohol? Champagne is one thing but Sparkling Wine is...well, the same thing, really, but was created in another part of the world, namely not France? And only whiskey that comes from the United States can be called Bourbon? Abbey Style beers are sort of like that. Only, we're in the camp of "imitator" with Abbey Style beers. That is to say, Abbey Style Beers are unofficial replicas of beers brewed in the Trappist tradition.

So, what is a Trappist Beer? A holy concoction that is brewed using only ambrosia, fermented in the holy grail and blessed by a local Shaman? Well, if you've had one, you might swear that to be the case. But if you haven't, don't feel too bad about it- there's only seven official breweries creating Trappist Beers in the world. Six are from Belgium, and one is Dutch. Odds are you've heard of Chimay- that's one example of a Trappist beer.

Only beers with this underwhelming logo are truly Trappist. 

Why so elusive? Well, to be a Trappist beer, a beer needs to actually be brewed in a Trappist Monastery. By actual monks. The recipes are closely guarded secrets, and the sales of these beers are almost entirely charity-based; proceeds go toward the daily lives of the monks and the functioning of their monasteries. 

Thank you, sir, you have my adoration. I would love nothing more than to hug you.  Picture from wikipedia.

Taking a step back, there's a second distinction for other beers that, while not officially Trappist, are branded Certified Belgian Abbey Beers- beers that, while not Trappist, are:

1. Overseen in some part by an Abbey
2. Charitable in at least some part to said Abbey 

There are 18 of these types of beer, ranging from the obscure (Maredsous is one example, and one of my favorite breweries, please try it if you see it) to the almost common - Leffe Blonde is one you've probably heard of, and with good reason. It represents the "Abbey brand" of Stella Artois (a solid beer that is albeit considered the "Budwiser of Europe," and is owned by Inbev - the beer conglomerate and relatively new owner of Budweiser.)

So, now we have two levels of Monkish-ness-ocity: Trappist and Abbey Certified. That leaves us with the third: Abbey Style. By now we're probably relegated to the depressing third string, in the realm of karaoke singers and minor league towel boys, right? Well, not really.

Trappist beers truly are exceptional and they have absolutely nailed the essence of beer. But you know, there are people passionate about beer outside of Belgium, and their passion is a fine ingredient to have in their various brews. With said passion, it is entirely possible to create a beer that is every bit as delicious as their Trappist role models, regardless of the distinctive seals and logos (and, of course, without the charitable notions). Anderson Valley Brewing Company in particular has one fine example of this.

Brother David's Double 
Abbey Style/Strong Ale
9.0% ABV

Brother David's beer makes no efforts to hide the fact that it is recalling the Trappist tradition - it is called Brother David's, after all. The label is two-tone white and brown, there's a lil dude that looks vaguely like Breaking Bad's Walter White dressed in Monk garb, and the label informs me that it is brewed in "very limited quantities" in a "cloistered nook," it is clear what David is aiming for.

There's no Meth in it, but it is ADDICTING! (lol?) Picture from

For one, be wary- it doesn't taste or drink like a 9% ABV beer. It's thicker bodied but sweet enough to go down quickly. Crisp bitter chocolate fades into sugar cane; there's nothing particularly refreshing about this beer, and it's not meant to be. Sip it near a fire over a discussion with friends, if you're given that sort of opportunity. Or put it out for Christmas Eve. Just keep it away from your dad because HE TAKES FOREVER GETTING UP CHRISTMAS MORNING.

Either way, this beer is exceptional for this time of year (sorry Dad).

See you next week, everyone.