With the craft beer world constantly innovating, changing and providing us with new beers to get excited about, one can almost forget about the countless classic beers that have always been here — and hopefully always will.
I recently tasted a group of the various Trappist beers available in Hawaii, many for the first time, and was reminded of how many people have never explored some of the amazing beers that inspired today’s craft breweries.
Trappist breweries defined many of the Belgian styles popular today — like dubbel, tripel and quadrupel — and for decades Trappist beers have been synonymous with quality.
Monks of the Trappist monasteries or abbeys follow the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, which prescribes a life focused on prayer, work and service. The monks produce foods including cheese, bread, jams and beer to help sustain the monasteries and donate to nearby charities.
Fourteen Trappist breweries remain, most of them in Europe. To receive the Authentic Trappist Product seal, found on all Trappist beers, products must be made within the immediate surroundings of the abbey, by or under the supervision of the monks. Profits go to the needs of the abbey or charitable works.
Similar in style are abbey beers, in most cases brewed by private companies for profit, although some are associated with a monastery or abbey. St. Bernardus and Leffe are examples.
We’re incredibly lucky in Hawaii to have access to a number of Trappist beers year-round. If you’ve never had one, I highly recommend picking up a few. Like most Belgian-style beers, all are made to be enjoyed with food, so don’t be afraid to pair them up with a meal.
The Abbey of Orval makes only one beer. It is distinct from any other Trappist beer and has inspired craft brewers around the world to try to re- create it. A deep copper orange, with aromas of citrus, fresh-cut grass and hints of pink peppercorn, this is a beer that can age for years. Orval is famous for its use of Brettanomyces, a strain of yeast that not only creates a bone-dry finish but also produces wonderfully funky flavor notes. Give it a try with a simple salad and tender white-fleshed fish.
Also known as Grande Reserve, this is the most popular Trappist beer in the world. Brewed at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourmont, Chimay is the largest Trappist beer producer in the world and Blue is a beer that begs for a place at the dinner table. Dark brown with notes of cocoa, roasted figs, freshly toasted bread with a hint of roasted coffee, this is a perfect beer for roasted or grilled meats, cheese and big bowls of hearty pasta.
The newest Trappist beer available in Hawaii, the Zundert is brewed in the Netherlands at the Abdij Maria Toevlucht just north of the Belgian border. This is another Trappist beer that doesn’t fit into any classic style. It is most similar to a Belgian- style dubbel, but much lighter in color and with a wonderful dry bitterness on the finish. Upfront notes of light caramel, dried apricots and toffee provide a fantastic hint of sweetness that fades quickly. Although it is 8% alcohol by volume, its strength is completely hidden. Pair this up with shoyu poke for a umami flavor explosion.
Also worth a try: Don’t miss Westmalle Tripel, Rochefort 10 and Stift Engelszell Gregorius.
Tim Golden, a certified cicerone, shares his obsession with all things craft beer on the third week of each month. He is part-owner of Village Bottle Shop in Kakaako.