First a confession: I'm not the biggest fan of most Belgian ales. Blame it on their unique yeast, which creates very high levels of esters as well as lactic acid. The result is a unique taste and aroma reminiscent of spicy banana from the esters and a sour mash quality from the lactic acid. That said, I do appreciate the style, especially when brewed by the monks at any one of the six Trappist abbeys producing beer. Both Orval (the oldest) and Chimay (the most commercial) have been available in Boise for some time now. Two more have recently joined their ranks here.
The first, Westmalle Abbey, opened its doors in 1794 and is officially named Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Two of their three offerings are exported to the States. Their Westmalle Dubbel has a dark and hazy brown-sugar color with a creamy tan head. There's a definite sour mash quality on the nose along with caramel and fig, but it's all fairly subdued. The deep dark color belies the soft flavor profile of this elegantly structured ale. It's lightly carbonated with a smooth and creamy texture and just a light hop bite in the background. Candied fruits and caramel come through, especially on the finish.
Westmalle is credited with having created the first Tripel ale back in 1934, using classic pilsner malt to create its characteristically luminescent golden straw color. Aromas of cardamom and soft clover are backed by yeasty bread dough and fresh grass. That typical Belgian spiciness is apparent on the palate, but it's not overwhelming. Soft but persistent hops blend with citrus and stoned fruit flavors, along with smooth malt, a light touch of mocha and a bit of buttered popcorn on the finish. Overall a very refreshing brew that's nicely complex in aroma and flavor.
The monks at Rochefort Abbey (Our Lady of Saint-Remy) began brewing beer in 1595. They export three ales simply titled 6, 8 and 10, but quantities are so limited that only their 8 (a.k.a. Green Cap) has made it to the Boise market. That's a shame because this is a brew that could convert anyone into a Trappist ale fan. It pours the color of candied ginger with piney hop, and a lightly floral aroma mingles with cinnamon apple pie and a nice creamy hint of fennel. The creaminess carries through on the palate in this exceptionally well-balanced brew. Layers of flavor unfold in the glass, including light spice, smoked bacon, pepper, rich malt, sweet fruit, fig and rose hips. Citrus and smooth hops help to clean things up on the finish, which lingers on and on. A remarkable quaff. :