In the unlikely event anyone was wondering about it, here’s what I made of those bottles I brought back from Belgium.
THE POSSIBLE DUD
I was quite keen on Fort Lapin Tripel when I had it on tap; I noted at the time that it had a bit of bitterness to it, unusually for a tripel. I don’t know why there should be a big difference between the keg and the bottle, but a big difference there was. No bitterness at all, and rather a lot of sweetness. It wasn’t sweet enough to get cloying, but it was a lot sweeter than I’d expect a tripel to be; fruity, in fact, and not in a good way. By halfway down I was tiring of it, not least because it had started to remind me vividly of… something else. Something other than beer. As I finished the glass it came back to me: Fort Lapin Tripel, or at least that bottle of it, tasted exactly like perry – and a sweetish perry at that. Disappointing and rather odd.
(That’s almost certainly going to be the fullest review of any of these beers. Unfortunately, disappointment makes better copy.)
THE MERELY LOVELY
I don’t need to tell you about Westmalle Dubbel. It’s a Trappist dubbel and it’s lovely. Big, dark, malty, but very drinkable.
Rochefort 8 is in a similar area. Big and fruity – prune-and-rhubarby, really – but light enough to go down easily.
Kwak… well, you know Kwak. (Not one of my purchases, in fact – my son bought me a bottle and a glass, complete with wooden stand, as a birthday present.)
THE VERY LOVELY INDEED
Rochefort 6, for me, worked a lot better than the 8. The 8 tasted a bit like a watered-down version of the 10; although the 6 was lighter in alcohol, I thought it had a more interesting flavour and less thinness on the palate. Slightly less sweet than the 8, and malty more than fruity; a fairly complex taste that developed nicely.
Fort Lapin Quadrupel made up for the Tripel and then some. Black, sweet and intense, but without the stewed fruit and cake spice overtones of a lot of Belgians; it reminded me more of an Old Tom or Owd Roger, if you can imagine one of those brewed to 10% a.b.v.
THE EVEN BETTER THAN THAT
Duvel Tripel Hop is being imported, or at least has been imported. Get it if you see it – it’s a bit special. It doesn’t have the distinctive (and deceptive) smoothness of Duvel, but it does have an awful lot of hops. It’s a surprisingly good combination.
Rochefort 10 is a world classic and I don’t care who says otherwise. (Probably nobody, but you never know.) It’s 11% a.b.v. and tastes of prunes, which should make for a cherry-brandy-like novelty nightcap; it’s so much better than that, though. It’s as if a crack team of monks had set out to make a distinctively Belgian take on your favourite old ale, but finished early and spent the rest of the day making it twice as good as that. Then come back the next day, doubled its strength (possibly through the power of prayer), and then stayed late to make it twice as good again. It’s a very, very lovely beer, I bought it in a supermarket where it cost me the euro equivalent of £2 exactly (including bottle deposit), and I want another one right now.
Saving the rarest (and biggest) till last: Mont Des Cats produces one beer, which I spotted in ‘t Bierpaleis in a 75 cl bottle, going for €7.50 (about £6.40). (I don’t know if they bottle it in any more user-friendly sizes; that was the only bottle I saw.) I bought it, I took it home and – some time later when I had a free afternoon – I drank it. It’s a darkish, coppery tripel: full-bodied, herby, not too sweet, and all in all not a million miles from Orval. Very nice indeed, although I’d recommend whacking straight through the whole bottle if you do get a big one – I left mine standing half-full for a couple of hours, and the condition suffered quite badly (should have put a teaspoon in the bottle).
Mmm, Belgian beer. Very lovely and all gone. Actually not quite all – I’ve still got one bottle left: an Orval, which (having had it ‘young’ in Bruges) I’m leaving to age in the bottle for six months. Roll on February!