Monday, 3 January 2011

How to improve a Trappist beer.

A recent article in our regional daily, the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung, grabbed my attention simply because it had a photo of beer. Not that unusual in a German paper perhaps, but this short piece went under the title "Der Champagner des Biertrinkers". Another one, I thought. It opens describing the beer as smelling of malt, and hops (well, that's a good start), and tasting of sweet malt, elegant hops and a malty-fruity finish. So far so un-champagne-y. Brewed in 2010, it says, it will develop well in the bottle till 2017. Ok, that sounds more interesting, as most Germans seem to prefer drinking the beer as fresh as possible. But what is it?

Described by the RNZ as Germany's most expensive beer*, at €8.45 for 750ml, Abteibier (Abbey beer) Ambrosius from the Alpirsbacher Klosterbräuerei was released just before Christmas, and is being marketed as a "Gourmet-Bier", and a new type of beer for a new type of niche market in Germany. At this point, I was thinking about Estrella Damm's Inedit (which I was able to try thanks to TheBeerNut), but at least Ambrosius doesn't seem to be billed as being designed for food pairing, but much is made of the fact it is corked and caged, like many a Belgian beer, seemingly signifying that it's "gourmet". Wolfgang Stempfl, MD of Brauakademie Doemens, and described as the leader of Biersommelier development in the German-speaking lands, is quoted as saying that the time was ripe for Germany to have a "noble beer", and that Germany was missing "Gourmet-Biere" like they have had in Belgium for a long time

Fair enough, I suppose, and the paper said that that the Abbey beer resembles the well-known Belgian Trappist beers, which makes it sound really interesting. But then the crunch. They go on to say that it is of higher quality than the Trappist beers due to being brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot. I almost wept. Lars, however, made a very good point that this was a "lovely unintentional parody of German attitude to Reinhetsgebot." And he's right, of course. How could you not love this neck-like-a-jockey's-bollox attitude that a beer type, so beloved of so many people, could be improved by application of the Reinheitsgebot.

So, only one way to see. I've ordered a couple of bottles. I should really do a blind tasting, but what should this honey-coloured, 7.7% Abbey beer be compared to? Suggestions welcome below, but bear in mind, it's tough to get Trappist beers here (although I do have some Rochefort 6, 8 and 10 in the cellar).

You can see a tasting of sorts (wondering what they compare it to), and an interview with the brewer and others on

*I really think Schorschbräu*'s 30%+ beers would take that record, at something like 90 Euro for 330ml.


The Beer Nut said...

Interesting strength. Blind, I'd put it next to a standard strong blonde (Duvel); abbey tat (Leffe Blonde) and Trappist tripel (Westmalle). Should be possible to spot which it's nearest to. Maybe throw in a hell bock, Einbecker, say, for shitz und giggles.

Barry M said...

The Duvel and Leffe aregood ideas, and I can probably get them easily (online of course). I would have thought a Tripel would stand out against the Ambrosia (just by looking at the stats), but it's a good excuse to have one again. I was wondering if a Rochefort 6 would be a good comparison (not just because I have one).

A decent bock would also be a good German control. Good suggestions :)

Barry M said...

Well, the two bottles I ordered on the night of the 1st arrived today. Nice presentation. Have now ordered the ones to taste against.

Barm said...

Sugar is allowed in top-fermenting beer, which means the Belgian Trappists are also brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot.

Barry M said...

That's right, and something that isn't widely advertised over here, hence the newspaper making a point about it. At least I assume it was the paper, although the SWR piece does also mention "preferably Reinheitsgebot".

But yeah, that's a good argument to keep up the sleeve if encountering a purist :D