When I first started really exploring the world of beer -- beyond the big-brand, ubiquitous beers that adorned the bars of Ireland at the time -- one family of beers that really hit a home run were the strong Belgian ales, particularly the Abbey and Trappist beers. Westmalle (usually the Tripel) and Chimay (Blue or Red) were the norm, as they were fairly readily available in the likes of The Porterhouse, where most of my beer exploration of the late 90s was carried out. My lust for these beers waned over the years as I began to prefer hop bombs, and I began finding them a little overly sweet. But I'd have one now and again, particularly if I found myself in Belgium. But for some reason, until recently I had never tried the Rochefort beers. In fact, it's kind of weird to realise that Rochefort were the only Trappist beer that I haven't tried (or at least not that I can recall)!
Luckily, thanks to the likes of Bier Zwerg, I can buy these kinds of beers, even in a place like Germany where it's really hard to find such "exotics" (bearing in mind I now have a couple of bottles of the new Ambrosius).
Makes sense to start with the baby, Rochefort 6, though a chubby kid at 7.5% . A chestnut-tinged amber with a few motes of yeast in suspension and pretty sprightly carbonation helping deliver a creamy head. An odd aroma, slightly soapy, light pine and hard pears. Inviting, nonetheless. It sits easily on the tongue, all light caramel, sweet orange marmalade and raisins. A little thin perhaps, considering it's weight, but its long, fruity, raisiny and warming finish makes it a simple pleasure.
Plus 2 to the Rochefort 8. This turns things up a bit in more ways than just numbers, with a sweeter, burnt sugar aroma, and oodles of dried fruits. Plumper than its little brother, it delivers more big boy toffee than soft caramel flavours. Plummy and figgy, with a vinous edge, chewy is a good word to describe it, and I really like it for that. Despite the luscious fruitiness, it finishes quite dry with a tea-like tannic finish that makes it quite refreshing. It's a subtle bugger though, and being so drinkable you don't notice the 9.2% ABV sneaking up on you.
So much so, that by the time I got to the Rochefort 10, I was tucking into bread, cheese, salamis and hot mustard, a perfect combination with these beers, and I really wasn't bothered taking any more notes, so with a fresh palate, I sampled the 10 anew the following evening.
As one would expect, everything is bigger again. It's darker looking, and more broody, with little of the effervescence of the smaller siblings. The dried fruits, so plentiful in the aroma of the 8, are turned to 11 here, with an accompanying roasty backdrop and booziness. Dark toffee and muscavado sugar up front, immediately followed by a warming alcohol burst. There's a lingering fruit element, oddly reminiscent of soft summer fruits, with strains of strawberry and raspberry, lending an ever-so-slight tartness that takes the edge off the more sticky, sugary foundation. Even at 11.3%, this is dangerously drinkable, showing a wonderful balance.
Of the three, I think my preference is ever so-slightly towards the Rochefort 8, but both it and the 10 will find a semi-permanent place in the new cellar.
Oh, and I can't drink a bottle without this going on in my head.
For bonus material, especially if you remember the start of the show, check out this answering machine message collection! :)