FIRST, SOURCE YOUR BEER.
Trappist beers are all living products. They are bottled with yeast, which continues to mature and develop the beer’s flavor in the bottle, up to a point when it will then ʺturnʺ and become sour, skunky, or otherwise unpleasant.
Living beers do not like to be kept for long periods much below 37°F or above 68°F, so find a beer store with a track record that suggests it buys its beers from reliable importers and distributors.
Bottles need to be treated with similar respect once you bring them home. The perfect cellar temperature is between 46°F and 54°F. There is no need to obsess about humidity. Avoid refrigeration usually and direct sunlight always. Store the beer upright.
BEERS AGE WITH VARYING DEGREES OF GRACEFULNESS.
Stronger beers (8 percent alcohol by volume and above) age better because alcohol is a preservative. Darker beers improve more than paler ones. Larger bottles (24 ounces and above) aid flavor development.
The Trappist beers that keep best in the cellar are Achel Extra Bruin (9.5 percent), Chimay Grand Reserve (9 percent), Rochefort 10 (11.2 percent), Westmalle Tripel (9.5 percent), and Westvleteren Extra 8 (8 percent) and Westvleteren 12 (10.2 percent). Three years’ aging is rarely a problem for these brews, and many bottles age reverently for a decade or more.
Trappist beers of lesser strength are usually best enjoyed within a year of production.
HOW TO SERVE TRAPPIST BEER
The best serving temperature for any fine ale is 50° to 54°F—the historical meaning of ʺroom temperature.ʺ This allows for a little warming while it is being enjoyed, with the full array of flavor components in an ale coming through at around 59°F.
To pour, take a chalice-shaped glass such as those used to serve Trappist and other Belgian ales—though a large balloon wineglass will do just as well—and tilt it slightly. Pour the beer held from an inch or two above the glass’s rim so that it flows smoothly, hitting a spot just off the center of the base of the glass.
Continue pouring as a single action, with as strong a flow and as few glugs as you can manage, until you start to see a slick of yeast advancing toward the neck of the bottle. Stop pouring.
With luck and practice this should leave you with a two-thirds-full glass of more or less clear beer sporting a sizable foaming ʺhead,ʺ and half an inch of beer and sediment still in the bottle.
After enjoying all but the last mouthful of the beer, a true Belgian would swirl the sediment around in the bottle, add these cloudy dregs to the beer, and drink this in a single gulp. Personally, I prefer to pour the dregs down the sink.
HOW TO BE SURE IT’S A REAL TRAPPIST BEER
Trappist beers can be found at fine grocery stores such as Whole Foods. Just be sure to look for the small logo on the label that says AUTHENTIC TRAPPIST PRODUCT. Otherwise, it’s easy to be misled by beer labels that feature monks and abbeys but aren’t made by them. In fact, if there’s a monk on the label, it isn’t a Trappist beer—it’s what is commonly called an abbey ale, an ale that is made by a commercial brewer in the style of a Trappist beer.
Commercial brewers like to put monks and abbeys on their labels because the true Trappist beers have such a high reputation for quality and taste. To confuse things even further, some monasteries that once made beer have licensed the names of their abbeys to commercial producers. So how does one find the real thing, and why does it matter?
Only seven beers in the world qualify as Authentic Trappist Products: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren, all in Belgium, and Konings- hoeven in the Netherlands. Two other monastery food products use the logo: Orval cheese and liqueurs from Our Lady of Saint Joseph (aka Lilbosch Abbey) in the Netherlands.
The Authentic Trappist logo is more than just an advertising gimmick. It guarantees that a beer has been made at an abbey, either by monks and nuns or under their supervision, and that all profits are used to support Trappist monasteries (especially Trappist foundations in Africa) or for charity.
Source: A Taste of Haven by Madeline Scherb