How I won a beer-tasting contest…and encountering Westvleteren

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Please note that I’m using the famous line of the Confiteor in its original language since (a) it’s the most sacred of weeks in Christendom, and (b) I can’t believe that the folks closest to me here in Leuven (and the rest of the EU) has dubbed me the beer-queen.  Such dubious honor was given to me by my labmates when I won the beer-tasting contest a month ago.

Wait, a virtual teetotaller winning a beer-tasting competition?  I kid you not, I identified 8 out of EIGHT beers.  Here’s the proof:

There was the easy-breezy kriek (gueuze beer flavored with sour cherries), then the blond-type and amber ales like Stella Artois (very light, almost watery mouthfeel), Duvel (made me think of bitter lemons and hops), Delirium Tremens (there was something vaguely medicinal in its aroma) and Leffe blond (heavier mouthfeel, heavily hopped), and La Chouffe (almost like Duvel with its citrus notes, but has a heavier body)…then the two dark Trappist beers, Chimay Blauw (rich body, with a bitter, toasted grain flavor) and Rochefort 8 (also rich in mouthfeel, but with a sweeter, nuttier tone).

I wasn’t expecting to win the contest, but I swore to myself that I should be able to identify the Chimay from the Rochefort 8, since the latter is my favorite dark Trappist beer.  Yes, I prefer donker Trappisten bier than lager-type ales.

And speaking of Trappist beers: a few nights ago, I was lucky enough to have tasted the one of the rarest Trappist beers in the world—a brown, no. 12 beer from Westvleteren monastery.  It’s so hard to find in shops since the monks limit their production and sell only one case PER PERSON visiting their holdings.  This one was sold in De Bier Tempel in Brussels for 10 EUR.

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I know—you’re wondering if all the hype about this beer is worth it.  I say—IT IS!  Taste-wise, it’s almost like a Rochefort, but with a heavier texture, and a deeper, nutty taste mixed with burnt caramel, toasted grain and hops and creamy foam—it has “presence”.

And I had to open this with a Chimay bottle opener.  Well, they’re both Trappists.

I guess I’ve earned my badge as a beer expert, having specialized in one of the major food groups necessary for the health and sanity of grad students in Belgium–beer, waffles and chocolates.  And beer is “liquid bread”.

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