Owen examines the rich ales.
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Belgian Trappist Brewery Visit

Owen Ogletree and Paul Eckloff have visited all five of the remaining Belgian Trappist monasteries that still brew their own ales. This is our story of one of them.

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The ales made by the Trappist monks of the Notre Dame de Saint-Remy abbey of Belgium are simply a joy to consume. These beers are not well known and very hard to find but are well worth seeking out. This is the fifth and final installment in our series of articles describing the five remaining Belgian Trappist monasteries that produce their own ales. The Trappist brewery that produces the Rochefort ales is located near the town of Rochefort, which is east of Namur. Neither the monastery nor the beers are easy to find. Of the five Belgian Trappist breweries we have visited in our journeys, Saint-Remy is by far the most cloistered and private. Unlike many other Trappist breweries in Belgium, at Saint-Remy there is no gift shop, no abbey cafe, and seemingly no sign of life in this beautiful monastery. The quietness of this abbey was so overwhelming it was eerie, but this is the way the leading abbot and the monks prefer their lives. 

Saint-Remy started in the early 1200's as a convent and became a monastery in 1464. Late in the 1500's, the monks there started to make their ales. Today, the brewing monks use Pilsener malts, Munich malts, and a little dark candy sugar thrown in for good measure. Golding and Hallertau hops are used for bittering and aroma. As with most Belgian beers of deep complexity, Rochefort contains a complex blend of two yeast strains -- both in the primary fermenter and in the bottles.

We sampled these beers in the town of Rochefort at the small Taverne Le Jupy. This tavern is located on the quaint main street that leads through the center of scenic Rochefort. There are other bars in Rochefort and most sell the Trappist ales named after the town, but the Taverne Le Jupy seemed to take pride in promoting the Rochefort beers with a large sign on the sidewalk outside the bar. It was enough to bring us inside.

Rochefort ale goes against the Trappist tradition somewhat by not offering Dubbels and Tripels. Rather, the three main Rochefort beers seem to be very similar to each other with variable body and strength among them. The different beers are conveniently named by a simple numbering system. We sampled Rochefort 6, Rochefort 8, and Rochefort 10. Rochefort 6 is the softest and driest of the bunch with an alcohol content of 6 percent by weight and 7.5 percent by volume. Like the other Rochefort beers, the head on Rochefort 6 is thick and creamy. The color of this beer is a beautiful cooper, and the aroma is earthy, sweet, and somewhat fruity. The flavor is complex with caramel, fruit, and hints of raisins. It's amazing that the lightest offering from Saint-Remy is far more powerful than most beers people in the southeastern U.S. typically enjoy.

Rochefort 8 scores an alcohol content of 7 percent by weight and 9 percent by volume. It has a medium brownish color with a much more robust aroma and flavor than Rochefort 6. The body and alcohol warmth are also more evident in Rochefort 8, and the fruitiness is quite pronounced.

Rochefort 10 was by far our favorite. It has a dark brown color with lots of chocolatey aroma and flavor. It has a substantial body and mouthfeel and, with 9 percent alcohol by weight and 11 percent by volume, the alcohol profile is a major component in the flavor of this rich ale. This beer is very similar to 6 and 8, it just has much more of everything. This is definitely an ale that would benefit from some aging -- the flavor would probably improve for years.

These beautiful beers are examples of the rich ales that sustained many Monks through the fastings of Lent long ago. The Trappist ales, especially those produced by the monks near Rochefort, are all truly works of art. The Trappist ales, especially those produced by the monks near Rochefort, are all truly works of art. These sites have been popular anniversary gift ideas for many beer enthusiasts due to the love put into the brewing these beers.

Rochefort's ales are drinks not meant to quench a thirst, but to enrich a soul.


Owen Ogletree is an award-winning homebrewer, certified beer judge, and Director of Athens' (Ga.) Classic City Brew-Fest held each spring..


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