St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale Review

Beer: St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale

Style: Dubbel or Quadruple, depending on who you ask

Brewery: Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV (Watou, Belgium)

Importer: D&V International, Inc.

ABV: 10%

Bottle size: 1 Pint, 9.4.Fl. OZ

Instructions: “Serve between 53-56 degrees in a goblet glass.”

Let’s say you live in a large southern city. One night five inches of snow falls and shuts down the city and frees you from your work obligations for a couple of days. You spend the first snow day shoveling snow off your driveway and your neighbor’s driveway. Cabin fever sets in on the second day of Snow-mageddon 2011. Suddenly, through the digital grapevine, you learn the Whole Foods a half a mile away is open for five hours. What do you do? Throw on your boots and camo coat and make the hazardous, icy trek – that’s what you do.  And once you are there you pick one beer – that’s right, one bottle of beer – that you’ve never had before so you can sip it and write a review of it while you wait for the snow and the ice to disappear. And that, friends, is how we ended up with today’s featured cerveza, St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale, brewed by Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV in Watou, Belgium

I know what you’re thinking – St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale is one of the fancy and fabulous Trappist beers I’ve heard so much about. There is a brother of some order on the bottle, it’s called St. Bernardus, and it’s from Belgium – it has to be one, right? Not so fast, friend. To make a long story short, Abt 12 is not Trappist ale even though Brouwerij St. Bernardus has a long association with a monastery. In 1992 a trade group was established that agreed that the Trappist name could only be applied to beer brewed within the walls of an abbey or under the control of monks. Because St. Bernardus sits just outside the abbey, St. Bernardus Abt 12 is “abbey-style” ale, not Trappist ale.

If all that wasn’t confusing enough, there is also a disagreement about what style of beer St. Bernardus Abt 12 is. The importer calls it “classic ‘Dubbel’ style” ale on the bottle. Beer Advocate and other brew publications and websites swear it is a “Quadruple.” In the importer’s defense, no one has been able to articulate what exactly a Quadruple is. The best description that folks have come up with is that it is a dark, malty ale. Everyone agrees that it is bolder than Dubbel and Tripel style Belgian ales.  And they also concur that Quadruples have a higher alcohol content (usually somewhere between 8-12%). But the agreement ends there. Unfortunately this skeletal description could apply to a number of types of beer – Russian Imperial Stout springs to mind immediately – so this description is of limited utility. So who do you believe – the importer or the beer intelligentsia?

So how was Abt 12?

Appearance: As it fills the glass, we noticed the slight head and minimal lacing immediately. The light brown head disappears rapidly in standard glass. In a stemmed Duvel glass, which has a ring etched in the bottom, the bubbles continued to form but never in any significant amount.  It sits opaque, brownish amber in the glass. It is alive with carbonation.

Smell: Surprisingly dank because of the hops. We  expected a lot of malts like Odin’s Tipple and we didn’t expect any hops. A slight hay aroma. It also smells like beer, a nice break from the fruitier, perfumy beers we have sampled recently.

Taste: A bready taste with a trace of yeast. There is also a slightly bitter metallic taste thanks to the hops but it is mellowed by a bit of malt. The carbonation prevents makes it surprising light.

Mouthfeel: Solid. The carbonation gives it a lighter body than we expected.

Drinkability: St. Bernardus Abt 12 is a solid, mellow, non-confrontational beer. In fact, this review was very difficult to write because one or two aspects of the beer didn’t leapt out at us. In spite of the higher alcohol content, it lacks a noticeable alcohol smell or taste. This could be a problem because we could have another one of these 10.5% ABV bottles after we finished this one unlike Odin’s Tipple.

It would taste great with fried seafood or even meat-topped pizzas during the cooler months of the year. Abt 12 works as a good transitional beer between the fizzy, light summertime brews and the thicker, dark monsters that provide sustenance during the bleak, snowy and icy months of winter in the South. . . at least this year.

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Haandbryggeriet “Odin’s Tipple Dark Norse Ale” Review

Beer: Odin’s Tipple Dark Norse Ale

Type: Russian Imperial Stout

BreweryHaandbryggeriet (Norway). Imported by Shelton Brothers of Belchertown, Massasschusetts

Serving: 0.5L bottle

Welcome to Rowdy and Independent Beer Reviews’ first review. The first beer we sample is “Odin’s Tipple Dark Norse Ale” made by the fine folks at Haandbryggeriet in Drammen, Norway. Never heard of this brewery? Well, I can tell you right now that you should support them by running down to your local beer broker and emporium and demand they carry Haandbryggeriet’s creations. Why? Because they are a small brewery run by four dudes and some volunteers in their spare time. Check out their website for the full story but let me tell you that everything, including bottling and labeling, is done by hand – there is no automation – because they are trying to keep Norwegian brewing traditions alive. My bottle is stamped, “Batch 277. Brewed 27.3.10.” They proudly make what they call “living beer,” beer “that is not filtered or artificially carbonated but naturally re-fermented in the bottle.” Pretty damn cool, eh?

Where can you find Haandbryggeriet beers? My beautiful bride picked up a bottle of this Norse nectar for me at the beer Never Never Land and dreamland, Charleston Beer Exchange, a veritable Toys-R-Us for beer aficionados. If you find yourself in Charleston, make sure you visit there because you can find everything from growlers of local products to exotic Swiss sour beer and everything in between.

Odin’s Tipple – that’s tipple, not nipple, as my bride was bound and determined to call it – is the first Haandbryggeriet beer I’ve had. “Odin’s Tipple was meant to be a strong beer,” Haandbryggeriet explains, “but we changed our minds…its still strong but we won’t follow the mega-strong trend. It should be possible to make great beer without the extreme alcohol potency. Odin’s Tipple is now approximately 11% abv, it’s a dark almost black beer from lots and lots of chocolate malt. Its the malt that contributes the flavor…no added coffee or anything else. It’s got a great body without being old engine oil and still very drinkable due to the wild yeast we use. This beer is made with a single strain of wild yeast and the recipe is dead simple.  We have now tasted the test beer and its gooood!”* They aren’t kidding when they say it is strong. Odin’s Tipple is a Russian Imperial Stout. What is a Russian Imperial Stout, you ask? A stout with high alcohol content. Just for a frame of reference, most wines are somewhere between 12-16% ABV so this 11%ABV stout packs a wallop not unlike Odin’s son, Thor, and his mythical hammer.

And now let’s get to the reviewing.

Appearance: Pouring Odin’s Tipple into a pair of glasses stunned my beautiful bride and me. We had never seen a beer so dark and with so little head. You think Guinness is dark? Brother, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This beer is the color of espresso. It’s appearance is “deep and intense,” as my bride noted. The stout had a thin, dark, but creamy head like the type of foam you see in a cup of espresso.

Smell: The bouquet is all malts – intense smoky, coffee, molasses, and licorice aromas.

Taste: Smooth, unexpectedly smooth. I expected it to hit like a ton of bricks because of the high alcohol content. Coffee and chocolate flavors dominate. It is very dry; there is no sweetness at all this dark Norse ale.

Mouthfeel: Just like it was smoother than we expected, Odin’s Tipple was lighter than we imagined. I was expecting the Guinness “I’m-drinking-a-pint-of-oatmeal” feeling but instead was surprised by how comparatively light it tasted. The high level of carbonation probably contributed to the lightness. The stout’s earthiness lingers on the palate and the burning of the alcohol flavor only emerges later.

Drinkability: Odin’s Tipple Dark Norse Ale goes down a lot easier than we thought it would. I thought it would be heavy like a ton of bricks because of the high alcohol content. Here is the evocative image my wife used to described it: She thought we should be drinking it in front of a fire in some North Sea-facing pub in the middle of a cold, drenching rain. She also mentioned that there should be a large hunk of meat rotating on a spit in the enormous fireplace. This, it seems to us, is the perfect environment for enjoying this beer. If you aren’t traveling to northern Europe anytime soon, my bride recommends you enjoy it with a hearty beef stew.

Would we have another one? You bet. We are intrigued by and want to support Haandbryggeriet’s approach to business and brewing and Odin’s Tipple is a hearty complex beer. Because of the high alcohol content, though, I can’t see having one right after another.

*http://haandbryggeriet.net/Odinstipple.html accessed 1.4.11