Monday, April 14, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Due to another action packed week, I did not have time to write a proper BOTW, so you'll just have to accept another BOTWE in its place. Rest assured, this BOTWE was worth the wait.

Due to an anti-clerical attitude in France in the 19th Century, the Catsberg Abbey Community relocated into Belgium, just a few kilometers away from their original home. The monks acquired some land in the village of Watou, and set up shop worshipping God, and also making cheese. Apparently the monks missed their native soil, however, because when the religious climate improved, they decided to abandon the Belgian operations and return to France in 1934.

The cheese making had required the monks to set up a factory in addition to their abbey. When the monks left, the cheese factory was acquired by Evarist Deconinck and expanded.

After World War II, the monks of the Trappist monastery St. Sixtus, decided they wanted to commercialize their beer to reach a greater audience, and happened to meet with Mr. Deconinck. After some negotiation, they reached an agreement where the monks would brew beer within the abbey for themselves, and a few taverns in the immediate area that were associated with the monastery, while Mr. Deconinck would contract brew their recipe for consumers under license for a period of 30 years.

A brewery was constructed next to the cheese factory, and with a little help from the brewmaster of Westvleteren, the Sixtus beers were born.

The brewing agreement was renewed in 1962 for another 30 years, but was ultimately terminated in 1992 following the formation of the International Trappist Association (ITA). The ITA, an association of Trappist Abbeys insisted that to bear the Trappist name, the beer must be produced within the abbey. Rather than adopt the changes necessary to be labeled "Trappist" the commercial beer was renamed and is marketed under the St. Bernardus name in reference to the name of the Abbey founded by the original fleeing French monks, "Refuge de Notre Dame de St Bernard."

A recent addition to the St. Bernardus cannon is the Witbier. Created by legendary brewmaster Pierre Celis (the creator of Hoegaarden), the beer pours a cloudy light yellow color with a fine white head.

It has a distinct yeast smell mixed in with whiffs of lemon zest and coriander. The smell is actually quite noticeable, even after the initial pour.

The taste is an earthy spice in the front and malt and yeast in the back. I'm not sure exactly what the spice is, other than to say it has an earthy character like clove, but not exactly.

It's medium to light bodied and really smacks off the palette, almost too chugable. The carbonation is airy and the tartness is just enough to really notice before being smoothed out by the yeast.

This beer is new to me, and I've only had it in a bottle. I look forward to finding a bar with a beautiful patio and drinking this beer the entire summer. Cheers to St. Bernardus and Pierre Celis!

Links of Interest:

St. Bernardus

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