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Trappistes Rochefort 10

Brasserie de Rochefort

Style: Abt/Quadrupel
ABV: 11.3%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

It’s business time for Nigel during the Second Annual International Beer Month, which is sponsored in theory by the Toyota Prius. I’ve touched on a couple of new-school European brewers thus far, Scotland’s BrewDog and Norway’s Nøgne Ø, so for my latest, I’m going old school. As in, 16th century old school.

Brasserie de Rochefort, the Trappist brewery located inside the Abbey de Notre Dame de Saint Rémy near Rochefort, Belgium is one of the seven official Trappist breweries in the world. Six of those breweries are in Belgium and one in The Netherlands, not far from the Belgian border. Located in the French-speaking Walloon region, the Rochefort monks have been brewing beer since 1595.

The story of the Trappist breweries is well known. As breweries located in monasteries and brewed by monks, the production is traditional and done with great care to detail. The recipes are often ancient but incredibly complex and flavorful, and the monks use any profits made from sales of their brews to fund their respective monasteries and chapels. Of the seven registered Trappist breweries, the lone Dutch entrant, Brouwerij de Koningshoeven produces the most beer, though I have a hard time counting them as I’m very much anti-Dutch beer. The two best known Trappist brewers, Bieres de Chimay and Brouwerij de Trappisten van Westmalle (Chimay and Westmalle for those who keep it simple), produce a large amount of beer from their Belgian monasteries. Brasserie d’Orval produces less than half as much as Chimay and Westmalle, and Rochefort comes next, with a fraction of the production of the big guys. On the bottom end of total output comes Achel, the newbie of the group founded in 1998, and Westvleteren, widely regarded as the world’s finest. While Achel’s production has increased, Westvleteren continues to produce tiny amounts of beer, making it a very, very rare (and pricey) treat for any dorks lucky enough to get their hands on one.

Rochefort is not only widely regarded as a very close second to Westvleteren in terms of quality, but it’s also the oldest of the group. With over 400 years of brewing history behind them, it’s no surprise that the approximately 15 monks at the abbey have their brews down to a science. Brasserie de Rochefort produces three Trappist ales: Rochefort 6, a 7.5 percent ABV Belgian dark ale which accounts for a small amount of their production; Rochefort 8, a 9.2 percent Belgian dark ale that is the most widely produced; and Rochefort 10, an 11.3 percent Belgian quadrupel ale. Not surprisingly, while all three are of exceptional quality, the brews seem to get better as they get more extreme. Though quite challenging as an 11.3 percent Belgian quad, Rochefort 10 is one of the most rewarding brews I’ve ever had, and historical context is an added bonus for Nigel.

Trappistes Rochefort 10 pours like your typical Trappist ale, which means it’s quite lively due to huge amounts of yeast and bottle conditioning. A monstrous creamy head greets my official chalice, which slowly dissipates into a luxurious tan lace throughout with some stickiness on the sides. A cloudy, deep copper hue, Rochefort 10 has enough sediment in it to create a detailed map of Europe; at times it looks thick enough to cut with a knife.

Aromas are awesome. Simply put, this smells like a beer should. A robust, yet not overpowering aroma reveals huge amounts of earthiness, surely aided by the yeast strains that make Belgian ales so wonderfully unique. Light graininess gives way to a fair amount of dark fruit, namely plum, fig, and raisin. Some sweet sugars are present as well, making for an effervescent, yet full bodied aroma, topped off with a touch of spice. Awesome.

The flavor cements Rochefort 10’s quest for perfection, as, like the aroma, it’s complex yet approachable, and loaded with incredible flavor that is second to none. An underlying bready, earthy tone persists throughout, aided by the yeast strains. A smooth sugary sweetness, with hints of caramel, molasses, and toffee persists as well, providing a perfect counterbalance to the plethora of earth tones. Dark fruit continues to be a key player, as subtle notes of fig, raisin, and plum provide a robust tone that is eased slightly at times by the slightest hint of light citrus. There’s even a very distant hop profile that helps pull everything together, while the 11.3 percent alcohol, while though at times on the palate, is largely hidden. This may be a monstrous quadrupel, but there are so many rich flavors present that it still qualifies as a smooth, rewarding drink, though one that is best savored (it took me nearly two hours to drink my 11.2 oz. bottle). The flavors change ever so slightly as the beer warms, but like most Belgian ales, it doesn’t affect the quality; on the contrary it allows other flavors to come to the fore. Optimal serving temperature is around 50 degrees, which gives it the smoothest, richest flavor. Medium bodied, it’s a touch darker than some Belgian ales and relatively smooth on the palate, though on occasion there is a touch of rough alcohol.

Perfection isn’t easy, and I have a hard time fathoming that anyone, including Westlvleteren, could top this. While I’m always cautious to say “it’s the best beer I’ve ever had” since I’ve tried so many exceptional ones over the years, this has to be in contention for that crown. All Trappist ales are of world-class quality, but some stand out above the crowd. Rochefort 10 is definitely one of those brews, and one that absolutely has to be experienced by any lover of good beer. Pricey at anywhere from $7-10, depending on the retailer, it’s worth it at least once just to experience the authenticity, craftsmanship, and history of a true Trappist ale.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 17, 2010.
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