By Jack Horzempa
In the region that is now Belgium and the Netherlands (Holland) there have existed for centuries Monasteries of the Trappist order (or more formally the Cistercians of the Strict Observance). The Trappist order was initiated by the rule of Saint Benedict in 530 AD with a stricter set of rules established in 1098 AD which further formalized The Order or Cistercians. One aspect of the rules is that the Monasteries be self-sufficient which leads us to beer (and other goods like cheese) which the Monks would produce to sell. With the money they received they are able to operate their Monasteries.
While the rules discussed above are from many centuries ago the beer types that we associate with Trappist Brewing is a more recent phenomenon. There are several types or styles that are associated with Trappist brewing. As with all Belgian brewing these styles tend to be more broadly interpreted by the brewers in contrast to other brewing cultures (e.g., German beer styles tend to be narrowly defined).
There are presently 14 Trappist Monasteries that brew beer but the six Trappist breweries in Belgium (i.e., Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Orval, and Achel) and the one in the Netherlands (La Trappe) will be the main focus of this discussion.
A brief discussion of some Trappist beer styles:
The term Patersbier translates to Father’s Beer. These were the sorts of beers that were brewed at the Monasteries for the consumption of the Monks themselves. They are lower in alcohol (typically 4.8 – 6% ABV), pale yellow in color and have fruity flavors due to esters produced by the yeast. These sorts of beer are not commonly available for sale to consumers. I have only seen one Trappist brewed Single (Patersbier) available and it was on draft: Chimay Dorée (Gold). That beer was consistent to what was previously described but the amount of fruity (esters) flavors was subdued in that beer.
The Dubbel beer style was first brewed in 1926 by the Trappist brewery Westmalle. These are typically darker in color (e.g., a deep copper color) with fruity (esters) and spicy (phenols) flavors derived from the yeast but also some flavors of dark dried fruit from darker malts used to brew this beer. This beer has a dry finish. A typical alcohol level for a Dubbel is 6 – 7.6% ABV. The most ubiquitous Trappist brewed Dubbel in the US is Chimay Red.
The most common beers of the 20th Century were pale in color (e.g., Pilsners) and in 1934 Westmalle decided to include a pale beer as part of their product portfolio: the Triple. They decided to brew this beer with a higher alcohol content; this style is typically 7.5 – 9.5% ABV. The beer is pale yellow in color with fruity (esters) and spicy (phenols) flavors derived from the yeast and accompanied with a dry finish.
La Trappe first brewed their Quadrupel in 1991. Other Trappist brewers choose to brand their beers differently and the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) chooses to categorize these beers as Belgian Dark Strong Ale. I prefer to stick to the term Quadrupel (or for short Quad).
The other Trappist Monasteries which produce Quad type beers are:
Quads are dark in color, higher in alcohol (e.g., 8 – 12% ABV), with a very complex flavor profile from the yeast derived flavors (fruity and spicy), dark dried fruit flavors and other dark malt flavors (e.g., darker caramel, hint of chocolate, etc.). This is a beer style that is well suited for cellaring where an even greater complexity of flavors is achieved from oxidation processes.
I must confess that I personally have a reverence for the Trappist brewed beers. Not because of the religious connotations but because it has been my experience that the Trappist breweries produce excellent beers. Having stated that I have also enjoyed a number of these sorts of beers as produced by what are termed Abbey breweries. An Abbey brewery is not part of the Trappist order but they must meet certain conditions:
“What are the conditions for a beer to be an Abbey beer?
1. The brewery must have a link with the abbey, whether it is the location, the taking over of ancestral monastic recipes or even a license issued by the monks to a brewer in the past.
2. The brewery must pay royalties to the Abbey whose name it bears.
3. The brewery must give the Abbey a right of inspection in several areas concerning beer, but especially communication.”
The Abbey Brewers in 1998 created a trademark of Certified Belgian Abbey Beer which can be found on the various beer labels.
When it comes to the Quad style I am a fan of St. Bernardus Abt 12. When it comes to the Tripel style I am a fan of St. Feuillien Triple. These brands, and others, are just as tasty as the Trappist brewed beers for my palate.
For completeness I should state that I have had a number of high-quality US craft brewed beers in the Trappist/Abbey style. More often than not they are available as a draft product but sometimes they are packaged as well. I will often purchase a six-pack of Victory Golden Monkey which is a Tripel. The fact that it is much less expensive than the Trappist brewed beers is a definite plus for me (and my wallet).
The base malts for this beer are typically pale malts with Pilsner Malt being the principal choice. You could solely use Pilsner Malt (which is my choice) or you could use a combination of Pilsner Malt and Pale Malt or even all Pale Malt if you wish.
To obtain the dark malt flavors there are a number of choices which can be made. A small portion of Munich Malt and/or Aromatic Malt could be included with the base malt. Crystal Malts could be used with examples being Caramunich III and Special B. Roasted Malts can also be added but I strongly suggest they be used in small amounts.
You could create a very complex grain bill from the malts above but it has been my personal experience that if you ‘throw everything in but the kitchen sink’ you often obtain a muddled mess. My preference when homebrewing my Quads is to have a fairly simple grain bill and then add complexity to the beer via Candi Sugars. As you will read later my choices for grain is to use solely Pilsner Malt as the base malt and then use a relatively small amount of Special B and a very small portion of English Chocolate Malt.
It is typical to use a portion of Candi Sugar to both add flavors to the beer but also produce a wort with high(er) fermentability, to obtain a drier finish. Candi Sugar can come in solid (or granulated) form or as a syrup. I have had good success in using both formats with the solid format being Brun Fonce Soft Candi Sugar (which looks like Brown Sugar) and the liquid format being Extra Dark Belgian Candi Syrup (D-180). How much to use is a choice and I choose to add two pounds.
There are other sugars which could be used and I choose to use 1 lb. of table sugar as part of the fermentables to encourage a drier finish to the beer.
In this beer style hops play very much a secondary role. You will need to add some hops for bittering and other additions are optional. For the Trappist breweries European hops (e.g., Noble Hops) are typical but since these hops play such a minor role there is latitude in terms of variety selection. I choose to use European hops with German Magnum for the bittering additions and small portion of Styrian Goldings for an end of boil/aroma addition.
Yeast plays an important role in the production of a Quad since many of the important flavor characteristics of this style are produced by yeast: the fruity flavors of esters and the spicy flavors of phenols. In my opinion a Trappist/Abbey yeast is required here and fermentation conditions conducive to the production of esters/phenols (see more discussion below). I have a strong preference for Wyeast 3787 (reportedly the Westmalle yeast strain) for producing my Quad beers.
For many beer styles I spend a fair bit of time researching water profiles and for more subtle beers styles such as a Kolsch I think this is an important consideration. Since the Quad is such a big, complex beer both from the fermentables used but also the flavors produced by the Trappist yeast strain I am of the opinion that a specific water profile is of a lesser concern for this style. I simply use my municipal tap water with the only treatment filtering with a three-stage carbon filter to remove the chlorine/chloramine. Depending on the brewing water being used it may need to be adjusted to achieve a proper mash pH (e.g., lactic acid addition).
Here is a link to a resource that provides lots to think about if you build up your water:
This beer style is well suited for simply conducting a single-temperature infusion mash. I prefer to mash on the lower end of the scale at 150 °F for 60 minutes with a grist/water ration of 1.5 lbs. of grain per quart.
If you prefer to brew like the Belgians, you could conduct a step mash. Something like first mash at 145 °F for 45 minutes and then raise to 158 °F for 15 – 20 minutes and then perform a mash out would work.
Since Pilsner Malt is the base malt, I choose to boil longer than 60 minutes to ensure that precursors for dimethyl sulfide (DMS) are expelled via the boil. I boil for 75 minutes but boiling longer (e.g., 90 minutes) is an option. I add sugars at the end of boil and stir to completely dissolve.
At an original gravity > 1.080 this is a big beer and needless to say requires lots of yeast. A yeast starter is needed if only pitching one liquid yeast package but how big of a starter to produce is a choice. I have read that most of the Trappist breweries will choose to under-pitch to intentionally ‘stress’ the yeast to create fruity (esters) and spicy (phenol) flavors. I have found that producing a 1.75 quart starter using the intermittent shaking method is the right amount of yeast to create the flavor profile I enjoy in this beer. A more conservative homebrewer may choose to produce a larger starter.
For fermentation I choose to ferment warm. I will pitch the starter into wort of around 68 – 70 °F and then permit the fermentation to rise into the lower 70’s (e.g., 73 °F). While Wyeast 3787 is listed as being ‘good’ up to 78 °F I have never fermented with this yeast strain at that high of a temperature due to concerns about producing higher alcohols (fusel oils).
Trappist beers are classically bottled and those bottles are bottle conditioned. I highly recommend that this style of beer be bottled conditioned as opposed to being kegged. I also strongly recommend that you add some yeast into the bottling bucket to ensure that proper carbonation levels are achieved.
I think that bottle conditioning Trappist/Abbey type beers has two benefits. One benefit is that it results in a more pleasing mouthfeel (for my personal palate) and the second benefit is that it aids in the aging of the beer which is further discussed below.
Once the beer has achieved proper carbonation I prefer to ‘age’ these beers prior to really ‘going to town’ and drinking them up. This may be the most challenging aspect to brewing a Quad!
It has been my experience that these beers approach their peak of flavor at around 6 months into the bottle and they remain tasty for several more years. I still have 6 bottles left from a batch which was bottled 5/26/17 (so, over four years old now) and with intestinal fortitude I hope to drink the last bottle in May 2022.
Creator: Jack Horzempa
Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
Target OG: 1.087
Target FG: 1.013
Color: 30 SRM
Target Bitterness: 29 IBUs
Mash at a water-to-grist ratio of 1.5 qts./lb. Adjust brewing water if needed (e.g., lactic acid addition) to achieve a mash pH of 5.2 – 5.4. Mash at 150 °F for 60 minutes. Sparge until approximately 7 gallons of wort is achieved (tailor amount based upon your boil off rate to obtain 5.5 gallons of wort post boil).
Boil vigorously for 75 minutes in an uncovered brew kettle adding the German Magnum hops at the beginning of boil. With 15 minutes of boil remaining add the rehydrated Irish Moss flakes and with 10 minutes remaining the Wyeast yeast nutrient. Add 1 ounce of Styrian Goldings hops for the flameout (end of boil) addition. Also add the sugars at the end of boil and stir to dissolve.
Chill wort to 68 – 70 °F and pitch yeast.
Ferment warm (e.g., 73 °F) until primary fermentation is complete.
Replace the Pilsner Malt with 8 lbs. with Briess CBW Pilsen Light dry malt extract.
In a separate pot steep the specialty malts (Special B and English Chocolate Malt) in 1 gallon of hot water (e.g., 150 – 170 °F) for 30 minutes.
Dissolve extract in enough hot reverse osmosis/distilled water or filtered tap water to yield a pre-boil volume of around 6.5 gal. Adjust this volume as needed to account for your boil-off rate. Stir thoroughly to dissolve the extract and bring to a boil. Add the liquid from the steeped specialty malt to the brew kettle.
Boil 60 minutes. Add the first hop addition with 60 minutes remaining in the boil. With 15 minutes of boil remaining add the rehydrated Irish Moss flakes and with 10 minutes remaining the Wyeast yeast nutrient. The second hop addition is added at the end of boil. Also add the sugars at the end of boil and stir to dissolve.
Chill, pitch, and ferment as above.
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