Styles & Seasonals
March 11, 2004 Written by SilkTork
Southampton, United Kingdom, ENGLAND -
I stumbled into this taste test spontaneously. I picked out a Floreffe Tripel from my beer box, then wondered what it would be like up against Victory’s Golden Monkey, and what that would be like up against Rochefort. Eventually I had 5 beers lined up: Floreffe Tripel; Leffe Tripel; Victory Golden Monkey; Rochefort Trappiste 8 and Delirium Tremens.
I had previously matched up the Leffe with Ename Tripel and Watou Tripel. Those three had much in common, though the Watou just had the edge on the others with regards quality, and the Leffe had come in last, but only by a nose. The scores had been: Watou 3.6, Ename 3.4, Leffe 3.3.
This would be a bigger taste test - five well known beers, each with a slightly different reputation. The styles, though classed differently, were all in the same area. An authentic Trappist (Rochefort), two Abbey Tripels (Floreffe and Leffe), and two Belgian Golden Strong Ales (Victory and Delirium).
The Trappist beers are made in a monastery. Typically a monastery will make three strengths of beer - a single (approx. 4.5%), a double (approx. 7.5%) and a triple (approx. 9%). Sometimes a stronger beer is made at approx. 12%. The single strength is drunk by the monks themselves, while the stronger beers are sold to raise money. Rochefort (Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy) have brewed continuously since 1889, though they first brewed their own beers in 1595 ; however, they do not promote themselves quite as much as the other monastery breweries, with the exception of Westvleteren.
Abbey beers are brewed in the style of the Trappist beers. Some Abbey beers are brewed by a commercial brewer for an abbey, other commercial brewers may just pay an abbey to use their name. The Abbey of Floreffe was founded in 1121; it still exists and welcomes visitors. The beers are brewed for Floreffe by Lefebvre, who also make the tasty Barbar beers. The Leffe beers were first brewed around the 12th century by the Abbaye de Notre Dame, but the monastery ceased making beers during the time of Napoleon. However, in 1952 they contracted the Lootvoet brewery at Overijse to brew for them (who were then taken over by the St-Guibert brewery), and this arrangement continued until the global brewing company Interbrew took over. These days the bulk of the Leffe range is made in Leuven, while the bottle conditioned Tripel is made at Interbrew’s Hoegaarden brewery.
The Golden Strong Ales are made with no religious connections, other than often being given tongue-in-cheek names like Devil or Satan. The key to all the beers appears to be two-row barley malt and Belgian yeast (even the Victory beer uses Belgian yeast). The hops are European and may be Saaz, Hallertauer, Goldings or a combination.
The tasting was spread out over several hours. All beers were opened at the same time and then drunk at various temperatures. The Delirium was the European one which has a slightly higher abv (9%) than the one exported to America. All the beers were bottle conditioned, drunk initially without the yeast, then with the yeast. Best before dates were: Floreffe - Jan 05; Leffe - Jan 05; Victory - May 05; Rochefort - Jun 07; Delirium - Nov 04. All had been stored for at least 6 months in the same box in a cool dark place.
All appeared pale orange except the Rochefort which was a very dark orange with red hints from the use of Munich in addition to the pale Pilsner malts. All had a light sparkle of rising bubbles - the faintest sparkle was from the Victory which also failed to produce a lasting head. The heads were mostly thin clustering foam, though the Delirium head was the least inclined to cluster, remaining mostly flat and consistent, while the Rochefort tended to go thin in the centre, gathering round the edge of the glass. The Leffe had an interesting mix of bubbles and foam. The Victory looked the least attractive, while the Rochefort and the Leffe both looked the most interesting and attractive.
Although the aroma of all the beers was in the same recognisable Tripel mould, there were noticeable differences. The Floreffe was the most delicate, fresh and playful, with notes of bubblegum, Muscadet grapes and some apple - it was close to the Delirium, though that was slightly maltier with the addition of Ovaltine, almonds and orange jelly beans to the bubblegum and grapes. The Leffe had some musty notes - it was warm and friendly with Horlicks and rubber and some prickly alcohol. The Victory was initially the worse - it smelled of old hops, burnt plastic, biscuit and vintage ale; it seemed cold and naked compared to the others. Then it came back with burnt fruit cake, port and oranges, before fading again. The most fascinating was the Rochefort; it was musty, vintage ale, farmyard boots and cherries, some banana bread and engine oil; it was warm and dignified. Each beer would have its own advocate on the aroma - the warm and friendly Leffe, and the playful Floreffe appealed to me, but the Rochefort was the winner with its huge range of interest, while the Victory came last because, despite bringing up the port and fruit cake, it did remain the most naked throughout most of the tasting.
Palate was consistent throughout the range. All beers were neutral (on the dry to sweet scale) with a slight edge to the sweet. All were roughly medium to full bodied, though the Victory was the most full bodied (and also the strongest at 9.5%). The Floreffe tended to fade away in the finish. The Leffe rested in the mouth, while the Victory tended to cling and become slightly cloying with a slight oily texture. Sweetness and bitterness were well integrated in the Floreffe and the Leffe; played together interestingly in the Delirium; but the bitterness had the edge in the Rochefort, lingering pleasantly and dryly all over the mouth in the finish; while the Victory remained slightly sweet throughout with a contrasting bitterness coming in midway and remaining. Each beer had it own charm so all were marked equal.
Orange was the main theme here, though less so in the Rochefort. Alcohol and sweetness and pepper were also a common feature. The Floreffe had a little dryness, a spice buzz and an initial delicate freshness which eventually became slightly heavy. The Leffe also had a dryness; it also had a hint of bubblegum, spices and seeds, some wheat and a bit of fudge. The Delirium had the fudge plus some late toffee notes and a bit of licorice. The Victory had the least flavour and character, though it did have a little coriander and some fudge. The Rochefort took the edge on the others, but only just. I had expected from my previous rating of this beer for it to storm ahead of the others, but when placed side by side it seems that a lot of my previous enthusiasm had to do with expectation rather than actuality. It was rich and aged, with bitter notes that get progressively stronger in the finish. There’s licorice, chocolate and dried fruits (dried apricot, figs and dates) which come up beneath the bitter and slightly cardboardy hops, but those bitter hops are the undoing of this beer for me. The Rochefort was the hoppier of the beers, but had less of the spice, pepper and orange which made the others so attractive. The use of Goldings hops in the Rochefort may be the significant difference.
The Yeast Mix
Stirring in the yeast didn’t make a significant difference, other than a muddy appearance. The flavours were fresher and cleaner in all except the Delirium where the flavours became more muddy and confused. The Victory had the least change, but the Victory also had the least yeast. The Rochefort had the most interesting change because now the malt flavours, though a little blurred up front, were able to match the hops and a greater balance resulted with new flavours such as pineapple and other tropical fruits coming forth.
Chrissie tasted the beers blind. She has a good palate and was able to pick out the Leffe immediately. Floreffe: nice and fruity but taste goes quickly; lychee; white plum; very sweet.
Leffe: medicated; bitter; orange; apple; unripe mangoes. Victory: stewed apple; licorice; caramel; something old. Rochefort: vague port in the background, far away; raspberry; wood fruit or over-ripe strawberry; astringent after the flavour goes. Delirium: apricot and pear puree; very sweet; rough on first gulp - something dry; alcohol too strong; lemony kick at the end. Her favourite was the Victory because the flavours were more restrained - a “girlie beer” in her words.
It surprised me that there was little between the beers when it came to summing up. Each had an attractive quality, and while one may taste lighter and fresher, another might be heavier but more involved. The Victory came out the worse - on a head to head it had the least flavour and character; perhaps as a result of using less yeast in the bottle than the others. But it was only marginal, and is a decent approximation of a Belgian Tripel. The Floreffe, Leffe and Delirium were all tied overall, though points gathered along the way meant that the Delirium pipped the Leffe which in its turn just pipped the Floreffe. The Floreffe was the lightest in alcohol which may account for the more delicate and fresh flavours, though it didn’t reveal its lower abv in any other way. The Leffe was the more wheaty of the bunch. The Delirium had the maltier notes. The Rochefort was the winner because it was the most interesting and involved. The dark bitterness without the yeast stirred in was not as inviting or immediately attractive as the others, but it did at least invite and reward further investigation; and when the yeast was mixed in it showed its true colours.