Thursday, February 9, 2012

Westmalle Trappist Dubbel

I am extremely fortunate to have kind co-workers who travel to far away places and bring me back beer and beer-related items.  One of them recently returned from a trip to Belgium and left a bottle of Westmalle Trappist Dubbel on my desk.

Westmalle is one of six Trappist monasteries that still brew beer in Belgium.  The others include Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, and Westvleteren.  Westmalle is located in the central Northern part of Belgium and started brewing in 1836.  According to Hieronymus' Brew Like a Monk, Westmalle was founded by monks who fled France in 1802.  The brewery has expanded several times since 1836, mostly to finance different Trappist ventures.  However, unlike older days, Westmalle monks no longer actively participate in daily brewing, which is done by lay employees.  The monks do sit on the brewery's board and set the rules for its output, capped at 120,000 hetoliters annually, and its recipes, which remain unchanged over the years.  The brewery produces a dubbel and a tripel and is the only Trappist brewery to label its beers with those traditional names.

The following statistics on the Westmalle dubbel come from Brew Like a Monk:

  • Original Gravity: 1.063
  • ABV: 7.3%
  • Apparent Degree of Attenuation: 87%
  • IBU: 24
  • Malts: Pilsner, caramel, and dark malt
  • Adjuncts: Dark candi sugar
  • Hops: Tettnang, Styrian Goldings, Saaz
  • Yeast: Westmalle, which is also used for bottle conditioning (commercially, WLP 530 Abbey Ale or Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity)
The beer pours a deep amber red color with high amount of carbonation and makes a distinctive hiss as it hits the bottom of the glass.  The carbonation supports a off-white colored head with coarse bubbles that fade after two or three minutes.  The foam does leave a nice Belgian lacing as the beer moves down the glass.  The dubbel's aroma has hints of dark fruit, perhaps raisin or prunes.  It also smells of dark caramel sweetness, with a slight herbal/basil note.

The first taste of the dubbel reveals the prickle of carbonation evident during the pour.  This subsides into dark caramel flavors, but without the sweetness.  The mid-palate includes evidence of the dark fruit flavors hinted at in the aroma, but again without any sweetness.  The flavors finish very dry and almost evaporate off the tongue within seconds.  The 7 percent ABV is completely hidden in the beer, without any burning or harsh characteristics.

I brought a lot of expectations to this tasting, based on my experiences with other, mainly American, dubbels.  I anticipated a beer with large flavor components, featuring layered sugar and caramel characteristics.  I certainly expected some degree of sweetness and a lingering palate that encouraged slow sipping.  What I experienced, instead, was a very dry beer with subdued flavors that appeared almost flat compared with my expectations.  Even after knocking out a good amount of the carbonation, I still did not find more complex flavors.

In an ideal dubbel, I would like something between my expectations and what I tasted in the Westmalle dubbel. The beer I tasted was very well brewed, without any apparent faults or mishandling, but I would like some more robust and interesting flavors.  On the other hand, I found the Westmalle example more drinkable than many American dubbels, which often end sweet and are too big to truly want more than one glass.

Thanks to my co-worker, John, for bringing me a Trappist beer direct from Belgian.  I truly appreciate his generosity.




  1. I find that I quite enjoy dubbels and tripels that actually come from Belgium more so than those brewed here. Many of the versions I have tried in the States have been, as you say, too sweet in the finish. I know Scots have a sweet tooth, but most are just too much for me.

  2. Velky Al, thanks for your comments. I agree that most American craft beer dubbels are too sweet in the finish and the Westmalle was much more drinkable because it was dry. But, the flavors were very flat and I would like something a bit more robust and memorable, something between the two.


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