The Beer: Westmalle Dubbel
The Brewery: Trappist Abbey of Westmalle
The Stats: 7.0% ABV; Bottle Conditioned
The History: In the year 1098, due to disagreements with the religious status quo, a new abbey was founded in France known as Citeaux (the Latin term was Cistercium). The monks of the abbey became known as Cistercians, and the new order had both its loyalists and dissidents. Those in the group who believed in a stricter observance of religious conduct formed a new abbey called La Trappe — the origination of the word Trappist.
So, what exactly is a Trappist brewery? To be designated an authentic Trappist brewery, some criteria must be in place. The beer must be brewed within a Trappist abbey either directly by monks, or at least under their supervision. The monks must be from the aforementioned Cistercian order. The brewery must be controlled by the monastery and share the monastery's religious purpose. And, the brewery's main purpose must be twofold: to cover the sustenance of its monks and to provide for community in which the monks can reside. Trappist breweries must be not-for-profit organizations.
Six of the seven classic Trappist Breweries can be found in Belgium, including Westmalle, with the sole exception being The Netherlands' Koningshoeven. (Recently, a couple of new breweries have opened with the proper accreditation to become Trappist breweries, though only time will tell if they deserve to be mentioned in the same hallowed breath with the seven that have been making some of the world's greatest beers for centuries.) Westmalle Trappist Brewery is known to make the world's classic examples in both the dubbel and trippel styles, so the dubbel is a treat anywhere and anytime you have the chance to enjoy one.
Aroma & Appearance: Plums, black raisins, figs, prunes, caramelized dark sugar, and pleasant alcohol sweetness all greet the nose simultaneously with a subdued vengeance. Dubbel pours a mahogany brown with burgundy highlights and an everlasting tan head made up of bubbles so small, they creates the appearance of a root beer float. Bottle conditioning, a secondary fermentation that occurs within the bottle itself, creates this effect. For peak aromatic experience, enjoy your dubbel between 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit in a chalice or tulip glass.
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Flavor: All of the aromas carry over into the flavor in equal, synergistic amounts and are joined by toffee and hard-candy notes similar to the cherry and licorice candy sticks found at old-time candy stores. The experience starts with equal parts of fruity yeast esters and malt character. It's a flavor explosion on the front and mid palate that dissipates incredibly quickly on the back of the palate. The clean finish screams lager-style beer, but this is a classic ale through and through.
Mouthfeel: A medium-full body gives the beer substance and depth, while medium carbonation helps to enhance the aromatic qualities of the beer. Creamy and non-astringent, the malt drops off and the palate is left refreshed and pleasantly satisfied.
There's a reason Trappist breweries are considered among the best in the world. This is the epitome of the Belgian dubbel style, and the quality of this product shows that among the seven classic Trappist breweries, Westmalle shines at or near the top of the list. This is about as close to a perfect beer as one can get: world class in every regard.
Though rarely, if ever, found on draft, Westmalle Dubbel can be found in 11.2 oz. bottles at stores such as Total Wine. Check out Westmalle brewery website for more information on the beer or the brewery.