Trappist Achel Extra Brune
Having just gone to the Cincy Winter Beerfest the evening before, I had a plethora of beers from which to choose for this review; however, there was a beer on hand that I have been waiting to open since Christmas, a gift from my brother in-law, who also has a predilection for good beers and a gives the best gifts: Trappist Achel Extra Brune.
I left this beer at my parents’ house over Christmas, and they stored it in their refrigerator (which is where all Americans unversed in beer culture store their beers). Now there may be some elitists out there swearing at me right now…how could he not let it adjust to the proper temperature before drinking it? And they would be right, as it did affect the taste of my first small glass of the 750ml bottle, but I was thirsty, and cooking and libations were needed, so I rushed it. At first sip I said, “Aw, this almost tastes like wine.” And not good wine either; it was more like a chilled-in-the-snow bottle of Boone’s Farm that you are glad is cold enough that you only taste the strongest hint of whatever artificial sugary substance they used to flavor it. Perhaps it was a placebo taste as I was drinking out of a wine glass, no chalice (the preferred beerware of Trappist beers) was available to me. I decided to “let it breathe” a little to see if my instincts were correct that perhaps the temperature was affecting the flavor. As the beer warmed, new fragrances, fruity and malty, wafted out of my faux-chalice. The next sip was astonishingly different than the first, so much so that I found myself uttering three words that my wife never hears: “I was wrong.” The Achel Extra was giving me something more. As I poured a second chalice, a full white head topped off the syrupy-brown, almost bourbon-colored beer. At second first sip, the fruit was not as overpowering as I tasted earlier on, but the maltiness, rather, had now taken a front seat on my tongue with the fruit merely window-gazing passively from the back seat with the dog.
Now, I know very little about Trappist beers other than the fact that they are made by monks in Belgium. I have had Chimay before, but I have never done any research into (read: Googled) Trappist beers, their history, their taste, and certainly not how they are to be served. As dinner began to take shape, so did this sneaky little gem brewed by hooded men in secretive places. The monks’ proud tradition comes only to life when served at the proper temperature (50-55 degrees). Usually when people who are much more knowledgeable about beer than I am tell me that “you should drink that out of a snifter” or “drink that one at room temperature”, I roll my eyes and write them off as a pretentious windbag. However, for all of their condescension towards the yeomanry (of which I consider myself a part of), there is most certainly a way to bring out the best in a beer. And if you are going to spend the money drinking something good, you may as well do it right…or you can just give your $15 to me. Drink this one at slightly below room temperature, and enjoy! (CUE EYE ROLLING)