The Holiest of Ales

By / Wine + Drinks / April 27th, 2021 / 2

Some of the most famous, most respected, and, indeed, idolized beers in the world are the renowned ales from the Trappist monastic brewers, mainly from Belgium. Beloved for their complexity and individuality, as well as their delicious flavours, these “holy beers” have been paid tribute both in Belgium – where non-Trappist brewers make similar “Abbey beers” – and in the rest of the brewing world, where Trappist influenced ales are made by many microbreweries. 

These ales are known for their complex, often spicy, aromas and flavours resulting from their own unique yeast strains or blends, a pleasant malt character, as well as fruitiness and food friendliness. Some, particularly Orval, are also known for their hop character.

The ales range from lower alcohol Singels; to dark, malty Dubbels; pale, strong Tripels; and even Quadrupels, which really pack a punch. 

Having been to Belgium on numerous occasions, I’ve had the pleasure to drink these ales in Belgian taverns and restaurants, often as a food accompaniment, instead of wine. Indeed, they serve that purpose well.

I recently tried three offerings from the famed Trappistes Rochefort brewery, and compared them to a Belgian Abbey ale, as well as a Canadian microbrewed tribute to the style. Here are my tasting notes:

Trappistes Rochefort 6 – 7.5% ABV ($5.99 ANBL; $4.25 SAQ; $6.50 AB) 330 ml bottle.

Orange-amber coloured, slightly hazy, with a lightly creamy head. Malty, fruity nose.  Nice, mellow flavours. Good body. Pretty mild, in terms of Belgian spice character. Pleasantly yeasty. Low bitterness, with medium length on the mostly malty finish. 

Trappistes Rochefort 8 – 9.2% ABV ($6.99 ANBL; $4.80 SAQ; $7.50 AB) 330 ml bottle. 

Copper coloured, very slight haze. Nice creamy, slightly rocky (frothy) head. Forward fruity nose, very attractive. Full bodied with strong stone fruit flavours and evident alcohol. Lightly spicy, low hop character and bitterness. Longish, warm finish. Soothing.

Trappistes Rochefort 10 – 11.3% ABV ($7.40 ANBL; $5.55 SAQ; $8.50 AB) 330 ml bottle.

Dark amber colour, slight haze, medium creamy head. Initial nose is dark malt, maybe even a hint of molasses. Thick body, with some sweet malt flavours and light spiciness. Not much hop aroma or flavour or bitterness. Alcohol is evident but well contained by that fullness. Long, warm finish. Excellent for pairing with a meaty stew or for a post winter walk warmer.

Tripel LeFort, Belgium, 8.8% ABV ($5.59 ANBL) 330 ml bottle.

Golden colour, clear, bright, creamy, somewhat frothy head.  Very forward, floral nose, also spicy, like coriander seed or similar. Medium bodied, with lots of malt and fruit, and some yeastiness.  Quite tasty, with a slightly sweet, medium length finish, slightly boozy.  

Maybee Brewery Stonehouse Tripel, Fredericton, New Brunswick, 8.6% ABV ($5.00 at the brewery) 473 ml can.

Golden ale with a good head. Good Belgian spice and banana character from the yeast. Full bodied, strong ale. A bit fruity and very malty. A very nice tribute to Belgian Abbey Style Ales. 


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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