Well, we certainly could not let another Christmas season go by without BrewViewing one of the quintessential Christmas ales from Belgium! We hope you enjoy this BrewView of ST. BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE.
In the most remote corner of West Flanders, in the middle of “Le Plat Pays”, in the heart of the hop area in West Flanders (Poperinge), a beer is made that fancies most of the beer lovers. In this poetry village, called Watou, time is apparently passing by slower than in the rest of the country. Life over there is different, quieter; where people live in accordance with nature, where tradition and values are honored.
The history the St. Bernardus brewery is connected to 2 trappist monasteries, one gave it their name, the other gave it their beer.
The Cheese Factory – Trappist monks of Mont des Cats in Godewaersvelde, France. Due to the anti clerical policy in the beginning of the past century, the Catsberg Abbey Community, located in the northern part of France, decided to move to Watou, a small village only a couple of kilometres further away but located in Belgium.
They transformed a farm into the “Refuge Notre Dame de St.Bernard” and started with the production of Abbey cheese.
In the early thirties, the attitude versus the monks improved and in 1934, the Abbey community decided to dispose of the Belgian annex and to bring back all activities to France. Mr. Evarist Deconinck took over the cheese factory from the Trappist monks and expanded the cheese factory. The most important cheese was sold under the name St. Bernard Watou.
The cheese factory was sold in 1959 and the production is now in the hands of Belgomilk in Moorslede.
The Brewery – Trappist Monks of Westvleteren
Shortly after the Second World War, the Trappist Monastery St.Sixtus in Westvleteren was looking for somebody to commercialize their beer because they did not want to do that themselves anymore. They gave a license to the cheesefactory, and Brewery St.Bernard was founded. The brew master from Westvleteren, Mathieu Szafranski (from Polish origin) became a partner in the brewery and brought along the recipes, the know-how and the St.Sixtus yeast strain.
They started selling the trappist beers under the brand names Trappist Westvleteren, St.Sixtus or even later Sixtus.
During a period of 46 years they brewed and commercialized the beers, while the monks continued to brew for themselves and for sales to 3 pubs in the neighbourhood. Amongst them, the world famous cafe In De Vrede, just next to the monastery.
In 1992 the license came to an end and since then we are brewing the same beers, with the same recipes, but under a different brand name: St.Bernardus.
(Text (a bit revised) from St. Bernardus website: http://www.sintbernardus.be/geschiedenis.php?l=en)
WHERE TO ENJOY THE ST. BERNARDUS BEERS WHILE IN BELGIUM
In Belgium, there are countless pubs, cafes, hotels and restaurants to enjoy the full range of the St. Bernardus line of beers.
De Gouden Ster (The Golden Star) is the brewery’s on-premise café located right above their new offices. They offer screening of a short film on the brewing process (English spoken), a full tour of the brewery, the brewhouse and the bottling lines, and a tasting of a selection of St.Bernardus beers in the café. Each visitor will receive an attractive giftpack containing four St.Bernardus beers (Triple, Pater 6, Prior 8 and Abt 12) with one authentic glass included. There is also a gift shop where many different items can be purchased.
But no place (it is said by the locals) offers more of an authentic and wonderful eating and drinking experience than ‘t Hommelhof Gasthof-Restaurant in Watou.
Chef and owner Stefaan Couttenye has created a menu that holds on to tradition, but with new innovative creations. As he studied the market place, he wanted to branch out and be different. He did not want to prepare recipes that were “typical” of Cuisine à la bière: Moulé en Frite (Mussels and Fries), etc.
Using traditional, local organic vegetables and herbs, Chef Stefaan takes his motivation (fueled by watching his grandmother cook with beer).
In his words, “Cooking means both thinking and doing! It is a fact that tastes complete one another or contrast, but the most important thing is to find the right balance. Like many others I thought that uncommonness was the key to success at first, but I soon started to realize that simplicity is complex enough. Trends and novelties are only granted a short life. Besides, you have to depart from the thought that only the best products are good enough, and for that you often have to wake up with the lark.”
“Gradually I got to know special and devoted producers, who were sometimes living just around the corner. Working with locals offers you the priceless advantage that you can follow the growth and breed process from beginning to end and acquire an unbelievable product knowledge.” I am more than happy to continue my fascinating voyage of discovery, as I am sure that the ultimate taste sensation is waiting for me somewhere along the way. Once I have reached that point, you will be the first to share in my ecstasy!”
BEER STYLE AND COMMERICAL DESCRIPTION
Style category: Belgian Quadrupel / Christmas Ale
St.Bernardus Christmas Ale is a dark seasonal brewed in the classic ‘Quadrupel’ style of Belgium’s best Abbey Ales. (10,0 % ABV) Similar to all the beers from our brewery, it greets the drinker with the signature aroma of the St.Bernardus house yeast strain (in use since 1946!)
Rivaling the complexity of the St.Bernardus Abt 12, St.Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice and marzipan that are highligted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars.
The perfect companion to enjoy a (cold?) winter evening, with or without the company of your friends !
OUR BREWVIEW OF ST. BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
10.0 % ABV. Opened the bottle and served at 58°F in it’s own open-mouthed goblet. Poured an easy 3-finger head. The head is dense, almost whipped egg-white density. Looking at the head reminds you of looking at a high quality root beer when it is poured. We allowed the beer to warm up a bit… after 5-6 minutes before even taking a sip, the head collapsed, but only down to a 1/2″ height! The Brussels lacing on the sides of the goblet was thick (spider web like) and even. (We ensured this was a “Beer Clean” glass). The color is a deep murky mahogany-brown. The murkiness comes from the bottle conditioning. The meniscus is slow rising. The rim color variation is slightly lighter than the body of the beer.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale has the signature aromas that are characteristic of the Abt 12, but with some holiday spices in the mix. It has their recognizable fresh baked bread / house yeast aroma. Chocolatey, raisiny, some fresh fruit. Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, aromas are very delicate. The hop aromas are ever so soft, very appropriate- and excellent. This is another one of those beers that the bouquet changes and improves as the beer warms up. 30 minutes into drinking time, the beer starts to express a “raisin bread” bouquet. This is one of those fantastic beers where the bouquet changes and gets better as it warms up during consumption time.
The first taste impressions we got were that of chocolate, raisins, treacle toffee, and molasses. Fresh, heavily dosed St. Bernardus house yeast flavors are very present. We agree with their description of marzipan. There is also cinnamon, and nutmeg in the mix. The Belgian hop bitterness is in the background, but adds to and compliments the holiday spice mix, and give it a very delicate mintiness. The malt-yeast-spice-hop mix is extremely well balanced.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
There is a creaminess to the mouthfeel. Full bodied; the effervescence level is medium. Fairly viscous, it fills your entire mouth with its silk-like creaminess. The finish is of cocoa nib bitterness with delicate notes of herbs and pepperiness from the spice mix. Very easy to drink for a beer that is 10% ABV.
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS:
APPETIZERS: Baked brie with honey, brown sugar bacon twists, you could even try a charcuterie platter to experience different flavors in the cuts of meat when you sip them with the beer at the same time.
ENTRÈES: Rib roast, fig and orange glazed ham with sweet potatoes or yams. If you will be in Belgium to visit ‘t Hommelhof, click HERE for their menu.
DESSERTS: Belgian Marzipan, of course! Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, high quality, artisanal fruitcake. Christmas bread pudding, Smoutebollen / Croustillons, speculoos.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is a must have for all who enjoy the St. Bernardus beers- specifically the Abt. 12. We picked up our bottle at the Liquor Barn, here in Redding, California.
The signature yeast bouquet alone brings us back to when we enjoyed the St. Bernardus beers when they were called St. Sixtus- back in the mid to late 80’s. It was always a cherished moment when we could enjoy their beer.
This beer is in our top 25 beers of all time, and makes Christmas time one of our favorite beer seasons of the year. This beer would age extremely well- we guesstimate at least up to 5-7 years. The spice and yeast flavors would become more complex and soft. The drinkability would increase even more so. Yet another one of the would class beers from the St. Bernardus brewery. It is a seasonal release, so get it while you can. Seek this one out for sure- it’s a must have!
BROUWERIJ ST. BERNARDUS
ST. BERNARDUS BEERS AVAILABLE IN THE USA FROM D&V INTERNATIONAL