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Classic Beer of the Month December 2015: St Bernardus Tripel

St Bernardus Tripel, 8%

St Bernard was one of his era’s great religious characters.

St Bernardus TripelBorn in 1090, near Dijon, he was part of the first Cistercian order, a new movement that aimed to restore the rigorous self-discipline of the early Benedictine monks.

His influence grew steadily, until he was seen as a key figure in the Church and a noted peacemaker in European affairs. It was Bernard who re-positioned the Virgin Mary at the centre of the Church’s thinking. He died in 1153 and was canonised only twenty-one years later.

Beers that bear the St Bernardus name are produced by a brewery in the village of Watou, near Poperinge, Belgium, close to the border with France.

There is no direct connection with the saint. The name actually refers to a refuge built in his honour by monks who moved here from an abbey in northern France.

They returned home in the 1930s and their Refuge Notre Dame de St Bernard became a cheese farm, picking up the business that the monks had developed for the upkeep of their home.

When the nearby Trappist abbey of St Sixtus at Westvleteren decided to expand and commercialise its beer production, the farm also became a brewery. For forty-six years, Westvleteren beers were brewed here under licence.

New in the Nineties

The agreement came to an end in 1992, with Westvelteren taking all production back inside the abbey walls. Undaunted, the Watou brewers carried on production under the St Bernardus name, with reference back to the old monks' refuge.

St Bernardus Tripel was introduced shortly afterwards and was immediately acclaimed.

Golden in colour, it is potent yet remarkably easy to drink with a mostly sweet taste, balanced by bitter orange flavours from the hops. Spicy and yeasty in true Belgian fashion, it leaves a dry, gently warming finish of bitter orange, with a sugary note at the back of the throat.

I recently opened a bottle that had been ageing for about five years. Creamy malt flavours led the way and the orange notes had disappeared, leaving instead suggestions of stewed apple and prunes. It remained soft, smooth and classy right through to the end, totally belying its 8% alcohol.

Young or old, this is a rather mellow and sweet expression of the tripel style, only delicately expressing the hops that are grown next door to the brewery.

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