St. Bernardus Tripel
Brewery: St. Bernard
To be or not to be… Trappist
The folks at St. Bernardus call their beer an “Abbey Ale” and the bottle sports the likeness of a jolly, beer-drinking monk, which would make anyone think “yep this beer is brewed by the sort of quiet, contemplative monks they call Trappists!” And you’d be wrong; monks do not brew St. Bernardus, but the story goes a little deeper.
In the early 1900s a group of monks from Mont Des Cats in France fled the increasing anti-clericalism and high taxes of France to tax-friendly Belgium. They established the Réfuge Notre Dame de St. Bernard in the village of Watou and took up cheesemaking to finance the abbey. But by 1930, France’s stance on taxing religious communities had changed and the monks packed their bibles and cheese and returned to Mont Des Cats. Before leaving they sold the dairy to Evariste Deconinck. Here’s where things get a bit funky.
After World War II the Trappist monks of St. Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren decided to slow down the beer operation in the abbey. They agreed to continue to brew for their own consumption and sell their beer but only at the gates of the monastery. To satisfy distribution for the rest of the country, they licensed their brand to Deconinck’s dairy and just like that Brewery St. Bernard was born. Westvleteren’s brew master went to St. Bernard and was made a partner in the business. He brought the recipes, expertise, and the key to Westvleteren’s flavor profile, the St. Sixtus yeast strain. Brewery St. Bernard continued brewing and selling the very “Trappist” Westvleteren until 1992 when the International Trappist Association tightened their guidelines on what could be called an “Authentic Trappist Product.” The new rules stated that only beer brewed inside the walls of the monastery could be considered Trappist. From that point forward, the beer brewed at Brewery St. Bernard went from being Westvletern Trappist ale to St. Bernardus, with a monk on the label.
Most of the styles of classic Belgian ales get their name from the beer’s strength. For example, single, dubbel, and tripel correspond roughly to 3, 6, and 9 percent alcohol by volume. There is wiggle room in this classification as evidenced by the St. Bernardus Tripel having an 8 percent ABV. The style also calls for a beer with a deep golden color with a prominent yeast signature. This style is deceptively easy to drink and packs a wallop at 8 to 9 percent.
The St. Bernardus Tripel is beautifully blonde with a frothy, white head. The beer presents a nose with a delicate combination of malt, fruit, and yeast. On the palate it is smooth and flavorful and manages to strike the perfect balance of hops, malt and yeast with hints of banana, citrus, and spice.
Cigar Pairing: Oliva Connecticut Reserve
The Oliva Connecticut Reserve’s core of smooth earth and pepper accompanied by vanilla cream and nuts is a spectacular match for the St. Bernardus Tripel. The creaminess of the cigar becomes more and more prominent as the beer warms in your glass but perhaps the most notable highlight is how the beer brings the subtle citrus note of the cigar to the forefront.