Less known are the remaining three: Stift Engelszell from Austria (since 2012), Spencer (USA, 2013) and Maria Toevlucht Abbey (Netherlands, 2013).
The last two are difficult to come by but the beers from Engelszell are cropping up on numerous beer shelves. Gregorius, a dark triple, and the dubbel Benno. Following on from the succesful launch of Gregorius in June 2012, the Benno was introduced at the end of may in the following year.
I’ve decided to start with the weaker (6,9% alc. Vol.) dubbel. It was bought in a Brussel beer shop so technically it is ”a taste of” and I don’t need to justify the inclusion of an Austrian beer by means of a tenuous link to the Habsburg ruling dynasty in Belgium in the 15th century.
I’ve decided to pitch it up against a Belgian Trappist dubbel: Achel bruin. I’m not expecting any wonders so I’ll leave a comparison with the likes of Westmalle and Rochefort for the future, should the Benno shape up.
First thing I notice is even before I open the bottle; the best before date is April 2014 so even if it belonged to the first batch, less than two years. The Achel had a 2018 date!
Both beers are amber brown, the Benno lighter in colour, and pour with a big head which sank more quickly with the Benno. The two beers start to separate with the aroma; the Benno predominantly malt and grain with fruit way back. The Achel shows more complexity; bready yeast and malt, a touch of mustiness and chocolate and then apple/pear fruitiness.
As one would expect, the taste emphasized the complexity gulf between the two beers. The Benno started with a sour twang and then malt and a cold strong tea taste which moved towards, a slight earthiness and clove and hop bitterness. A honey sweetness took a while to come through and stayed.
The Achel, too, had a sour twang followed by a cold tea and bitterness, in between a slight licorice/dark chocolate and malt. Fruit goes from apple to sweet pear.
The Achel is a classic dubbel, is noticeably stronger (8% alc. Vol.) and much better balanced than the Benno, which I found a bit thin. Very drinkable for sure, but not great and in style more of a dark ale than a dubbel.
The Benno is a rarity in Brussels and is therefore sold at a premium. My advice: buy a good Trappist dubbel for half the price (or two for the same price!) and if you want Benno, visit the spectacular monastery church in Engelszell and buy it in the nearby shop.
Happy beer drinking!