In the never ending quest for a challenger to my favourite non Trappist tripel, Karmeliet, I couldn’t resist the Val Dieu after I’d read the small print on the back of the bottle. It states that Val Dieu is the only true Belgian Abbey beer. Sounded like a sales gimmick but I suppose it worked as I bought it.
But what about the other Abbey beers, you might well ask? After all there are 22 other breweries that have the right to display the seal bières belges d’abbaye reconnues.
The criteria for membership of the group, which came into existence in July 1999 in an effort to compete with the International Trappist Association beers, were somewhat loose. For instance, for beers brewed commercially before that date the name of a long defunct Abbey could be used if the brewery paid royalties to a charitable or cultural institution.
From the list of current members only two brew within the confines of an abbey; the Abbaye d’Aulne, which is a ruin and, you guessed it, the Abbaye Val Dieu. The latter was founded in 1216, the monks naturally brewed beer and in 1997 after a brewing pause of nearly a century, the old recipes were dusted off and a new brewery was installed within the confines of the Cistercian Abbey . The last three monks left in 2001 and today the monastery is run by ‘the Christian Community of Val Dieu’.
So, ‘the only true Belgian Abbey beer’, but how does it really shape up?
In the glass, a cloudy golden orange with a small to medium head. The aroma has a marmitey yeast, honey sweetness and a spicy dry leaf element. Malt comes right up front in the taste followed by fruit; a surprising touch of grapefruit then ripe peach, pear, apricot and finally a layer of tangerine. Caramel sweetness builds up but is kept well in check by a peppery spiciness, the burgeoning alcohol (9.0% vol.)and a hint of hops.
The follow through takes all of these elements finally settling on a pleasant malt and sweet blend together with the warming alcohol.
An excellent tripel; a match for Vicaris in taste if not looks and a close follower to Karmeliet. It deserves to be drunk regularly.