Brasserie de Rochefort “8” (Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy)

February 7, 2012

February has returned and that means carnival season. The overall gist of Mardi Gras is to get your indulgences out of the way before the Lenten fast. In recent decades this has come to mimic the bacchanalian wine parties of ancient Roman times; lots of it and bring me more.

Anyone who knows me knows that I eschew loud crowds of intoxicated revelers resplendent in their puffy jester hats and plastic Mr. T bling. Call me a curmudgeon but I’m just not that turned on by long waits in line to be the next drunk to impress his friends by ripping the paper towel dispenser off the men’s room wall. And imbibing until it’s re-gifted? Classy. What a grand mal waste of beverage.

I am, however, a good sport and I will play along but by my definition of “indulgence.” For my intent, I’d rather take the time to splurge on some of the finest-made beer in the world. It’s pricey but there’s nothing like Trappist ale.

There is usually some head scratching involved when it comes to certain Belgian ales. What’s up with the numbers? Why is there a 6 or a 12? The answer is two-fold. Initially the number was brewer’s shorthand for the beer’s original gravity, the relative density of wort compared to water in the initial phase of brewing. By monitoring a beer’s gravity, the brewer can extrapolate overall alcohol content for the finished product and determine when the beer has finished fermenting. In shorthand, an OG of 1.068 would be jotted down as a 6.

The other half of the answer owes to the illiteracy of the population in older times. The scores of thirsty laborers knew they wanted a tasty beer but had no idea what the writing on the label meant. They did, however, know their numbers and would simply order their preference based upon that. You see, in most cases the higher the number the stronger the ale.

Rochefort is made by Trappist monks and utilizes the number system on their amazing ales. When beer is this fantastic, who cares about a lot of fancy fluff on the label? I’m aiming my indulgence right down the middle of the pack and picking the Number 8.

This is one of those living ales that proudly contain those funky chunks of spent yeast. You’ll see tan blobs of it swimming around this pond water brown elixir with its mile-high head of dense froth. 8 has incredible scents of fig and dried apple on top of fresh dark bread and earthy Belgian yeast. Flavors run the gauntlet from chocolate/carob, toffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried cherry, banana and brown sugar. Each sip is a unique experience. The rather high 9.2% alcohol content provides some warmth to the finish and satisfies the reveler requirements of strong drink.