Tasting Miscellany


Some beers tasted in the last couple of weeks:

Yuengling Porter

Quite light, I remember it as better than this even five years ago. Good nostalgia factor though given it is the oldest brewery in North America next to Molson.

Wells Young Courage Imperial Russian Stout (2012)

Showing evident maturation after four years, like Father Henriques, the lively (American) wine and spirits writer of the 1970s said, “drink up”.

La Trappe Tripel

Touch of damp paper oxidation, marked Belgian yeast note (that chalky taste some Champagne has). Good, not my favourite.

Stone City IPA

A kind gift of reader Gary H, as were the first two above. Freshly brought in from Kingston, ON in growler. Super-fresh, state of the art American hops. Very good fizzy and iced. As it descends in the jug and loses carbonation, it stands very well though for an American cask ale.

Krombacher Dark (draft at Biermarkt, Don Mills Shops branch).

A super bier, rich full clean flavours, perfect balance of mineral, coffee, malt, and hop. The Germans are so good at this style. HB’s dunkel on draft at Biermarkt when available is as good but a different taste. DAB Dark in cans, same thing. It happened to be very fresh and this always helps a lot too, with a lightly-pasteurized, fresh beer like this you don’t get the tired-old-can effect and the true taste comes through.

Creemore Kolsch 

Austere, like a northern German pils IMO, I don’t really get the kolsch moniker (German top-fermented style from Cologne). Not really what I want in beer, but well-made.

BraufactuM Roog (Smoked Unfiltered Wheat Beer) (draft)

This is really good, pro-made all the way. From Radeberger I believe. Very good taste notes on the menu at Beer Bistro downtown in Toronto, so I needn’t say anything further, go down there and have one.

Grimbergen Dubbel (draft at Biermarkt)

Since I wrote so much recently about double bière/dubbel I had to try one, eh? Biermarkt has numerous Trappist and abbey beers, but I can’t recall having had Grimbergen on draft and I think only once in bottle, so I went for it. Superb beer! Lots of interesting flavors, “Belgian” without that heady raisin/fig taste I find objectionable. There was an evident fresh orange note to it, probably coriander.  Kind of like a pink Champagne mimosa with a good beer in it. A fine example of dubbel, made by Carlsberg in France for the export market.

After I had it I saw on the menu Biermarkt has Westmalle Dubbel on draft – yes on draft. Must get back there to try this, and party like it’s 1856. A one-beer party, but that’s cool.








Trappist Dubbel’s Unique Origins




Belgian sources from the 1800s show that bière double, or double beerwas a known expression, as in French brewing. Here is an example (pg. 225) from 1856, from well-known brewing writer Georges Le Cambre. He refers there to bière double de Diest, or the double beer of Diest. He used “double beer”, as did other Belgian writers, to mean strong beer. Sometimes they used the literal French term for that, bière forte.

Usage of the double beer term was erratic and inconsistent. Double beer – dubbel in Flemishwas not a thing in 1800s Belgium when abbey brewing was being revived after Napoleon and the French Revolution. In a word, it was not a style of brewing. It simply meant the strong version of any particular type of beer. So, you might find a bière double de Malines, for example, being strong brown beer from Malines, or Mechelen in Flemish.

Compare this to Paris in the same period. Bière double de Paris was the proper name of a beer made in Paris that was top-fermented, brown, and reasonably strong (although sources are somewhat contradictory on that). It wasn’t a world-beater, but it had a modest identity within the modest world of French brewing. In Belgium, perhaps due to the famous diversity and regional character of its brewing scene, double beer was just a strong beer. It was made like the weaker beer in the brewer’s range, but with more malt to yield more alcohol.

I’m not going to claim strict distinctions here. In Lille, a bière double de Lille was known. I would consider this a Flemish specialty really considering the Flemish regional character of Lille and environs. I think it’s fair to say though, by virtue of its mention in numerous texts, including some English sources, that the double bière de Paris had more identity and recognition than the others, perhaps due to the large conurbation Paris always was.


The ancestor of Westmalle dubbel of today was first made by the fathers in 1856. It was stronger than an earlier, golden beer the fathers made for their use. How strong is not known, perhaps 6% abv. It seems dubbel as a slogan wasn’t used until after 1926, when the beer was reformulated to be yet stronger (now 7% abv). Indeed dubbel as a descriptive term in the market was not in general use until after WW II. Chimay didn’t call its beers dubbel even in the early years of the craft and small brewery revival. But now its Red and Blue labels are regarded as full members of the dubbel family, and properly so having regard to their characteristics.

In this 1890 Flemish-language glossary published in Brussels, see the upper right of the page linked. It is stated in French that the town of Menin had beers called by various names including keute and double bière, but since the 17th century they are called simply brown beer, white beer, small brown beer, and small white beer. The old term double beer, whatever its distant origin, had fallen away in Belgium. The term was still used here or there, but probably had no significant public recognition.

The same thing happened in England. By the 1700s, you don’t read much if anything about double beer, this is a term of the Tudor and William Shakespeare’s time. Even in Georgian England it had a period ring, akin to quaint terms such as huff-cap and hugamatee – and three threads and other multiples, I might add.

Still, in Paris, the term as a name for a defined beer – bière double de Paris – had currency until about 1850. After that you don’t read much about it, no doubt because the new bottom-fermented beers helped push it out. The Paris double beer, like most top-fermented beers of the time, suffered from instability, it tended to go sour. What is admired by some today, tart beer, was disdained by brewing technologists who said the people drank them because they had no choice.

What this suggests is, when monks in Belgium created their new brown beers in the restored or new abbeys of the 1800s, they weren’t taking inspiration from a contemporary Belgian style. Most Belgian beer then was sourish, and fairly weak. Modern Trappist brown beer is neither and likely never was.

No, those monks were looking to monastic tradition for guidance. Monastic brewing had a venerable history in some Christian orders. It was well-developed amongst the Benedictines, in particular. Monks didn’t need to call on Caesar to learn about brewing and good beer. And latterly to inspire them in their own tradition was the notably successful Dieulouard brewery of Saint-Laurent Abbey in Lorraine. What had the Dieulouard brewers made? Brown, strong, well-conditioned beer they called double beer, or bière double, as historian Gustave Clanché confirmed in 1933. The Belgian monks called their new, similar beers the same thing, initially within their own precincts, but finally to the public.

This is underpinned by the fact that the Trappist beer signature, dubbel, has a distinct identity. Adam Lindgreen and Michael Beverland, in their 2009 article Hush, It’s a Secret: How Trappist Breweries Create and Maintain Images of Authenticity Using Customer Experiences, called the unifying elements of Trappist brewing a “tone”. This has changed a bit with the expansion of the number of Trappist breweries, but I am speaking of the Belgian group essentially, the old guard. They share the dubbel style and the tripel style, for the most part. (Orval deviates from the pattern). And most have a father’s beer, pale or brown, of modest gravity. So two main styles, and a weaker pater or father’s beer if one wants to view that as a third style.

The various dubbels of the Trappists don’t taste identical but in their strength bands they are quite alike in many ways, with a similar estery yeast background and a colour and taste that partly depends on brewing sugars. All are bottled unfiltered and are top-fermented. None feature a big American pine-and-grapefruit aroma, certainly. There are no porters or stouts. No lagers. No “sours”, wild beers, or fruit beers despite their pre-eminence of Belgian terroir.

Dubbel is a thing, again, but why? Because while it emerged within Belgium, it is a product of the insular yet brewing-aware, trans-national character of the Trappist order. Just as Trappist cheese assumed a common identity in Trappist monasteries regardless of country based on the Port Salut model, so has beer.

Tripel, the extra-strong aromatic blonde beer devised by Westmalle in 1934, was the last big innovation. The older dubbel style, common to most of the original Trappist group, stretched back to Dieulouard Abbey’s double beer, which in turn issued from the heyday of English monastic brewing before 1600.

Dieulouard’s beer was brown, strong, well-conditioned, and traveled well – it did not go sour. Trappist dubbel is brown, strong, well-conditioned, and not sour.

Those who might think this an over-estimation of the importance of a long-disappeared abbey brewery in France might ponder this statement of T. Leo Almond in 1895 in the Downside Review, Volume 14. He was a member of Ampleforth Abbey, successor in England to Dieulouard:

Not only were the community the foremost brewers of Lorraine, with a monopoly for the supply of the ducal court, but they were actually the introducers of the hop into Lorraine, thus founding one of its principal industries. This strikes us as a unique episode in monastic history, far more important than the invention of a liqueur [no doubt Benedictine liqueur is meant here], which seems by some fatality to be a monastic privilege … I really think we have established a claim to some monumental recognition by France of the services of our Congregation.

In light of this high regard shown for the achievements of the Dieulouard brewery, it is impossible that monks in Belgium, a mere generation or so after Dieulouard was suppressed by the French Revolution, would not have been aware of its status as a monastic brewing star and sought to emulate its very special double beer.

Note re image above: the first image shown, of old Diest, was sourced from the auction and vending site www.delacampe.net, here. The second, of a secular brewery in Mechelen, was sourced here. Both are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.

Double Beer in France and Its Origins


A follow-up to my last post: Citations for “bière double/double bière” appear regularly in French sources going back to the 1500s at least. A beer at Paris was known by such names according to some writers on French beer in the 1800s. The beer was, typically, brown and reasonably strong, and one gravity table from a French science dictionary, 1823, suggests Paris double beer was equal to English “ale”: thus 6-7% abv, sometimes higher but probably not often. Some reports put the range much lower though, as this one (1856). It is always hard to tell, but in general I believe these beers to have been reasonably strong.

As I said in my last post, it is not unusual that the old English term, double beer, had analogues elsewhere, even in France. There are two issues here: what is the proximate origin of the emerging Belgian dubbels of the 1800s, an era when the beers of the people were often sour and half the strength of Chimay (7.2%) in 1877? And what was the ultimate origin of the term double beer/bière double?  It’s two separate questions. For the first one, unquestionably in my view, the monastic double beer of Dieulouard abbey, 1608-1789, had to influence what Westmalle and Chimay brewed in the 1800s. The geographic, temporal, and cultural factors (Benedictine link, departure of French monks for greener pastures in Belgium after 1789), all coincide.

The fact of strong brown beer having apparently had currency in Paris, called by the same name, may have been a contributing factor. My sense is monastic communities by their very nature tend to rely on their own resources and history, not those of a commercial market, but anyway that is possible.

One interesting source, a 1580 book called “L’Agriculture et La Maison Rustique” by the French physicians and writers on agriculture, Charles Estienne and Jean Liebault, described bière double as of English and Flemish origin – thus not French. (The first letter of “bière” in the link is obscured due to the scan but numerous other editions clearly state “double bière”).

They bracket this term, or double beer in English, with the French terms “alle” and “gutalle“. These were colloquial terms, indeed alternate spellings, meaning ale and good ale. To me, all this suggests an ultimate English origin for double beer and the equivalent French word. But in light of the authors’ suggestion of a possible Flemish connection, I acknowledge that dubbel bier in Flemish, and maybe bière double in Francophone Belgium, may have come first. After all, the Flemings brought hopped beer to England.

I’ll set aside whether Dieulouard’s beer, or Westmalle’s and Chimay’s, was ale or beer in English terms. The distinction was losing significance in England anyway let alone France and Belgium where the history and terminology were different. I will also not discuss, here at any rate, doppelbock beer, although I believe it is likely a monastic version of Trappist dubbel and Dieulouard abbey’s  earlier double beer.

I doubt it will be possible to sort the second question out given the very distant eras being referred to. If dubbel bier/double beer/bière double was originally Flemish, its memory may have lingered on in the Belgian lands. Of course, Rochefort abbey for its part has been brewing since the 1500s with a lapsus of about 100 years after the French Revolution. It now issues beers to the public of this description, since 1952.

But again: the signal success of the Dieulouard brewery to sustain the Saint-Laurent Benedictines there was unique to my knowledge. They used the term double beer, this is known as a fact as I explained earlier.  We cannot ignore the likelihood that this successful application of St. Benedict’s Rule was impressed upon Westmalle, Chimay, Achel and Rochefort when they started brewing in the 1800s.

Note re image: the image is of the Chateau in Dieulouard, Lorraine, France, before WW I. It is in the public domain and was sourced here. 


Belgian “Dubbel” (Double Beer): First English, Then French, Then Belgian

Eduard_von_Grützner_MönchInternational Brewing Culture Isn’t New

I have argued that the dubbel style of beer, associated today with Belgian beer and in particular Trappist brewing, derived from the Elizabethan and Tudor eras when double beer was a standard designation for beer in England.  It is almost trite to say double beer is an old English term. Many standard beer and brewing histories, e.g., by S. Corran, H.A. Monckton, confirm its existence. The term appears in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II: “a pot of good Double-Beer”.

There is some uncertainly how strong it was. It is difficult to know since even when credible recipes are followed, it is unclear what starch content barley and other grain had at the time. Some brewer-historians have estimated the kernels had half the usable starch of today’s malting barleys, which if true means one must halve the amount of grain in a recipe. Not doing so would affect the strength by almost doubling it. People have made beers, or deduced their strength from records, at from 3.8% to over 8% abv using standard recipes of the mid-to-later 1500s. Recipes, that is, for beer which was neither small beer (very weak) or extraordinarily strong.

In terms of monastic brewing, it seems from medieval times monasteries typically made three kinds of beer: the strongest for sale to the public or special occasions; a mid-grade for their own use (think Chimay Gold of today); and a weak beer to give to the poor.

The beer that made Dieulouard Abbey famous from the early 1600s to the French Revolution was probably at the strong end of this range. I’d estimate it was 7% abv, as Chimay abbey’s beer was known to be in 1877. It was very likely dark as well. Beer from the same brewery in Dieulouard in 1885 (then not owned by ecclesiastics) was described by an English observer as “dark”, and also “heavy”, which meant at the time strong. Given the strength of English beer in the 1880s, strong probably meant 7%, perhaps a little less. The double beer recipe brought to Dieulouard by English Benedictines would have been the same, as I doubt the brewery even 100 years later would have changed the formulation. The beer’s religious history, which had to be a marketing advantage for the brewery, would have militated against this.

At all events I doubt Dieulouard abbey’s beer was under 6% abv, as the beer was said also to travel well and to support dilution with water: both require beer to be reasonably strong.

Numerous press accounts for the release of Ampleforth Abbey’s “double” beer in 2012 refer to “double-fermented”, as I believe the Abbey has itself in some statements. On the label itself, the nomenclature is “double” and the Flemish translation, dubbel, also appears.  This usage of double, not qualified that is, is entirely correct.

In a 50-page book on the history of the Dieulouard brewery written in 1933 by a long-lived curé called Gustave Clanché (1869-1957), the monks’ beer is called “double bière“. Not even bière double, which seems more correct grammatically. I have not been able to source the book itself, called “Histoire de la Bière des Benedictins anglais de Dieulouard” (History of the Beer of the English Benedictines of Dieulouard), but extracts appear on this historical webpage, in which it is stated:

Cette histoire de « la bière des Bénédictins anglais de Dieulouard » – et de leur abbaye – a été reprise, en 1933, avec de très intéressants détails, de nombreuses illustrations et un plan du monastère, en une brochure in-8 °, de 50 pages, par M. l’abbé CLANCHÉ, curé de Dieulouard (1).
« A l’époque actuelle, où la bière de Lorraine est reine partout et où l’on en boit tant, écrit l’Auteur, dès les premières lignes, il ne sera pas sans intérêt de rappeler que c’est ici même (à Dieulouard) une réapparition. Durant deux siècles, en effet, au XVIIe et au XVIIIe, la « double bière de Dieulouard » a eu, sur toutes les autres, la priorité, la célébrité, non seulement dans la province, mais aussi dans les contrées avoisinantes.

Per Father Clanché: (my translation):

At the present time, when beer made in Lorraine is so popular everywhere [i.e., in France] and so much of it is drunk, it may be of interest to point out that here in Dieulouard, it’s merely a second phase. For two centuries, the 17th and 18th ones, the ‘double beer of Dieulouard’ had, over all others, first standing and fame, not just in its own region but in neighbouring territories.

If anyone knew how to research Dieulouard’s beer, Curé Clanché did: he lived and served in the town, and was a historian who published many books on regional church and other history. He would have known the brewery as a young man, which was still operating in 1885 at least. If he called it double beer – not double-fermented beer, not dubbel beer (suggesting a non-English origin), he had a reason. Of course, this is subject to anything to the contrary in the full text, but given who started brewing at Dieulouard Abbey (founded 1608), I doubt a meaning connected to fermentation is mentioned or anything other than what double beer meant in England in the 1500s: strong beer. Certainly the definition in French dictionaries, 1700s-1800s for bière double accords: strong beer.

To be sure, the idea of double-fermented has a certain appeal, and there is good evidence Dieulouard beer was well-conditioned, meaning it underwent a secondary fermentation. I don’t doubt the term may well appear in some of Ampleforth’s old records. But I don’t think that’s the real origin of “double beer” as used to describe la bière anglaise of Dieulouard.

It is entirely possible, in fact I don’t doubt, that in other French brewing districts and before Dieulouard was founded, the term bière double was in use. But if it was, it came from England, I believe, just as the French colloquial terms “goudale” and “godaille” did (good ale). Beer was never as highly specialized and important a business in France as in England. English beer always had special repute in France (and Belgium), and its terminology was influential. Thus, the term bière double of Paris, of there are numerous citations to early in the 1800s, and which was a brown beer, was I apprehend English originally – certainly the term and probably the beer too.

Anyway within the confines of monastic brewing, the fame of Dieulouard’s avowedly English-origin double beer had to influence brewing by fellow monastics in Belgium after 1789. It doesn’t matter that Saint-Laurent Abbey at Dieulouard, as for its successor at Ampleforth, was not Trappist or even Cistercian. The fellowship of Benedictines, sharing as they did, and do, St. Benedict’s Rule, went much further than that. Modern proof is available by the close cooperation Trappist breweries gave Ampleforth when the latter’s beer was being formulated.

English Benedictines were also at Paris and Douai before the Revolution. Whether they brewed there I can’t say, but post-Napoleon restoration of monastic brewing would have taken succour from all earlier examples of English religious brewing in France given the pre-eminence of the Dieulouard brewery. Monks fleeing to Belgium, as they did amongst other places of refuge, would have known of this background. On top of this, English brewing had a presence at Melleray Abbey in Brittany from 1817, so more current information was available to monks setting up brewing in Belgium on English beer and its history and nomenclature.

In a word, the Belgian dubbel was preceded by the French double of Lorraine which was preceded by Elizabethan and Tudor double beer.

Note re image above: it is a genre painting by the German painter Eduard von Grützner and was sourced from Wikipedia, here. It is believed in the public domain and available for educational and historical use.  All feedback welcomed.