[Ed.: It's been oddly busy in my life. Good Beer Blog HQ has been idle and we know what idle hands are. Happily Travis of CNYBrew.com sent me this post yesterday to fill the gap. I expect further a guest post soon from our man in Norway, Knut, as well. Stay tuned. I'll get back on track. Really I will.]
I had the very distinct privilege of tasting a real Trappist Ale head to head with one of the most notable American-Belgian beers going. Galeville Country Store was the supplier of my Westmalle (they carry singles of Dubbel and Trippel for $4 a piece) and was really fired up. I had had the New Belgium from my trip to Colorado earlier in the year that I flew back with me because they don't sell New Belgium east of the Mississippi (I would be it if that changed in the very near future) so I figured it was a unique opportunity to taste them side by side.
First up was the New Belgium Abbey. The aroma was subtle and nuanced. There were notes of vanilla and nutty spices, but it was all very subtle. The overwhelming aroma was caramel. The color was brilliantly clear copper. It appeared to be a little light for the style, but the clarity was very nice. The head build and fell quickly leaving a slight off white color. The flavor was smooth with a slight warming caused by the spices instead or alcohol. This is a very nice drinking beer, but not a big Belgian beer. The mouth feel is not all that intense with the carbonation and overall I would say that is was clean.
Next up was the Westmalle. The Westmalle had a more pronounced aroma and was complex. There were notes of vanilla, Carmel and coriander The color was more of a dark bronze color and was much less clear than the NB. The head was cream color and held with the beer for quite a while. The flavor was incredibly intense. There was a smoky hint that at first I felt was a little out of place, but it was nicely balanced with the spices that are more expected in the style (caramel, vanilla, coriander ext.). The smokey notes settle down over a few sips and I was left with a great meeting of flavors in the end. The mouth feel was more intense on the carbonation, but the beer does not coat the tongue.
Overall I would say that it is very clear that Westmalle is a much better example of a Belgium Abbey and overall just a better beer. If I were to describe the two head to head, I would say that the Westmalle is not for the untrained tongue. It's too damn expensive and there is a lot going on here for a novice to enjoy. I think that most middle of the road drinkers would be blown away with NB and it's American interpretation of this brewing classic. As always, I have a tremendous amount of respect for New Belgium and would grab a sixer of ANY of their beers anytime. But in this case there was not a difficult choice.