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Nov 23, 2013 09:34 AM

Strong Belgian dark ale blind tasting

In these previous posts I reported on a growing fondness for dark Belgian strong ales:

So I did a blind tasting of the following last night:

Chimay Blue Grand Reserve
Gouden Carolus Cuvee de Keizer Blauw
Gulden Draak (plain white bottle, not the 9000
)Maudite (a Quebec-brew in Belgian style "with spices")
Rochefort Trappistes 8
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

I had really high hopes for this entire lot and was somewhat surprised by the tasting results. Actual notes follow:

Brew 1: Nice, smooth, rich. Carmelly-delish.

Brew 2: Okay too... think I like 1 better... there's kind of an off-putting nasty flavor note that gets in the way of an otherwise interesting brew...

Brew 3: Dry, barely bitter-sweet. More in the pale-ale flavor spectrum. [ was surprised by this]

Brew 4: Okay... a hit of spice a-la a hefe-weizen... not really craving this.

Brew 5: Again, bitter-sweet, more pale-aleish. Nothing bad, nothing great.

[note to the pale-ale comments, I'm really seeking a go-to sweetish carmelly brew as a go-to dark Belgian, so even if these pale-aleish brews are "right", they really aren't what I'm looking for. Had a ditto experience with a Triple tasting I reported on earlier]

Brew 6: Nice, rounder flavor... not as carmelly as 1 but overall competitive.

FINAL first tasting round notes: 1 and 6 are definitely the stand-outs. 1 is what I'm looking for, 6 is slightly weaker but with an intriguing spicey edge.

NOW to reveal the results to myself:

Brew 1: Gulden Draak !!!!!!!!!!!! My palate is at least consistent, I've done nothing but love this beer since a bartender first suggested I try it since she was out of something else (best drinking serendipity in a while. Report on that non-blind tasting here:

Brew 2: Cuvee de Keizer

Brew 3: Chimay Grande Reserve

Brew 4: Maudite

Brew 5: St. Bernardus Christmas

Brew 6: Trappistes Rochefort 8

Follow-up (non-blind) tasting... so I sip on these brews for the remainder of the evening with the following additional tasting notes:


"6 is pretty solid, getting better in the glass"

"2 has mellowed out, lost those nasty notes... as if it needed a de-canting of sorts...." [Note this beer comes well locked-up under pressure in a champagne-like bottle]... and it's been a favorite of mine in other tastings.

"3 still negligible"

"4, nothing evolves"

"5 okay, not that great"

"6 is really nice"


"2 is seriously evolving", "6 tasting &^%$# good!"
So, bottom line, Gulden Draak was the monster from the get-go with Rochefort 8 and Cuvee de Keizer also very nice, with Cuvee needing some time out of the bottle. BTW, this was 2013 Cuvee, I recently tried a 2011 which was delish (a smaller bottle, not in the champagne bottle).

Friends of mine at the tasting also really enjoyed these brews, especially the G-D and Cuvee.

My surprise at these results was that I expected all of these to be in the "dark carmelly" flavor mold... some were as noted, while other very "highly rated" brews were surprisingly much closer to a regular pale ale (or pale belgian ale) at least to my palate.

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  1. What temperature did you taste these beers? Assuming you kept them in a fridge, how long were they out before you tasted them?

    2 Replies
    1. re: ThomasvanDale

      Not exactly sure.... They weren't in a fridge but were in a car trunk for a couple hours prior where it probably got down around 45-50. Then just opened and kept them on a table... Probably poured and drank for well over an hour after that.... so slightly under room temperature overall is my best guess.

      1. re: TombstoneShadow

        I don't know what kind of climate you have where you live, but keeping beer in an auto, when the sun is out, will almost always warm it up no matter what the temperature is.

        Generally, these beers are at their best at cellar temperature. That is lower than room temperature, so, unless you live in a very hot house, you probably had them at more or less the best temperature.

        The reason I asked was your description of a "nasty flavour" in the Cuvée de Keizer. It is also possible that some of these beers were badly handled during shipment to the US. Het Anker, the brewery of de Keizer, makes very good beers and I've never had any that were off-flavour.

    2. Silly question about the Chimay... was it in the large bottle or the 12 oz bottle?

      I have wondered whether the beer is bottled condition and whether having it in a large format bottle could alter the characteristics of the beer.

      9 Replies
      1. re: cwdonald

        I my experience, Belgian beers age slightly differently in small bottles vs large bottles. The larger bottles seem to have a more expanded flavor profile, and don't seem to age as quickly as the beer in the smaller bottles.

        1. re: Tripeler

          Trip: I've been thinking about these two Belgian styles I'm noting... the richer style I'm after I now realize is basically a "barleywine" style... sweet, carmelly... even sticky-sweet....

          vs. the "refined pale ale" style that I have way too many substitutes for to really get interested in...

        2. re: cwdonald

          Chimay and Keizer were in the large champagne-cork bottle...,the others were in the smaller 11 to 12 oz bottles.

          Interesting point on the bottle size maybe affecting flavor...

          1. re: TombstoneShadow

            As Chimay Blue in the 25 oz is one of my three favorite brews l am disappointed. Perhaps these were new bottlings and were too 'fresh'. l drink mine at about 4-6 years of age and l love them. Try an older one and hope you love them as l do.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              Delucca.. i am confused. I have only seen 12 oz, and 750 ml bottles.. is the 25 oz a European size?

              I actually have two bottles of Chimay bleu I have aged over 10 years that I am going to try this christmas. One to drink, and if it is not good, am going to make a batch of boeuf chimay.

                1. re: cwdonald

                  At 10 years most of fizz will probably be gone, but still should be great, l hope {8>).
                  And as Jim Dorsch said is 25.4 oz which translates to 751 so l was off by a milliliter. The bottle states the size in ounces not ml.

                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    Thanks.. was not trying to be snarky. I prefer the large format bottles myself, and am very interested to find out how these survived...

                    Also have some 1997 bigfoot to play around with as well.

                    1. re: cwdonald

                      Never thought you were.
                      Going to Tacconelli's tomorrow, my contribution will be a magnum of 2006 La Chouffe

          2. UPDATE: Just did an impromptu blind tasting of Gulden Draak vs. Rochefort Trapistes 10.... Actual tasting notes follow:
            Gulden Draak vs. Roquefort Trappistes 10, blind tasting Dec. 18, 2013

            1: is creamy, slightly nicer
            2: a bit more carbonated, still nice.

            Overall 1 is just more fully developed: better texture, better flavor, definitely brings out creamy caramel flavors that I'm looking for, whereas 2 by contrast is a bit thinner more carbonated, and the flavor not as interesting or complex.....

            Revealing the results:
            1: Gulden Draak!!!!
            2: Trapistes Rochefort 10

            2 Replies
            1. re: TombstoneShadow

              Rochefort is my least favorite of the trappist breweries. In my opinion all their beers come across boozy, thin, and one dimensional - and I've been told by many people how wrong my opinion is. :-)

              1. re: LStaff

                Of the few that I've had, I think I prefer the Rochefort 8 over the 10. It held up fairly weill at an impromptu tasting I had awhile back of 5? different belgians....

                From memory, Gulden Draak and Keizer Blue Label were the two "top favorites"... but R-8 held up with them MOL that night.

            2. Anchor Foghorn has consistently been one of my fave U.S. barleywines for quite a few years now. Because to my palate the closest thing to barleywine is a sweet dark belgian ale, I tried a blind tasting of Foghorn vs. the excellent blue-labe Carolus Cuvee de Van Keizer.

              Should note that it was a bottle of 2011 CDVK, so we're talking +/- 3 years of bottle maturity.

              Both brews had great initial impressions, and that held true for about 20 minutes of sipping and sampling. In the end however, the CDVK was just stellar. A very richly-textured complex ale with layers of caramel and maple.

              Just extraordinary. While younger CDVK is also delicious I strongly believe this has improved in the bottle, so not entirely a fair comparison with a recently brewed Foghorn.

              8 Replies
              1. re: TombstoneShadow

                The Foghorn is really a different kind of beer than the CDVK, which I believe contains small amounts of spices and has a much more complex malt bill. Still, it is interesting to read of your comparisons. I love Foghorn, but I also love the really strong, complex and aged Belgian ales. Keep doing what you are doing!

                1. re: Tripeler

                  Trip: right, they are not identical beer categories...

                  .... but they give me a similar palate buzz: rich, sweet, complex.... and I drink them under similar circumstances.

                  1. re: TombstoneShadow

                    At my favorite Belgian beer bar on Saturday I had a Bush amber and a Dulle Teve (Mad Bitch) from Da Dolle. Rather different beers, but great to sip together, back and forth, to note the differences. The Bush is 12% and the Dulle Teve is 10.5% and they really do it for me.

                    1. re: Tripeler

                      Bush is what they call Scaldis in the US, correct?

                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                        Yes, but apparently the conflict between the brewers of Bush and AB has been solved, so recent labels say Bush. After all, the brewers of Bush are the DuBuisson family, and their name means "bush" in English. I think they may have gone back to the "Bush" name in the U.S.

                        (Rant: I mean, who in their right mind would confuse the Belgian Bush beer, with its insane gravity and alcohol levels, with the Busch beer previously brewed by A-B -- the whole kerfuffle seems manufactured by lawyers eager to bill on a bogus and flimsy case. I mean, the family name means "bush" so that should stand for something. Sorry, rant over.)

                        By the way, the bottle I had carried the new Bush label, and the taste was different from before. The beer is still 12% a.b.v. but there is less obvious alcohol character. (I think that maybe they changed the yeast.) The beer is "rounder" and more integrated tasting, and while different than before (less like brandy, really) it is quite good.

                        1. re: Tripeler

                          Thanks for clarifying. I wasn't aware of that.

                          Agreed on kerfuffle, but it's all about trademarks, of course. Perhaps the Bush folks should be concerned about Busch Bavarian casting their beer in a bad light!

                          Long ago I spent a nice day visiting DuBuisson, and earlier on the same day, Brasserie Dupont.

                          1. re: Jim Dorsch

                            Mr. DuBuisson is a really fine and interesting guy. I met him once at a trade fair in Japan.

                            1. re: Tripeler

                              I tend to forget many things, so I can't recall if I met him.

                              The one thing I remember from that day is visiting the cafe across the road from Dupont. It was a Belgian holiday, I believe their equivalent of veterans day, and families were in there, plus musicians scattered around the room, playing. Delightful.

              2. In a tasting last week I tried a US-made microbrew in the belgian quad style: Ommegang 3 Philosophers...

                I thought it was quite good so decided to try it in a blind tasting against stalwart Gulden Draak. Tasting notes follow:

                Brew A: very nice sweet lingering flavor... mild caramel and maple...

                Brew B: very nice round texture... not quite as impressive flavor as A, a bit more singular and alcohol-forward, though not dramatically so.

                Conclusion: close call, both good, Brew A wins it tonite...

                Revealing the winner.... Brew A is....

                Gulden Draak.... what a great brew, just delivers. And that's not taking anything away from 3-P.