I don’t buy a lot of beer, since most of my beer budget goes to beer ingredients and beer-making equipment. Some friends brought several bottles of different Trappist beers over to try, one of which was from the Affligem Monastery. According to the bottle, Affligem is the oldest abbey in Flanders, founded in 1074. Artifacts indicate the Abbey was brewing beer for pilgrims as early as 1129.
We in the First World, now that we live in a much more technological age, can give thanks for clean and sanitary drinking water. The fact that brewing beer permitted people to survive centuries ago is somewhat forgotten, or purely a historical footnote now. But back before people understood anything about microbes or bacteria, they could observe that drinking beer rather than water prevented illness or death.
Beer was a safe drink compared to water, because it required boiling, which had the effect of sanitizing the water used to make it, rendering the beverage potable. Not that you’d want to, but the safety of beer can be demonstrated by brewing with sewage and then testing it. Boiling for an hour pretty much kills the nastiness that can be unsafe or deadly. All the same, I prefer to use water in brewing that doesn’t need to be boiled to be safe to drink. But centuries ago beer was crucial to the survival of European populations, because water was rarely safe to drink.
So Trappists brewing beer for pilgrims wasn’t entirely about encouraging revelry or drunkenness, but rather the only hospitable thing to do. Pilgrims needed to drink something, and serving water would have subjected pilgrims to disease or death.
At 9% ABV, a Tripel such as this is a “sipping beer”. You customarily find stemmed wide-brimmed glassware is the serving vessel of choice, and a standard serving size is well under the Imperial pint used to serve lower alcohol beers.
The Affligem Tripel is “amber” in color, although I’d say it’s closer to golden than amber, which is to say that it’s a bit lighter in color than most tripels. On the nose are pronounced aromas of malt and bread, with much lighter fruit esters and some detectable mild hops. The mouthfeel is full and round — the beer is quite effervescent, small bubbles from natural carbonation in the bottle, similar in many respects to how sparkling wine becomes sparkling — with a slight heaviness secondary to the high alcohol content. Beers of this style oftentimes suffer from an over-sweetness because beer yeast strives to fully ferment all of the sugars and sometimes lags toward the end. While there is a true malt flavor, I would not call it over sweet. I’d agree it’s a sipping beer, but not in the way that signifies the beer is not delicious.
It’s quite delicious, and a good “starter” beer to try if you’re looking to be introduced to tripels.