Monday, 24 January 2011

A Quadruple Blind Tasting

I’ve been waiting about two years to finally do this: a blind tasting between a bunch of quads. I’ve had the bottles ready to go since early 2009, as a result, some of them are aged while others have been dropped from the potential line-up and replaced by newcomers. The reason I wanted to do these as a blind tasting was to see how well Westvleteren 12 fared against the others in its class and to do it without bias of knowing what we were drinking.

The line-up was: La Trappe Quadruple, Rochefort 10 and St Bernardus 12, all about two years old, plus Westvleteren 12, BrewDog AB:01 and Struise St Amatus Oostvleteren 12, all about nine months old (the Struise is a cheeky Oostvleteren equivalent to the Westvleteren neighbours, while the AB:01 is made with the Westvleteren yeast, hence they were added to be modern contenders).

Here’s what we (four of us) thought, drinking them one at a time and then comparing the lot at the end and giving a mark out of 10...

Beer 1: Sweet yeast, tea, lots of raisins and figs, relaxed as the fizz disappeared giving off honey and vanilla. Great aroma, a lightness of flavour. (1st place - 30/40)

Beer 2: A harsh ethanol and nail varnish taint spoilt the great fruity depth beneath. A punchy hop hit finished the mouthful. (6th place - 19/30)

Beer 3: Like beer number one but fuller bodied and more intense in flavour with lots of prunes and raisins. It tasted aged, a little sticky and had a great flavour. (joint 3rd place – 24.5/40)

Beer 4: Floral, smooth, a little peppery, light in body and a bit odd in comparison to the others, marking itself as different. (joint 5th place – 22/40)

Beer 5: A little boozy, a floral hop burst, almonds and fruit, very clear in the glass but lacking anything to make us go wow or dip back in for another taste. (joint 5th place – 22/40)

Beer 6: The best looking, retaining its head even though it was poured over 30 minutes before. Lots of fruit, great flavour and depth, tasty and interesting. (joint 3rd place – 24.5/40)

The best beer was unanimously number one; it was the Westvleteren 12 (I remember the Beer Nut did a similar tasting a while ago with the same result). The others were, in order of 2-6: St Amatus, St Bernardus, AB:01, La Trappe and Rochefort 10. Why was the Westvleteren better? It had a different depth of flavour, but a real lightness to it as well. The St Bernardus had the biggest flavour, almost like an amplified version of the Westvleteren, and it seemed to age handsomely into something different and new.

Surprisingly, this was hard work. Some were bursting with flavour, others were seemingly dying inside. The one thing that we all commented after this was that quads are a style we rarely drink and none of us saw a real place for them in our fridges, seldom getting a craving for a dark, hearty monastic brew.

Are quads your thing? Is a number 12 your number one, do you prefer the 10 of Rochefort or are there modern versions which better the others?


  1. I was under the impression that "quadrupel" isn't really a "style" at all, but was made up as a marketing trick (dubbel, tripel, quadrupel!), and then co-opted by (US) homebrewers as a Belgian style? (ie, apart from an arbitrary line in the sand, where do you draw the line between a strong dark and a quad?)

    FWIW, I prefer the Rochefort to the St Bernardus, but then I actually prefer the 8 to the 10 too as it's far more drinkable. I need to get hold of some Westvleteren at some point - I do not suspect it is the best beer in the world as often quoted, but I still want to try some.

  2. Never done a blind tasting, but if given the choice, I would always pick Rochefort or St. B, I simply like them more.

    However, the huge advantage that they both have over Westvleteren is that I can buy them whenever I fancy drinking one, and for quite a decent price at that. There is one place that sels West here in Prague, for 1000CZK (about 40EU) a bottle, the other two go for less than 100CZK. No argument there.

  3. Brilliant. I liked the Westys when I tried them, while trying to forget the hype. But like TBN, not sure if I'd pay out for them on a regular basis.

    I just bought a few of each of the Bernardus beers, and have a few Rochefort sitting around. In TBNs piece, Lars pointed out that the Rocheforts seemed to fare better with a bit of age. Just curious, how long did you have your bottles?

    While I like these kinds of beers, they're not something i drink often. Not sure if it's because I find them hard to get (not really, I suppose), or they seem like something to hang onto, waiting for a nice fireside, comfort beer moment. Whatever it is, I plan on stocking up :)

  4. I like quadruples, although I only get a hankering for them in the dead of winter. St Bernardus is my preference, primarily because, as PF points out, you can actually buy them (relatively) easily.

  5. Quadrupel is a made up style. Which makes this whole exercise a little ridiculous.

  6. "Quadrupel is a made up style."
    Like many styles these days, it seems. :D Irish Red anyone? (cue TheBeerNut) ;)

  7. I'm glad there was 4 of you! I love St. Bernardus 12 - it's without doubt one of my top 5 best belgian beers. Wasn't a fan of any of the Rocheforts, maybe I need to try them again. Do you think Chimay blue could have gone into this list? or Urthel Samaranth - 2 good ones for me.

  8. Graeme - Is that like a Black IPA then?! Whether a 'real' style or not the beers are very similar and therefore relevant of comparison, I think. I'm with you on the Rochefort 8 as well, that's a great beer. The Westvleterens are great beers if only because there's an excitement to drinking them and they make you talk and think about beer differently, which is good.

    Pivni Filosof - Accessibility is really important but I don't seem them as everyday beers so if I only drink three or four a year then I'll shoot for the top! I do very happily drink Rochefort if I've got it. I can't remember having a younger StB so I should probably grab another bottle of that.

    Barry - The Rochefort was about 2 years old and still doing well. I wonder how it'll be in another two? They are beers which supposedly age very well. There is definitely something which says drink by the fire about a quad, I agree! But then imperial stouts say that too and I'd lean towards them.

    Anon - Ridiculous? It's only a fun comparison. Whether you think it's a style in its own right or not, they are all similar beers made in a similar style so therefore worthy of comparison. What style would you call them?

    Zak - What struck me about the StB was the intensity of flavour in it compared to the others - it was like it'd be reduced to a syrup! I don't know if that's a product of age or just whether the beer has more oomph?!

    Ghost Drinker - When I originally planned this it was going to be a whole range of trappist beers and a few extra, so I had Chimay Blue (I still have two bottles which are two years old), Achel, Westmalle, etc, plus Rochefort 8, West 8, etc, but trying to arrange a blind tasting with the whole lot proved impossible. It'd be interesting to do a Chimay Blue-Rochefort 8-Westvleteren 8-St Bernadus 8 four-way to see where it'd come out. The Urthel would be another really interesting one to throw in.

  9. Great post, Mark. Interesting to see the results of mine in some way corroborated.

    While I don't for a second subscribe to the notion that some style designations are "real" and others "made up", I really dislike that someone has decided certain Belgian beers are "quadruples" without any reference to how the brewery describes them. The abbreviation to "quad" sets my teeth on edge even more.

  10. Personally I make a point of only drinking made-up styles. Quads, Sours, Irish Red, Scottish Ale, Farmhouse Ale …

  11. Interesting I think that the new "cult" brewers like Struise and B*** D** more or less propped up the table while the old timers romped home. Surprised that the La Trappe didn't do so well - perhaps you should have gone for the oak aged version, although that is eye wateringly expensive now (first time it appeared was on tap at the Arendsnest in Amsterdam when it was altogether more reasonably priced).

    And of course, as has been said "quadruple" is a made up beer style (and I am entirely at one with BN and his aversion to the use of the term "quad"*). While it can be argued that this might be a convenient term for linking these beers together what's wrong with barley wine? This is neither a made up style and perhaps a better way of describing these beers (and one which is used by the Tim Webb in the Good Beer Guide Belgium - and let's face it, Tim is arguably the UK's foremost authority on Belgian beer).

    *ditto the use of the word "sours" to describe traditional lambics...

  12. So who knew there'd be controversy around the use of quadruples and quads?! I'm quite happy using both, hence them being spread through the post.

    Beer Nut - La Trappe and BrewDog have Quadruple on the labels.

    JC - It'd be interesting to see if the Struise and Brewdog would've fared differently with an extra year of age on them?

  13. What's wrong with "barley wine" is exactly the same as what's wrong with "quadruple": it's a foreign designation and one that the brewers would not recognise. It seems to me to be rather rude to go assigning beer styles to other people's beer. That's the brewer's prerogative, IMO, and certainly not some foreign beer writer's, no disrespect to Mr Webb.

    Mark, yes I'm aware that the La Trappe and the Abstrakt are quadruples. No argument there. As I said above, my problem is when it gets assigned to the Belgian beers. They are not quadruples. Why? Because it does not say they are on the label.

  14. Of course, the real test would be to compare them to the BJCP specs and see if they are to style, then you'd know what they are for sure!

    I'll get my coat... ;) :D

  15. Beer Nut - I do agree with you. I'm sure I wrote a blog post sometime making that exact argument - that the brewer designates the style and therefore that's what it is. I also don't like them as barley wines. What would you class them as, out of interest? And do you think they are worthy of comparison as a group of six beers because of their similarities?

    Barry - I'll get straight onto it :)

  16. "Strong dark Belgian-style ales" is good enough for me. That there are plenty of lighter strong, dark Belgian-style beers from these breweries doesn't matter to me. I don't think designating an exclusive style category adds anything useful.

    And yes, I think they're great companions for a blind tasting. If only one of them stood out -- the AB:01 -- then that shows they were a good choice. I usually add a guess-the-beer element to these tastings. When everybody gets them all right the chances are you haven't picked sufficiently similar beers.

  17. Yep, that works for me as well. Not a headline writer's dream though ;)

    The AB:01 was a deliberate left-field choice to see how it fared against the others, so it was quite interesting. We did also have a guess at what each was but it did seem to be a little easy (the trouble was that some were young and some were aged so that gave it away a bit.

    Good fun though. I'd like to do something similar with bottled ales from the supermarket, maybe 6-8, all blind, and see what we'd all say about them and rate them (and guess too!).

  18. One can write any old nonsense in blog post titles and get away with it, I find.

    We did a bottled English ale thing a while back. Trying to guess what came from clear glass was fun.

  19. I decided long ago that Westvleteren 12 was my favourite beer. It doesn't taste its strength and isn't over sweet. There's no such thing as best beer in the world but this will do me. Down to my last 25 or 30 though.

  20. With beer geek friends from Germany and the US around the table one night we did a similar test and had a similar result. The Westys are just so well balanced that it makes you want to agree with the 'best beer in the world' label even if your smarter than that. Because I have a fairly substantial collection of Westy's both new and aged we have had many an occasion to drink them alongside St. Bernie's ABT 12 and the basic flavors are quite similar - but the Westy flavors stand out more. When the day comes that I don't have cases of Westy blond, 8 & 12 stacked downstairs I will be happy to have St. Bernardus. They simply aren't that much different.

  21. I think you'll find the La Trappe has Quadrupel not Quadruple on the label. And it's the brand name of the beer, not a description of its style.

    Good to see you're swallowing the bullshit from American style nazis whole.

  22. Anon 1 - Good to hear. There is a great clarity to the flavour, if that makes sense. It's just very simple and hard to describe.

    Anon 2 - Read your last sentence again. Consider who is the one not happy with the term Quad and then think about Nazis... Also, it's the brand and the style so I think you're wrong. Whatever. It's just a beer, let's not get into silly semantics.