Back in the year of 2007 I was a young university student drinking junky adjunct lagers and European beers like Pilsner Urquell. I happened upon Bottlescrew Bills a beer bar in my home town that was one of the only Canadian bars to gain the praise of Beer Hunter Michael Jackson. I ordered a Westmalle Dubbel not knowing how much one beer would change my entire life and take beer from a way to hang out to a passion and eventual career. Westmalle Dubbel is brewed by one of six Trappist breweries in Belgium where monks of the Strictest Cistercian Observance brew beers for charitable proceeds and consumption within the monastery. The brewing of beers by monks originally began to give monks sustenance during the fasting month of lent. This beer consumed by the monks is termed paterbier or monks beer. In 1856 the Westmalle monastery brewed a strong, dark ale that they termed double or dubbel. Today the dubbel is one of the Belgian Abbey styles and is generally characterised by a dark, fruity body and alcohol content up to 8%. I like to re assess this beer every year or two to see how my perception of beer has changed since going head first into the craft beer culture.
Less talk and more about the beer. Westmalle Dubbel pours a dark, murky burgundian brown with a massive beige head that fills the chalice. The aroma is rich and laced with dark fruity esters. Notes of prunes, raisins, cherries and light spice notes waft off the glass. The malt profile is composed mostly of rich toffee, light cocoa notes and a bit of a nutty flavour. Rich and smooth with a silky mouthfeel and strong carbonation that dances on the palate. Rich and well rounded profile adds a sense of class to the proceedings and allows the beer to make a lasting impression. Every time I have this beer I am taken back to that dimly lit bar taking my first sip of this rich malty treasure and thinking damn is this a great beer.
Brouwerij De Ranke in Dottignies, Belgium is a bit of a fairy tale story for many beer enthusiasts…started in 1994 by two best friends as a home-brewing fascination it quickly turned into more than a hobby. After a few short years they acquired weekend brew space at the historic Deca Brewery in West Flanders. After 11 years of sharing space and capacity with Deca, De Ranke built their own brewery in Dottignies, a town only a few minutes from the French border. De Ranke beers have been scarce both out of and in Belgium until their import to Alberta last year. Pere Noel is a Belgium Strong Ale (a category lacking boundaries besides being of Belgian origin)> brewed with brewers gold, hallertau hops and licorice. Unlike most Belgian Christmas beers that are rich, dark and fruity Pere Noel is spicy, sweet and bitter. At 7% ABV Pere Noel is about normal for Belgian style beers but rather low for a Christmas beer with most others hitting upwards of 9% ABV.
Pouring out a bright golden amber Pere Noel lacks the heavy effervescent head of other De Ranke beers and settles rather quickly. A thin line of lacing foam sticks easily to the glass as the head subsides slowly to a thin layer of bright white bubbles. The nose seems a bit out of place with the style as it is predominant with citric and grassy hops, toasted caramel and bready malts, mild spiced notes and a bit of alcohol warmth. A subtle yet pervasive funky aroma sticks to the nose throughout the tasting lending a bit of intrigue to this beer. The mid palate of taste is smooth and somewhat fruity with mild citrus hop notes as well as hints of apple and pear combining well with notes of toasted wheat, caramel, cereal grains and light licorice/anise spice flavors. The finish has a moderate bitterness that lingers unexpectedly into the aftertaste leaving mild resinous notes and sweet fruity flavors. Pere Noel has a great balance overall with bitterness, spices and malts blending well and leaving a crisp, clean but bitter Belgian flavor profile. Overall, a interesting and unique twist on a Belgian Christmas beer.
Price: $12.99 Grade: 90/100