Brew Like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them
Format reviewed: Kindle Edition
Paperback ISBNs: ISBN-10: 093738187X ISBN-13: 978-0937381878
I still remember my first Duvel. Unready for the extreme carbonation, I poured carelessly into a glass, only to find it full of foam before I’d even poured half the bottle. I was similarly unprepared for just how long it would take that foam to subside. But once I finally poured the last of that bottle into the glass and sat back to enjoy it, I entered an entirely new world of beer from the mass produced lagers and variety of English styled ales that I had known. From that point onwards, I have wanted to brew Belgian styled beers myself.
Brew Like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them by Stan Hieronymus isn’t overflowing with recipes, it certainly doesn’t tell you exactly how to make Belgian beers in a series of bullet point steps. What it does do, and well; is reveal the Trappist history and culture of beer making, and how that culture has extended even into the secular breweries of Belgium. The book starts with a brief history of monastic brewing in Belgium and quickly moves onto quite detailed descriptions of the 6 Trappist breweries: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefot, Westmalle, & Westvleteren. The differences between these 6 Trappist breweries makes it abundantly clear that Trappist is not one style, but more of an attitude to quality. This attitude is equally visible at Duvel Moortgat, summed up by its technical director: “Production is a slave of quality control. …We are more quality driven than efficiency driven”
The book continues to describe several more Belgian breweries before moving onto some US ones. However the really interesting part begins at chapter 7 where they break down all the various ingredients that go into Trappist beers. From water to grain, sugar and spices, and of course yeast and fermentation; the range of acceptable ingredients is huge. Again, someone expecting to be told exactly what to do and use, will probably be irritated at this point. However if your desire is to gain some insight into the creative process of making a Belgian strong ale, then this section will have your imagination running wild. Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium Brewing says: “Knowledge, Experience, and Creativity. Those are the three things you need. I don’t use yeast and malt, I only use this.”
The book finishes off with some tips, and some very general recipe idea for each style. More than enough to get you started.
All in all I enjoyed this book thoroughly. If you are looking for a book of clone recipes, this is not really the book you are looking for. However if you are looking to understand what Belgian brewers are aiming for when they brew these beers, this is the book for you. I believe if you plan on attempting any Trappist style ales, it should be required reading.