Can American Brewers Make Belgian-style Beers Right?

Back in the bad old days of, say, 1933-1993, American beer was considered the worst in the world, and maybe it was. The post-Prohibition era was dominated by mass-market brews that were inoffensive at best and insipid at worst, not that people didn’t still drink them by the gallon. But then things changed, drastically.

The craft beer revolution produced hundreds of new beers that were flavorful, complex, and fun to drink. In the span of a few years, American beer went from a punchline–sex in a canoe, anyone?–to the best in the world. In their all-American way, brewers like Sam Adams have been tinkering with ingredients and brewing techniques ever since, unencumbered by hidebound traditions and stultifying laws like Germany’s Reinheitsgebot. But there was one niche the Yanks had trouble cracking, the holy grail of brewing: Trappist beers.

Yes, those Belgian monks sure did have a lock on their unique style of suds, top fermented, bottle conditioned, and usually dark, strong, and intensely flavorful. Maybe they held their secrets behind monastery walls, maybe they were just really good at it, but, while American brewers have proven adept at copying–and improving–styles like English ales and German pilsners, the perfect Abbey ale remained elusive. 

Of course many have been attempted, and they taste quite excellent, but they lack that certain spark you’ll find in a Chimay or Rochefort. But that might be changing, if a new beer from Sam Adams is any indication. Coming this fall, Sam Adams Tetravis is the Boston Brewing Company’s latest interpretation of a traditional Belgian Quadrupel, and it’s fantastic. 

It’s also as close as I’ve tasted to a proper Trappist ale without being from Belgium. It’s gorgeously dark, mildly sweet, and features notes of fruit and spice. It’s blended with another beer called Kosmic Mother Funk, which gives it extra complexity and floral notes, and has a hefty 10.2% ABV. You’ll want the proper glassware for this one. It deserves better than a pint glass. 

Is it better than the best Trappist ales? No, but it’s very close, and a heck of a lot cheaper, at between $10 and $11 a bottle depending on where in the U.S. of A. you buy it. (In New York expect your corner bodega to charge $14-ish.) And if it’s commited any sin at all, it’s that of being welcoming and a bit more user-friendly than some of the clovier, spicier beers from across the pond. This is America. Nobody gets left out of the party.

And so America has proven that it can make Trappist-style beers. The next step is teaching people that you can drink these things anywhere, not just in some wood-paneled beer bar with a plate of cheese and charcuterie in front of you (though that’s awesome). Just once I’d like to see some fancy, large-bottle beers in a nightclub situation. Does bottle service always have to be vodka?

Let the people drink what they like, and celebrate American ingenuity until last call and beyond. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; It’s Your Beer and You Can Do Anything You Want With It; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Me on Twitter]