Every week in The Man Who Invented Beer, Adam Cowden looks at the latest in craft beer, often with a history lesson for extra flavor.
Hey there. Remember last time when I said the column was back? I lied. Well, not really — I just moved back to Chicago, and between moving and starting my new life as a semi-homeless person, there hasn’t been nearly enough to time for beer snobbery. BUT that’s all about to change, because the Chicago craft beer-o-sphere is tall, wide, and largely un-tapped (see what I did there?). In order to help us both navigate the labyrinthine world, I’m going to be removing the “Why should I drink it?” section (because really, you shouldn’t even need to ask) and replacing it with a “Where can I drink it?” section that will help guide your liver to the nearest watering hole offering each week’s brew.
To commemorate my (not-so) epic return, I’m going to kick things off with a truly special beer that I had right before leaving Nashville: Maredsous 8 Brune.
What’s the story?
Maredsous is a line of “abbey beers” produced by Belgian (Flemish, to be more specific) Duvel Moortgat, a brewer most famous for its eponymous Belgian strong pale ale Duvel, which is consistently rated amongst the best beers in the world. If you need a refresher on Belgian beer, head on back to my review for St. Benoit Brune, but to summarize: Belgian beer is complex, strong, and world-renowned.
Like St. Benoit Brune, Maredsous 8 Brune is an “abbey beer” (or “bière d’abbaye if we’re going to be snobs about it), which means that it is influenced by and brewed according to the Trappist brewing tradition but does not meet the formal criteria to be classified as a true Trappist beer. On the Trappist/non-Trappist spectrum, I’d place it closer to “Trappist” than St. Benoit, however; Maredsous is a real abbey located in the Belgian Ardennes, and part of the proceeds from the sale of the beer go to help sustaining the abbey or to charity (a requirement for true Trappist beers). The beer is not brewed under the direct supervision of the monks, however, and as far as I can tell (despite some clever marketing nonsense about “past and present meeting in our beers”), the Maredsous community never even brewed beer prior to licensing their name to Duvel Moortgat in 1963.
Maredsous 8 Brune is classified as a dubbel, a style pioneered by the Trappist brewers of Westmalle in the 1860’s. The term “dubbel” (meaning “double”) is a Trappist naming conventions that originates from the days when beer strength was measured according to the amount of ingredients used; enkel (single) was the base, dubbel (double) used double the base, and tripel (triple) used triple the base, and the casks were marked accordingly. This tripartite division is likely related to the importance of the Holy Trinity to Trappist monks, as well as the fact that a beer stronger than tripel would have likely gotten them too sh*tfaced to even remember the Holy Trinity. Dubbel was traditionally a dark beer brewed around wintertime with a strength hovering around 8% ABV (hence the “8” in the Maredsous Brune name), and today dubbels range anywhere from 6-8% ABV and then to emphasize sweet, cereal flavors with limited bitterness.
What does it taste like?
Like liquid toffee. Or maybe a liquid buttered biscuits. If you had a chance to try St. Benoit Brune, you can think of Maredsous Brune as the Giordano’s deep dish pizza to St. Benoit’s thin crust. Or if you’re not familiar, imagine it as the Giordano’s deep dish to Newcastle Brown Ale’s Tombstone frozen pizza.
The beer’s creamy, dark amber coloring, fluffy head, and malty, warm —that’s the 8% ABV talking — nose suggest pretty clearly what’s to come, but the overwhelming sweetness of the first sip will still blow you away. The dominating taste here is toasty malt, with enough sugar sweetness to really justify the “caramel malt” taste label. Most beers that are described in this way taste only faintly of caramel, if at all, but the first thing Maredsous Brune brought to mind was that brown English toffee batter my Mom makes at Christmas. Like KY Bourbon Barrel Ale, the alcohol content is felt rather than overtly tasted, and in this case gives the beer a “heat” that only enhances the sensation that you’re drinking fresh-off-the-stove toffee batter. Unfortunately for me, the dominant sweet/toasty maltiness is only the tip of the tasting iceberg. Like most Belgians, Maredsous Brune is an incredibly complex beer, and I’ve seen and heard claims of pepper, plum, vanilla, and even lilac residing in the beer’s bouquet of aromatics and secondary tastes. I could add my own impressions to the list, but truth be told, you’re going to be able to find nearly anything you want to in a beer this complex.
No surprises in terms of the mouthfeel: the decent but non-forced carbonation with small, champagne-like bubbles (courtesy of in-the-bottle secondary fermentation) grants an appropriately smooth, creamy mouthfeel, and the strength (in both taste and ABV) leaves no room for watery to enter into the equation. Like any other 8% ABV beer, be wary: you will feel tired (and well on your way to drunk) by the time you’re done with two.
Where can I find it?
Courtesy of Beermenus.com
12oz. Bottle for $8.25
12oz. Bottle for $10.00
11oz. Bottle for $8.00
11oz. Bottle for $7.00
12oz. Bottle for $8.00
12oz. Bottle for $8.00
11oz. Bottle for $7.50
11oz. 4 Pack Bottles for $14.99
25oz. Bottle for $10.99
11oz. Bottle for $10.00
11oz. Bottle for $9.25
25oz. Bottle for $8.99
16oz. Draft for $7.00
Should I try it?
By any standards, this is a kick-ass beer. Full disclosure, though: it also happens to be right up my alley. It’s malty, sweet, toasty, robust, strong, balanced (read: not overly bitter), and delicious — in other words, it’s everything I think a beer should be. Even if you’re the sort of drinker who prefers light, bitter, or hoppy to any of the aforementioned adjectives, I’d still highly encourage you to try this beer if you get the chance. You absolutely won’t not like it, and I’d be willing to bet you won’t not LOVE it.