Monday, 9 April 2012

HEAD-TO-HEAD #7: Sint Amatus 12 (De Struise Brouwers) vs. Straffe Hendrik Brugs Quadrupel Ale (Brouwerij de Halve Maan)


Welcome to a battle between 2 beers of the (contentious but generally accepted) 'Quadrupel' or 'Quad' style of abbey ale. I'll be drinking these from a Westmalle chalice to do them proper justice.

Sint Amatus 12, at 10.5% ABV, is a whole 0.5% weaker than Straffe Hendrik so on that basis I'll start with this. Sint Amatus pours a deep dark red with short lived muddy white head. Raspberries and plums and minerals on the nose. The sheer length of this drink is remarkable; the finish goes on for ages. Up front comes dryish hedgerow fruits, particularly blackberry and cherry. Next, against a backdrop of hefty alcohol appears a rich caramel fudge middle which melts into a cookie dough malt and demerara sugar finish; the fruit notes (esp. green apple) become caramelised, sticky and sweet. The finish is pretty much perdurable with gooey malt and lots of booze. Neither too sweet nor too dry, but very well balanced; hop and malt equilibrate and carbonation is sprightly, preventing the beer from feeling too heavy or hard-going. Another impressive De Struise beer!

On to Straffe Hendrik Brugs Quadrupel... Pours the same as the previous beer with an identically coloured head lasting fractionally longer. This one has a sweeter aroma of citrus and pear. Plenty of brown sugar and treacle sweetness at first. In fact it stays just the right side of sickly sweet thanks to a spicy hop and dry alcohol edge - despite being a little higher in ABV, the alcohol is slightly less obvious than in Sint Amatus. The sweetness detracts a little from the complex floral, rose petal and orange peel middle. The beer ends quite dry with aromatic pot-pourri and spice. The body of this one is thinner than Sint Amatus but not overly so. Again well carbonated but with a satisfying weight.

To pick a winner I cannot, both are excellent in their own way and very much redolent of robust abbey Dubbels with added complexity thanks to the bigger portions of malt (higher specific gravities) and alcohol.

Being an ecologist I like the idea of classifying and naming things (the science of taxonomy & nomenclature) and therefore putting beers into genres or styles. There seems to be a bit of a debate at the moment as to whether Quadrupels are a 'true' style or whether the word simply refers to a strong Belgian abbey ale. Both of the beers I review above are dark, malty and strong, thus to my mind stress the link between Dubbels and Quadrupels. I tend to think of a 'Quad' as being a Dubbel (dark abbey ale) that is stronger than a Tripel (stronger-than-a-Dubbel pale abbey ale). It intrigues me to find that (despite the fact that the Quadrupel as a style in itself is disputed) RateBeer get even more detailed, distinguishing Quads and 'Abts'. They say Abts are dark Quads, the term first applied by the Trappist Westvleteren brewery (the beer is now called 12). They state that Quads, on the other hand, are paler versions of Abts, the word first put forward by the Trappist creators of La Trappe to describe a beer one up from, or stronger than a Tripel. The general consensus is that both Quads and Abts are stronger than Tripels and are found at anything above 10% ABV. BeerAdvocate, alternatively, classify a Quadrupel simply as a very strong, dark and fruity abbey ale. This is more in line with my way of thinking, mainly because I've not yet come across a pale quadrupel, though I'm sure they're out there somewhere.

Anyway, enough of semantics! Sint Amatus takes its name from the patron saint of Oostvleteren , the village in which De Struise Brouwers have their relatively new microbrewery. Oostvleteren is in fact the only Belgian parish to have Saint Amatus (also known as St. Aimé - died AD690) as its patron saint. The beer derives some of its complexity from being aged on Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon barrels.

The brewer of Straffe Hendrik ("Henry Penalty" in google translation!), De Halve Maan, are currently the last surviving brewery in Bruges. In fact the same brewery was first mentioned in the town archives in 1546 so the town and brewery have a bit of history. Quadrupel Ale was first produced in late 2010.

  • MALTS: SA = barley; corn; oat / Shbq = barley
  • IBU: SA = LOW / SHBQ = LOW
  • ABV: SA = 10.5% / SHBQ = 11%

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