Experiments In Drinking: Trappist Achel

Bidding a fond farewell to one of the great beers of the devil-may-care Trappist tradition.

There’s a sad story attached to this beer. An ‘end of an era’ finality that makes it seem like something to savour, only because it simply won’t be around much longer – at least not in the way we know it now.

The Trappist Achel is no longer an official Trappist beer due to the closure in January of 2021 of St Benedicts Abbey, a closure caused by a severe lack of monks. Apparently, despite (if you ignore the rigorous prayer and lack of women) the lone male hedonistic joys of fishing, carpentry, no underwear, gardening, illustrating and beer brewing, not enough men want to be monks anymore. Like many traditional careers, it has been replaced by more secular pleasures, and just as train driving no longer seems to be a career choice for schoolboys these days, monking also seems to be out of fashion. Kids today have no stamina. I personally blame the juxtaposed realities of easy access to Internet smut and not wanting to be a part of the outdated Catholic religion.

Still, it really is a genuine shame that this excellent beer, although being brewed in the same manner, has lost its legitimacy. There’s always been a joy in the curious contradiction of pious monks brewing beer and wine so strong that a few bottles will lead to all manner of unholy hell being unleashed, and – in the case of Buckfast – generations of errant youths getting fucked up. Given the tut-tutting and prohibitionist attitudes of most religious organisations, the monks’ dedication to getting people pissed out of their heads is admirable.

This bottle, which I have saved until last from my recent selection of beer purchases, is literally one of the last bottles of authentically brewed beers from St Benedicts. Sure, the non-Trappist version might taste the same, but deep inside, you’ll know that something isn’t quite right, like when a beer moves breweries after a corporate takeover.

For that reason alone, I want to give it top marks, but if I’m honest, it’s not quite there – an 8.5 rather than a full 10, perhaps. It tastes sharp initially but settles on the tongue very smoothly. There are definite banana and hop flavours, and it has essences of malt and sherbert too. Like most Trappist beers, it’s head-throbbingly strong at 9.5% for the blond variety (a mere 8% for the bruin) but is deceptively drinkable – you could knock a few of these back much more easily than you might a fizzy lager or bitter ale, and it would only be when you fell off your chair that you’d realise your mistake.

Thank you and farewell to the last monks of St Benedicts Abbey.


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