World (Beer) Cup Showdown: Belgian Quads

Boulevard - St Bernardus

In case you don’t have access to the Internet, television, radio, newspapers, or carrier pigeons, let me be the first to tell you that the 2014 FIFA World Cup is currently taking place in Brazil. Oh yeah, and the United States made it out of their group and we’re now in the Round of 16. On Tuesday, July 1st the United States and Belgium will face off in a win or go home match to advance to the quarter final.

One of the things Belgium is well known for is their beer. I should know, I’ve traveled all over Belgium and I’ve tried countless beers along the way. But I will argue that for every great Belgian beer there is also an equal or superior American craft beer. So starting now and until Tuesday’s match I will post reviews of great Belgian beers, and then provide an American beer that’s just as good or better.

Today we’re looking at Belgian Quadrupels (Quads), which are also known as Belgian Dark Strong Ales. These beers are inspired by the beers traditionally brewed by Trappist monks throughout Belgium and The Netherlands. The Quadrupel is a modern style by Trappist standards, with higher amounts of alcohol than the Dubbel, or Tripel styles. ABV is often above 10% and the beers tend to be dark with the color ranging from dark brown to deep red. Quads tend to be sweet with fruit and spice flavors, and the alcohol is usually noticeable. Even when the alcohol isn’t apparent in the taste you’ll definitely notice it when you stand up. Short description: These beers are big, bold, and complex.

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St. Bernardus Abt 12 is a Belgian quad from the St. Bernardus brewery in Watou, Belgium, which is smack dab in the middle of the country’s hop growing region; The Belgian National Hop Museum (yes they have one) is just a few miles down the road. The region is also home to the Sint Sixtus Abbey, where Trappist monks brew Westvleteren XII, commonly referred to as “the best beer in the world.” Several years ago Westvleteren XII was actually brewed under contract by St. Bernardus for the monastery, and according to St. Bernardus, the only difference between Westvleteren XII and Abt 12 is the yeast.

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Now I’m fairly familiar with Abt 12. In 2013 Casey and I actually spent two nights at the brewery where we were given a key to a magic beer chest that contained an endless supply of whatever St. Bernardus beer we wanted. The Abt 12 and I got to know each other real well over the next few days. We had fresh Abt 12 on draft, we had fresh bottles, we had bottles that had been aged a few months, and a six year old bottle that was incredible. At 10% ABV this beer is big, it’s creamy, it’s dark, it’s spicy, it’s fruity, it’s malty. The flavors are clove, brown sugar, with hints of raisins, plum, dark cherries, and other dark over ripe fruits.

The Abt 12 is a tough beer to beat, but this is ‘Merica! There are plenty of great American craft brewers that are taking on Belgian styles, but the one I’ve chosen for this face off is The Sixth Glass from Boulevard Brewing Company based out of Kansas City, Missouri. Now I know some of you uber beer nerds will say, “but Boulevard is now owned by Moortgat, a Belgian brewing conglomerate!” to which I say, the Moortgat family only bought Boulevard because it was already making world class beers.

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The Sixth Glass is a 10.5% ABV Belgian Quad so we’ve already won on alcohol content. Take that Belgium! The color is a bit lighter than the Abt 12, and is a brownish amber when it hits the light. The head is also thicker and creamier than the St. Bernardus beer. It’s aroma and flavor are a complex mix of dark bread, dark over ripe fruit, peppery spices, caramel, and toast. I would understand if you try this beer and are reminded of toasted fruitcake. It is incredibly rich and complex, but also incredibly approachable.

The Sixth Glass can hold its own against any Quad from Belgium. It has all of the qualities that that make Abt 12 an incredible Quad, but it is also its own unique beer. Everything from the aroma, the flavor, the appearance, and even the body of this beer make it something every beer drinking American should be proud to call their own.

Now enough about the beer itself. Just the story of this beer’s name should convince you that we can beat the Belgians at their own game. The name “The Sixth Glass” comes from Hans Christian Andersen’s short story The Watchman of the Tower. In this story the main character explains what dwells in each glass during a night of drinking, “In the sixth glass sits the Devil himself; he is a little well-dressed man, most charming and pleasant. He understands you and agrees with everything you say. He even brings a lamp to light your way–not to your home, but to his. There is an old legend about a saint who was ordered to experience one of the seven deadly sins. He decided that drunkenness was the least of them. But as soon as he got drunk, then he committed the other six sins.”

That ladies and gentlemen is a win for the good ole’ Red, White, and Blue. USA 1 – Belgium 0.

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