La Trappe is very quietly producing some of the coolest barrel-aged beers, and you have to check them out. Since 2010, the Dutch Trappist brewery has experimented aging its phenomenal Quadrupel in various types of barrels, releasing blended versions that explore everything from white wine to port to Scotch. Although the labels for each of the 15 versions released thus far are confusingly similar, turn the bottle around to find the batch number (then swing by the brewery’s website to see which barrels housed your beer).
Since it’s winter—the best time to sip barrel-aged quads—we tapped Ron Kloth, owner of GABF-medalist Papago Brewing in Scottsdale, Ariz., to help us navigate the complex beers. Kloth, who’s visited La Trappe a number of times, isn’t a stranger to barrel-aging: His latest small-batch beer from wood, a milk stout aged in a Firestone Walker Sucaba barrel, goes on tap at the Arizona Strong Beer Festival on Saturday, Feb. 15. How did an afternoon sipping seven of the 15 quads turn out? Pretty amazing.
First, the base beer: La Trappe Quadrupel is a creamy, 10%-ABV sipper that washes back with a neat blend of dark fruits (think figs and plums), sweet bubblegum and toffee, toasted bread and peppery alcohol spice.
House that in various barrels, blend them together, and this is what you get:
Batch 3: Bottled Sept. 2010
Blend includes: 55% medium toasted port barrels, 27% medium toasted La Trappe Quadrupel barrels, and 18% toasted new oak barrels.
Flavor: Immediately, Kloth picked out a “strange mouthfeel,” a bit too prickly and thin for such a rich, world-class beer—perhaps it’s fallen victim to age. Otherwise, it was pretty delicious. Light oak threaded through sherrylike dark fruits, with undertones of nuts and caramel.
Batch 6: Bottled April 2011
Blend includes: 80% heavy toasted white wine barrels and 20% medium toasted new oak barrels.
Flavor: By far, the heaviest oak presence of the lot, but more raw wood than toasted wood. As for the wine character, Kloth pinpointed a Riesling note, which neatly enhanced the beer’s rich dried fig and date flavors.
Batch 7: Bottled June 2011
Blend includes: Exclusively Scotch whiskey barrels.
Flavor: From scent to swallow, this version is loaded with peat smoke. “It’s a totally unique flavor—definitely one to have with a cigar,” said Kloth. The quad base underscores a smoky Scotch swallow with subtle fruity sweetness.
Batch 8: Bottled Oct. 2011
Blend includes: 70% pre-used whiskey barrels and 30% medium toasted new French oak barrels.
Flavor: Unlike Batch 7, there’s no peat smoke in this one, which led Kloth to suggest either the character has dissipated in the barrel from previous use, or the barrels came from Scottish Lowland distilleries. Oak and spicy whiskey lace through this smooth, fruity-sweet sipper.
Batch 9: Bottled Dec. 2011
Blend includes: 86% Malbec Limousin oak barrels, 7% medium toasted new oak barrels, and 7% high toasted new oak barrels.
Flavor: Toasted oak underscores the rich, sugary-sweet sip while hints of fruity Malbec accentuate this nicely blended beer’s fig notes. Kloth liked the blend, but noted—like No. 3—the beer was starting to develop a twang in the swallow, and seemed a bit thinner-bodied than the others.
Batch 10: Bottled March 2012
Blend includes: 75% Malbec barrels and 25% medium toasted new oak.
Flavor: Although this version hadn’t yet developed the sherry notes that come with age, Kloth was impressed with the unbelievably smooth, silky mouthfeel. Like Batch 9, Malbec blended nicely with the rich beer’s raisin, figs and Belgian candi sweetness, while toasted oak notes rounded out the swallow. This version, however, was richer and a stronger representation of a barrel-aged quad.
Batch 11: Bottled April 2012
Blend includes: 55% Malbec barrels, 25% medium toasted new French oak barrels, 25% high toasted new French oak barrels, and 5% Acacia barrels.
Flavor: “I don’t like this one as much,” said Kloth, noting the extremely tannic, drying swallow derived from the high toasted barrels (comparatively stronger than Batches 10 and 9). Although the swallow did have some of the quad’s fruity notes, the aggressive, sharp oak totally dominated the sip.
Kloth’s favorite: Batch 10
Second favorite: Batch 7
So what’s the takeaway? The equation of barrels really does impact the flavor (Captain Obvious, here). Too much of a raw, highly toasted barrel can easily derail the experience with tannins, while a perfect blend of wine and toasted oak perfectly elevates the experience. And peat Scotch barrels—nothing dominates the flavor of peat.
Have you tried these? Which are your favorites?