Have you ever had a juicy venison or wild boar steak with typical lager and thought to yourself, “There has got to be a better beer to go with this steak than this…” What about a dessert of rich chocolate truffles and wanted a beer to wash them down with, rather than wine? Or are you the type of person who walks into a room and immediately sizes up every guy there to find the biggest, baddest, toughest one and go pick a fight with him?
If any of these questions sound like you, then look no further than the Belgian Strong Dark Ale (Quadrupel) style as your selected target or tipple. The strongest and most complex of the Belgian ales, and on the same level of vigor and body as American Barleywines and Russian Imperial Stouts, the Belgian Strong Dark Ale, or Belgian Quad, is a formidable opponent, indeed. Ranging between 8.0-11.0% ABV and enough body to fill even the hungriest stomach (as was its original intended purpose), this behemoth packs more complexity than some of Einstein’s research papers on quantum mechanics. Ranging from dark brown to black with a beautiful tan head, Belgian Quads range from dry to sweet but always drop a malt-bomb on the unprepared drinker. However, once the initial malt shock wears off, vastly different and captivating flavors can be discerned. Belgian Quads are all unique, but can display caramel, toasty, or bready malt aromas with dark fruits like raisins, plums, black cherries, figs, or prunes noticeable. Layered on top of the malty and fruity base layer are peppery and spicy phenols (yeast by-products) as well as added spices like star anise or black pepper. Hops are very subdued in flavor and bitterness, so drinkers who don’t prefer excessive bitterness could easily enjoy this style. Belgian Quads are a style to be both feared and revered, cherished and coveted, but most of all, respected and enjoyed.
Beers to Try
Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue)
Malty, figgy, and raisiny, the Chimay Blue stands up with the best of the Quads although it differs in its mouthfeel. Slightly more carbonated than the other Trappist Quads, the Blue has a fizzier taste that makes it perfect to accompany rich or fatty foods because of carbonation’s ability to scrub the palate clean. Usually the easiest of the Trappist ales to find in the US, the Chimay Blue also makes for a great entry into the world of Belgian Quads.
The Rochefort 10, the greatest and most alluring of the Rochefort ales, is further evidence why Trappist ales deserve their own special classification. With strong notes of dark fruits and slight spiciness from yeast to balance out the heavy dark malt bill, this beer packs a punch that will knock you off your barstool on the first sip. Rich and complex, the 10’s heaviness will leave you satisfied but the complexity will have you intrigued down to the last sip.
This is the Quad to end all Quads. An immediate dark fruit punch in the mouth with slowly developing dark malt and yeast character that somehow manages to stay medium bodied and a slightly dry finish. Although it is very similar in taste to most well made quads, its nimble body and drying finish take the Westy XII to another level. This is a malt bomb that is amazingly drinkable.
St. Bernardus Abt 12
This Abbey Quad pours a murky, coppery-brown with a thick off-white head exploding with fig, raisin, and date aroma, brown banana, and noticeable caramel and sugary sweetness. Nicely layered flavor that evolves through the drink with early malty caramel/nuttiness followed by fruity raisin and fig and finally finishing with a sweet, but not cloying, sugary finish. The sweet finish distinguishes the Abt 12 from the Trappist Quads.
Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel
From the De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) Brewery in Bruges, Belgium, this Abbey Quad is the sweetest of the Quads presented here. A very strong and noticeably alcoholic drink with strong flavors of dark fruits and molasses, this beer’s incredibly long finish demands that it be enjoyed over a long period of time, and in small, but nevertheless delicious, sips.
Beer and Food Pairing
One of the major considerations to take when pairing beer and food is the natural progression of the meal as well as relative intensities of beers and foods. If serving a light viniagrette salad, a ferociously intense Belgian Quad is a poor choice– the beer will drown out the flavors of the salad completely. Similarly, if serving a heavy beer like Belgian Quad with an entree, be sure that the next course will have similar intensity, or else the beer and food will taste watery compared to what was previously imbibed. Beer “intensity” is a product of its roastiness, body, bitterness, strength, and other factors; basically, it is easy to tell when one beer is “bigger” or “more intense” than another just by using your own taste buds. If looking to pair a Belgian Quad, try it with any strongly flavored or gamey meat, like venison, wild boar, pheasant, or duck. If looking to sip a Belgian Quad slowly over dessert, look no further than rich chocolate truffles or cake– the richer the better!