There used to be one drink of choice to warm yourself by the fire: a glass of scotch or bourbon. Crisp cold beers, after all, are for the summertime, and the once-slim selection of brews couldn't stand up to the rich, deep, warming character of whiskey. No longer. A growing number of craft brewers are bringing a caramel, smoke, and alcohol punch that's just right for a winter day.
Brewer: Brasserie Rochefort
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
When visiting one of the most esteemed beer bars in Belgium, we heard an elderly Englishman address the bartender by name and request "the middle Rochefort." The man's confidence and perfect diction was inspiring, and we followed.
Though many breweries bear Abbey names through licensing agreements, there are only eight breweries that are certified Trappist products. To meet the requirements of the Trappist label, the beers must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist Abbey and brewed by or under the supervision of the monks in residence. The proceeds of Trappist beers sustain the abbey, and any excess profit is donated to charity.
Rochefort brews three beers — each signified by a number that is rumored to correspond to its relative gravity or heft. The truth is that the numbering system is inconsistent and varies a bit from brewery to brewery. In the case of Rochefort, the 6 is a blond ale of 7.5 percent alcohol and is sold in a bottle with a red cap. The 8 is a russet brown strong ale of 9.2 percent alcohol that bears a green cap, and the 10 is another dark strong ale at 11.3 percent alcohol and is topped with a blue cap.
You can't go wrong with any of the Rochefort beers, but the 8 is relatively easy to find and just right for winter. It is traditionally served in a chalice, which promotes the warm raisin and plum aromas that are its calling card. The flavor matches the aroma and adds caramel depth; this and the warming alcohol makes "the middle Rochefort" the perfect libation for a moment of quiet reflection by a fire in the wintertime.