INGELMUNSTER - On the 10th of March, Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck will be officially presenting this years' Trignac XII at the "Prik & Tik" fair in Belgium. Reason enough then for us to visit Xavier Van Honsebrouck and have a talk about this unique product.
We we're also lucky enough to be able to taste the Trignac XII and although it wasn't quite ready the first results are more than promising.
The CEO of the eponymous brewery, does not shirk an experiment or two. Tell him that something cannot possibly be done and there’s every chance he will try to prove the opposite.
For many years Xavier has been following the American craft brewers with great interest. Xavier: “Ten years ago they were at the copycat stage with their ‘Belgian style beers’. But now they are often capable of springing surprises.
Americans are less focused on the familiar beer styles than we are. Introduce a Belgian to a new beer and he is going to want to pigeonhole it straight away. If it is not a tripel, saison, witbier or gueuze, ‘what is it then?’”
From time to time Xavier looks at the American beer world with some admiration and he likes the open beer culture that is dominant across the pond. Experiments are applauded although the results cannot always be called successful.
On his return to the Brewery, Xavier got in touch with his head brewer. This sowed the first germ of an idea that would turn into the Trignac. Xavier: “I fell for the concept of a marriage between a typically Belgian beer and a cognac, but I really wanted to use a Belgian regional hop as well.”
The head brewer placed an order for twenty used cognac barrels (300 l). Many tasting sessions later, the Kasteel Tripel turned out to be the most suitable beer for maturing in wooden barrels thanks to its high alcohol content and subtle taste.
“It achieves the perfect balance between beer and cognac”, is Xavier’s opinion. Just like the tripel, this beer is re-fermented in the bottle.
As the Trignac is stronger (12% ABV), re-fermentation takes up three weeks, which is one week more than the tripel. The Trignac is the odd one out in the Van Honsebrouck range.
This ‘grand cru hors catégorie’ is produced in a limited volume (only 30 000 bottles of Trignac will see the day of light) and reserved for a selected number of drinks stores in Belgium (Prik & Tik), the Netherlands and the USA as well as some of the more upmarket cafés and restaurants.
“Trignac will never be a mass market product”, Xavier tells us. “However, our new brewery that opens in 2016 will have a special Trignac area. We are planning a separate room for wooden ‘foeders’ and barrels”.
The brewer feels that Trignac makes an ideal digestive beer to be enjoyed in front of an open fire. You are advised to take the time to enjoy it, accompanied by a good cigar if you wish. Trignac is a trendy, luxury product, but very accessible at the same time. It is an ideal upgrade to beer and a drink with a profile based on taste, rather than volume.
Beer is just as complex and naturally diverse as wine. What stands out is the difference in vintages. Two Trignacs from two different years will never be the same.
The final result is determined by nature, the ingredients, the barrels, the interaction between all these elements and the brewer’s expertise. For each new vintage, different barrels are used, all of which will have been used to store brandy for three years.
The brewer has mastered the art of maturing the beer on wood for a long enough period – but not for too long – so the cognac aroma does not become dominant. After all, you do want to taste a beer with the associated mouth feel.
“We do hope that Trignac lovers will go on to discover our other beers in the range”, Xavier expresses his wish. “Beers like this do keep us brewers on our toes, as they force us to continue searching, moving boundaries and creating”.
As this is a degustation beer of gastronomic level we took a bottle to our Beerstronomy chef Hilaire Spreuwers (beer gastronomy restaurant BitterZoet) who tasted bottle 8967/9000 Trignac XII; his verdict:
“A beautiful golden-orange colour. Forms a large pure white collar of froth that is not very firm and disappears fairly quickly. Sweet grape aroma and a clearly robust alcohol content.
There are slight impressions of wine. This is also obvious in the taste, although the impressions of wine do give way to those of cognac.
The alcohol fills the mouth completely and gives a lovely warm feeling that lingers for quite a while. This is far removed from your classic beer. I tasted this vintage already one year ago and found it then a bit more intense.
All in all this is an exclusive degustation beer, one to enjoy after a slap-up meal; preferably with friends”. Duly noted. We're allready looking forward to the 10th of March!