Drinking Belgian beer can be a dangerous game and sometimes it seems to be a case of how high do you want to up the ante - do you go dubbel, tripel or quad?!
I once went for a weekend away to Bruges where I saw this firsthand. The beauty of the city was somewhat tarnished on a sunny Sunday morning as I walked the cobbled streets, by evidence of just how many people had seemingly consumed one more drink than they could keep in (if you know what I mean). I suppose it’s hard not to get carried away when beer is as good as it is in Bruges.
There’s a long history of big beers in Belgium that goes back centuries and is traceable to abbey and Trappist brewing, but I was surprised to discover that the quad is a recent innovation (in terms of its commercialisation and branding at least).
It’s interesting too that the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines refrains from adding it as a style in the monastic beer section, but rather progresses from single to dubbel to tripel, then finishing with Belgian Dark Strong Ale. I guess this is a political decision as much as anything else; and a nod to the fact that the style was being made for many years under different guises and without the title of quadrupel.
The term quadrupel first appeared courtesy of the mother of all brotherhoods (the motherbrotherhood?) at La Trappe in Holland circa 1991. In Belgium however, the first commercial quad was indeed today’s beer from Straffe Hendrik based in Bruges - in 2010.
The history of Strafe Hendrik is entwined in that of the Halve Mann Brewery which dates back to 1856, and it was a fifth generation brewer here, called Véronique Maes, who we have to thank for launching the brand.
At this time, she was the very first female brewer in the country, and in an industry influenced by centuries of brotherly brewing (and which is generally dominated by men regardless) - that’s no mean feat in my book!
Her first beer was a tripel in 1981 and the name Straffe Hendrik pays homage to the four previous generations of brewers, who were all men called Hendrik. This is strangely reminiscent of the story at Brewery Omer Vander Ghinste, where four generations of Omers headed the brewing for many years. I guess naming your kids after yourself was all the rage in those days (as was continuing the patriarchy).
Veronique eventually handed the reins over to the next generation and a chap called Xavier Vanneste, who brought the first Belgian quad to the market. Let’s give it a go…
Pours a deep, red-tinged brown with a cream head. The nose is wonderfully deep too with unfolding layers of stewed dark fruit, spice and sugar-based confectionery. There’s cake dough and cherries, black chocolate and molasses, which all rear up in the palate that is sweet and rich and bitter all at once.
This is a stupendously good beer - and one that you could lose an evening in just trying to decipher all the flavours and aromas that are present - but be careful you don’t lose anything else. I’ll leave you with a quote from the aforementioned style guide which describes these beers thus… “Complex, rich, smooth, and dangerous.”
Grab a Straffe Hendrik or two, you won’t be disappointed.. but just drink in moderation!