It was miserable on Saturday. Sheets of horizontal rain to the accompaniment of the occasional ka-thunk-ka-thunk-ka-thunk as bits dislodged from my incomplete roof. In the early afternoon I trekked down to the docklands to see if Ely HQ was selling O'Hara's stout on draught, like its sister house on Custom House Quay. It was, but that was a very damp Beer Nut enjoying his pint and steak sandwich by Grand Canal Dock. Lesson learned. If ever an evening was meant for staying in and exploring strong Belgian ales, it was Saturday.
The warm-up act was St Bernardus Prior 8. At first taste I wasn't astounded by it, and then scolded myself for getting so blasé about what is a really really good beer. Brown of body, it's heavily sedimented, with skirls and eddies of yeast clumps riding the gas bubbles inside. The texture is one of the high points: lightly carbonated, leaving a smooth body and a superb thick and creamy head. The flavour is not especially strong and is redolent of dark fruit: plums, damsons, that sort of thing. The lees contribute just a bit of a sharp kick on the end. Other than the understated flavour, my other criticism is that the mouthfeel is just a little thin for such a strong dark ale, though that could be down to the slightly higher-than-recommended temperature I drank it at. Should have left the bottle out in the rain a bit longer.
I moved on then to the next in the range: Abt 12. The cap came off with a pop, followed by some foam. Then more foam. I waited for it to stop. It didn't. So my horrible soon-to-be-disposed-of carpet got the benefit of a fair bit of the beer. More than it deserves. Despite all those bubbles, the head didn't stay on this for very long. The gassiness keeps going, however, and I found the sharp sparkle got in the way of the flavour. It's dark fruits again, but drier, and not really as noticeable as with the Prior. The bitter, fruity aroma is nice, suggesting that this has the makings of a better beer in it, if only they got the other parts right. I have to say I was disappointed.
There are more St Bernardus beers around on the Irish market at the moment, and I'm aiming to get to them all eventually. With these ones, the Prior 8 is worth a look as a low-budget alternative to the first-string Trappists. But I'd exercise more caution with the Abt 12. Like opening it over the sink and within reach of a glass.