Trappist beers gladden my tiny black heart
Wednesday, 02 November 2016 08:30

I have been self-employed for nearly a decade and my company has never had a mission statement, a vision statement or any written strategies. A credible argument could be made that it has never had any unwritten strategies either.

Fundamentally, I just like to write and talk about topics of interest to me, and then ask people to pay for it. I don’t enjoy that second part nearly as much but it is mission critical if I want to, say, buy food or important new Star Wars merchandise. [1]


If I was forced to have a company mission statement in some diabolical alternative universe, I suspect it would read something like “I LIKE BEER, POLITICS, BACON, STAR WARS and PHOTOS OF SLOTHS!” After all, the mission statement is supposed to encapsulate what the organisation does – the very essence of the enterprise, if you will. It is very more intensely unlikely, but if I really had to, I would like to think I would come up with something almost as profound as this:

“Here, in this heaven of peace and silence where since 1850 Trappist monks have dedicated their life to God, beer and cheeses are made which in themselves gladden the heart of man.” [2]

That is effectively the mission statement for the brewery known around the world as Chimay (properly Notre-Dame de Scourmont or Our Lady of Scourmont but you can see why they shortened the name to even fit on the bottle). One of their beers will star in a Trappist Beer Tasting to be held at Malthouse on 9 November 2016. Tickets are $50 a head (contact the bar to purchase) and the event will be run by dapper beer commentator Neil McInnes.

When I first entered the beer writing business, Mr McInnes was the second most influential New Zealand writer on my work (after the Doyen Himself Geoff Griggs), but he was certainly the most influential on my Elvis-like sideburns. He also seriously knows his Trappist beers.

While today I am known for my love of hoppy pale ales and intense hatred of sour beers, [3] Belgian beers, particularly Trappist ales, were an early love when I discovered craft beers. I spent a large proportion of my then meagre pay packet in the Leuven Belgian Beer Cafe, on glorious bottles from Regional Wines and Thorndon New World and, of course, the matching glasses. One year, the manager at Leuven even gave me a Christmas card and magnum of the legendary Chimay Blue to say “thanks for putting my kids through university this year.” [4]

That certainly paints a vivid picture, but is not overly informative. For information, I have turned, once again, to the iconic Oxford Companion to Beer which, fortunately, does not let me down this week. Derek Walsh – noted Dutch beer writer, brewer and consultant – provides this summary of Trappist ales:

“Trappist breweries are breweries located within the walls of a Trappist abbey, where brewing is performed by, or under the supervision of, Trappist monks.

Trappist beer is not a categorical style, but there are some common characteristics that almost all Trappist beers share. Each is top fermented, unpasteurised, contains no chemical additives, adds sugar to the wort in the kettle, and is bottle conditioned. Since 1997 authentic Trappist beers can be recognised by the hexagonal label that guarantees the following:

  • They are produced within the walls of the monastery
  • The monastic community determines the policies and provides the means of production
  • The profits are primarily intended to provide for the needs of the community or for social services.”

Here is the Trappist tasting line-up and some of my personal quirky tasting notes:

Orval (6.9%) – Sweaty Horse Blanket.  The taste of Orval is like a loving lick of salty sweat off the great Phar Lap’s post-race forelock. This is a bucket list beer, people.

Chimay Red (7%) - A genuinely fine red ale with notes of pepper and apricots. I would liken it to a peck on the cheek from Emma Watson - elegant and divine.

Westmalle Tripel (9.5%) - Pouring a slightly misty gold, this beer has a huge, pillowed head. The nose is dry – somehow both peppery and salty at the same time. Tripel has a powerful iodine note reminiscent of the finest Islay whiskies. My favourite Trappist, drinking this beer is like stealing Keith Moon’s breakfast.

Rochefort Trappistes 10 (11.3%) – Scores a straight 100 on RateBeer. Consider carefully about driving later if you even glance at this massive but balanced ale. It tastes like plums and blackcurrants got locked inside an oak wine barrel for a year and had to huddle together for warmth.

Westvleteren Blond (5.8%) – Hard to spell, easy to drink. This is the most responsible beer in the tasting line-up and is resplendent with citrus fruitiness and the dry esters so characteristic of Belgian yeast. A blonde beer that is more dependable than Tintin.

Compiling this list, I am reminded of the Belgian beer proverb – “A beer brewed with knowledge is tasted with wisdom.” I have every confidence that Neil McInnes’ Trappist Beer Tasting will be both knowledgeable and wise – book now.

Leaving Belgium now, on tap this week is Hallertau's latest entry into the hugely popular “which brewer can outrage Neil the most this month sweepstake” with their

Blackcurrant Berliner Weisse.

Hallertau Dammerung Black IPA (7%) is also pouring.

The ever popular pair of Garage Project Day of the Dead Strong Black Lager (6.7%) and Garage Project La Catrina joins the tap line-up, probably for a very short time before selling out.

In the Hopinator (the Modus Hopperandus) Malthouse has Behemoth Trip Choc Stout served over a bed of roasted hazelnuts, [5]

Oh, the new Epic Danger Zone Happy Birthday Ale (5.9%) also goes on tap this week but gentle readers should not concern themselves unduly with that development. Trust me - I got this. Stick to those tasty fruit beers while I shove it into overdrive and head out on the highway to the danger zone. [6]

Next time, we drink to Charles de Gaulle who famously said “Belgium is a country invented by the British to annoy the French”. That is a pretty good mission statement too, come to think of it.


[1] They are action figures, not toys.

[2] Apologies for the gender specific language here – it was probably written in 1850... by monks...

[3] Both these statements are factually accurate.

[4] The card did not actually say that precisely but it was clearly the subtext.

[5] Oh look - what a surprise – no hops in the Hopinator! Has this ever happened before in the long and illustrious history of the Modus Hopperandus?

[6] With profound apologies to Mr Kenny Loggins. Please do not sue me. It could have been so much worse – I could have actually sung the song...


Cheers


Neil Miller

Beer Writer

Beer and Brewer Magazine

Cuisine Magazine

TheShout Magazine


Links


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