However, on reflection, that treasured line seems to borrow quite heavily from both the Simpsons (Sideshow Bob once said to Selma that kissing her would be “like kissing some divine ashtray” ) and food writer/jammy bandit Giles Corin (he described a suckling pig sausage in 2005 as “so pale and sinless it was like snogging an angel”.)

As result, this week I resolved to invent a whole raft of new similes which have never before ever been used to describe beer. Then Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Malthouse Proprietor [1] told me the topic – the Holy Trinity of Belgian ales.  As at least half of Belgians would say, “Bollocks”. [2] Irregardless, it is time to talk about three brands of beers which helped my transition from Tui corporate drone to the diverse, well-informed and surprisingly sexy beer writer I am today.

Those beers are Chimay, Orval and Duval.  The first two of those are Trappist beers, one of the most protected names in the culinary world. [3] I turned, once again, to the iconic Oxford Companion to Beer where Derek Walsh – 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… Over the past several decades the Trappist beers have become some of the most influential inspirations for commercial brewers large and small…

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.” 

While I was aware of the need for the monks to brew the beers, the requirement for the profits to be used for broadly charitable purposes was news to me.  However, most drinkers will be aware that Chimay (properly Notre-Dame de Scourmont or Our Lady of Scourmont) is one of the world’s most revered breweries.  Established in 1850 and working under the motto “ora e labora” (work and prayer), Chimay make a house beer exclusively for the monks (Chimay Doree or Gold) and three beers for general consumption and charity. 

The “weakest” of those beers is Chimay Red (7%).  Like so many gingers in our intolerant world, Chimay Rouge is often ignored in favour of its blonder or brunette siblings.  However, it is 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, but you just want more.

My favourite of the range is Chimay White (8%), one of the first and best Tripels I ever tried.  It is heavily hopped (by Belgian standards) with the resulting bone-dry golden ale showcasing notes of muscat, juicy raisin, salt, apple and a champagne mouthfeel.  Also known as Cinq Cents, Chimay White is drier than John Stewart criticising President Barack Obama.

Easily the most critically acclaimed Chimay beer is Chimay Blue (9%) which scored over 247% on RateBeer. [4] It is a dark beer which has notes of chocolate, caramel, prunes, vanilla, funky yeast, smoke and brown sugar.  If I had to invent a simile – and I believe I do for this post – drinking the Chimay Grand Reserve is like motor-boating a vat of decadent dark chocolate.

Chimay Blue is also a cellar-friendly beer – changing and often improving with age.  Malthouse stocks a range of Chimay Blue ranging from 2007-2012.  A vertical tasting of Chimay Blue proves that the right beer can benefit from a bit of aging.  I’ve used such tasting sessions to convert even the most sceptical wine snob.

Orval brewery (officially Abbaye Notre Dame D’Orval) makes two beers and only sells one of them to outsiders.  The abbey traces its founding to when a countess allegedly lost her wedding, prayed for its safe return, a trout immediately and somewhat miraculously turned up with the ring in its mouth, so she founded a monastery as a big thank you. 

Their one commercially available beer is simply known as Orval (6.9%).  It has plenty of hops but most attention is paid to the addition of semi-wild Brettanomyces yeast, Belgian beers were some of the first proper beers I enjoyed as I entered the world of craft beer somewhat later than most.  I recall the great Geoff Griggs – grand maester of New Zealand beer writing – describing Orval as having a “sweaty horse blanket” character, and thinking:

1) That cannot possibly be true.
2) If it is true, that cannot possibly be a good thing.

I was, of course, completely wrong. Orval has a distinct whiff and note of equine cloth clothings and it is one of the most distinctive, and delicious, signatures in the world of beer.  Every beer connoisseur should try this beer once, preferably with a wash rind cheese and some grilled trout.  The taste of Orval is like a loving lick of salty sweat off the great Phar Lap’s post-race forelock. 

Finally, there is Duvel (8.5%) – not a Trappist ale a Belgian classic all the same.  Described by Oxford Companion to Beer as “the progenitor of a beer style widely known as Belgian strong golden ale”, it gained its moniker (Flemish for “real devil”) because of its dangerous drinkability. 

Under the trademark humongous head, there are notes of citrus, pear, spice, banana, coriander, clove and alcoholic heat.  Duvel is exactly like taking two shot of Kirsch then face planting into a bowl of over ripe pears

The Darkest Days have passed and we are now on the finishing stretch heading into the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge.  However, there are a few dark ales stubbornly occupying taps which should be pouring hoppy IPAs.  In beer tasting terminology, finishing off those beers which have been opened is known as “bayoneting the wounded” – the only honourable thing to do. [5]

Beers that need a-finishing include 8 Wired Big Smoke – the beer which started this blog – Renaissance Craftsman and Fork Brewing’s Dark Vader on handpull.

Next time, we drink to John Stewart ranting about deep dish pizza.  Because that is pretty much the funniest thing I’ve seen this year with the possible exception of Uruguayan media claiming that FIFA and England photoshopped the pictures of Luis Suarez tucking into a tasty Italian sub… during a live telecast.

[1] Who I must say is very forgiving when his blog writer completely yet accidentally went to the pub for the entire afternoon yesterday instead of completing this post….

[2] The Dutch translation of “bollocks” proved to be much less exciting than I had expected.

[3] Only one New Zealand brewery claims to make a Trappist ale and it is called Resurrection.  When I questioned the owner – who I will call Keith Galbraith, because that is his real name – he indicated that he would stop calling it that style only when a genuine Trappist monk walked through his front door with a signed cease and desist order and not a moment sooner. 

[4] Only a slight exaggeration.

[5] I’m pretty sure I stole this line from Geoff Griggs.  Mind you, I would swear he was the first to call Emerson’s Taieri George “liquid hot cross buns” but he seems to think it was me.


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