Sunday, June 5, 2011

Belgian Trappist Ale

Today I brewed a Belgian Trappist Ale with my brewing partner/teacher, Nosh, thanks to a Stein Fillers kit (Lakewood, CA). I’ll start with the recipe:

Belgian Trappist Beer Recipe (Inspired by Chimay Red)
MALT: 8 lbs. Pale Malt Extract
              1.5 lbs. Candi Sugar

GRAIN: Wheat Malt (.5 lbs)
               Belgian Aromatic (.5 lbs)
               Belgian CaraMunich (.25 lbs)
               Chocolate Malt (.1 lb)

HOPS: Tettnanger (2 oz, boil)
             Styrian Golding (.5 oz, finish)

YEAST: White Labs Trappist Ale Yeast

Damn, I make a good beer!
Those crazy Catholics! Ironic, isn’t it? That only a true trappist brews can come from trappist breweries, which are run and brewed, by trappist monks. Yes, those quiet, self-sufficient, holier-than-thou monks who live in solitude and devote their entire lives to “God” as they know him or her. The ironic part is that, although the Catholic church  celebrates many saints related to alcohol, many offshoots of the church see alcohol as the devil’s blood, inherent evil that contributes to poverty, unemployment and crime. And, honestly, it kind of does, doesn’t it? I mean, who hasn’t been freaked out a little when a poverty-stricken homeless person smelling of cheap gin drunkenly stumbles over to you asking for a bite of that slice of that pizza you’re walking home with? (Yes, that happened … hey, I live in Long Beach, what do you expect?)

Despite those profound religious indoctrinations, I think that after reading this you might have much more appreciation for trappist beers. They are brewed by trappist monks … and only trappist monks … well, if you want a “real” trappist that’s been labeled an Authentic Trappist Product.
            Ever excitedly popped open a Chimay or La Trappe? If so, it was brewed under strict conditions, including:
1.      Must have been brewed in a trappist abbey under the control of trappist monks
2.      Anything commercial having to do with the beer must depend on the monastic community
3.      The money earned from sales of these beers must not be for financial profit; the money must be directed toward helping a community

Here are the eight trappist breweries:

  1. Bières de Chimay (Belgium)
  2. Brasserie d'Orval (Belgium)
  3. Brasserie de Rochefort (Belgium)
  4. Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle (Belgium)
  5. Brouwerij Westvleteren (Belgium) (This is number-one on my 20 Beers in My Future list)
  6. Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis (Belgium)
  7. Brouwerij de Koningshoeven (Netherlands)
  8. Mont des Cats (France)
Don’t be fooled by those beers called “abbey ales.” True, they probably practice perfect Belgian beer-brewing practices, but they are not true trappists.

Trappist monk testing his brew. Courtesy London Slow Food

What was the first Belgian trappist beer brewed? When was it first brewed? What the hell is a trappist? Where am I? What’s my name? Hold on … take a deep breath. There is much to learn, and I can’t possibly get into every detail about this fine drink, but I can at least get the gist of it down.

Let’s start with who the trappist monks are. What it boils down to is they are people of a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns. They live what’s called a Cistercian life, which means they are self-sufficient and base their days around manual labor. They first started in France, moving on over to the Netherlands and Belgium. Well, they probably didn’t “move” per se, they just happened to be chopped up among political dividing lines way back when. Waaaaaaay back when. Like, the year 1,000.

Why did trappists brew beer? That’s much simpler than explaining what a trappist monk is — to feed their community. Not only feed their community, but feed it with a drink that wouldn’t kill them. Water was obviously disgusting back then, and they knew that boiling the water was possibly a lifesaver. On a side note, some say monks actually discovered using hops in beer, too … in the 15th century.

Now that I know there are certain trappist beers you can only get at certain monasteries, I have a mission! Brouwerij Westvleteren sells very limited amounts only at the monastery, and only after having made a reservation ahead of time. Now that’s an exclusive beer! I’m surprised you don’t have to also fly a monastery-built jet and land in a monastery-run airport to get it! You also have to agree to not sell it to anyone; you can only drink it yourself. I might share with you, but not if it’s against the rules.

The first trappist beer? Who really knows? It’s said the monasteries were brewing before the Middle Ages, but the first known proof of an official trappist brewery is said to be 1685, La Trappe.

Do yourself a favor and either follow the Belgian trappist recipe above and delight your senses in six weeks or find yourself a true trappist beer with the logo that states it is an Authentic Trappist Product and welcome yourself to the world of some of the finest beers ever created. Some have said that Red Chimay leaves a “silky sensation” in your mouth. Sounds sexy, doesn’t it? Well, as sexy as a monk-made beer can be.

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