Jim Beauregard's Tasting Notes: Thank the monks for these fine brews
First, some info on the Trappists, who figure prominently in our story.
Early Christian monasticism traces its roots back to the fourth century when St. Anthony left the city and went out to the desert, as did many after the Emperor Constantine (and the Roman Empire along with him) became Christian.
Some felt that the widespread influx of people into the Catholic Church, some more opportunistic than committed, diluted the intensity of early Christianity, and they sought to recapture it by leaving the cities and going out to the desert for its solitude, to focus all their energies on the spiritual life. It was St. Benedict who codified the communal monastic life in his Rule, and this became the sourcebook for western monasticism down through the centuries (if you are curious, stop in at vespers at St. Anselm Abbey, where this tradition is lived out every day).
In France in the late 11th century, Robert of Molesme left his monastery with some 20 fellow monks to found a new monastery at Citeaux, France. One offshoot of this movement was the monastery of Clairvaux, in Burgundy, whose most famous member was St. Bernard; his writings are still read today.
These monks came to be (officially) called the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, and informally as the Trappists, and at Clairvaux they became expert, over many long years of experimentation, in the growing of the finicky Pinot Noir grape. (You can see this life lived at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass., home of the Trappist jams available in many local markets.)
Foundations were also established further north, in Belgium and the Netherlands, whose climates are less hospitable for grapes. Those monks brewed beer instead.
So these brewing traditions were established very early, and they continue today. Scroll forward 11 centuries and we come to Chimay. Trappists of Chimay have been brewing beer since the year 1863; and the brewery underwent a major renovation in 1948.
Now, Trappist Ale: The term Trappiste is a legal term in the beer world, just like the term Champagne is in France (only a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region can legally be called Champagne, which is why there are so many other names for it).
So what does mean? Beer that bears the Trappiste appellation has to be brewed under supervision of the monks at the particular brewery on the property of the monastery, meaning places like Chimay, Orval, Achel, La Trappe and others.
There are three Chimay beers that are locally available in beer shops and grocery stores. You can immediately tell them apart by the color of the label: light yellow, red, or blue. Here they are:
Chimay Peres Trappistes Cinq Cents (light yellow label), 8% alcohol by volume. A Belgian Tripel. The Tripel style presents with malt and spice, also with clear fruit aromas. For the Chimay, it's golden beer under a just off-white head, creamy and large, with a predominantly hops nose, though the malt is certainly there. The palate is dry and this is the beer that shops hops. Good bitterness and acidity, well-integrated alcohol, medium body, heading toward light, medium-plus hops citrus flavors with malt in the background. Medium-plus length finish. This is a drink-on-a-hot-summer-night beer. Food pairings include pork, richer/heavier seafood, including lobster and fish steaks. Try it with a creme brulee for dessert. A similar ale would be the readily available Unibroue La Fin du Monde.
Chimay Peres Trappistes Permiere Ale (red label), 7% abv. This beer is in the Belgian Abbey Dubbel style. A Dubbel is typically soft in terms of its presentation, with both malt and spice on the nose and palate. Huge tan head that lasts, tawny/brown beer with a medium malt nose of grain, caramel, toffee, hints of roast and nuttiness, low hops. The palate is dry with medium bitterness, acidity, and alcohol. Medium-plus body, medium texture and loads of flavor reflecting the palate. Good long finish. Some American beers made in this style include Afflingem Dubbel and Ommegang Dubbel. Some food pairings to consider would include cheeses, barbecued meats, chocolate desserts.
Chimay Peres Trappistes Grand Reserve Ale (blue label), 9% abv. This is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, meaning loads of weight and flavor, typically malty caramel balanced by some hops in the background. The Grand Reserve also has a huge light tan head over brown beer, with medium malt and low hops on the nose, aromas of caramel and grain, coffee on the back of the palate, toast and hints of oak. This is reflected in the off-dry palate with medium bitterness, acidity and alcohol that's well-integrated, creamy medium-plus body, silky texture, predominantly malt through the long finish. It's got balance, length, complexity, concentration and loads of flavor. Pair it with heavy/hearty foods (beef stew comes to mind), and strong cheeses. It also stands up to rich chocolate. An American expression of this style would be Dogfish Head Raison d'Extra.
If you're interested, you can investigate further at the source, www.chimay.com.
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Beer Event: The Southern New Hampshire Brewer's Festival takes place this coming Saturday, July 14th, from 6 to 9 p.m. at White Birch Brewing, 1339 Hooksett Road, Hooksett. Tickets for the event are $60 and $45 (and $35 for designated drivers — because you still get to eat).
Ticket information can be found at snhbf.com,including the long list of participating brewers and restaurants.
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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