Thursday 17 June 2010

Is it time to take holy orders?

Last week Orval, this week a Trappist dinner at the White Horse. Is something telling me I should take holy orders? A tasting of beers from the seven Trappist breweries with a Chimay-accompanied meal was a chance to reengage with this most contemplative branch of brewing. Rochefort, Chimay, Westmalle, Orval, Achel, Westvleteren and Dutch uncle La Trappe: all served and dissected with care and attention by Belgian beer sommelier and Beerpassie Magazine editor Ben Vinken. Biggest surprise of the night? A bottle of La Trappe’s Dubbel, as complex as advanced algebra and a lot more fun, a beer my nose had been perpetually turned up at for as long as I can remember. A beer burdened with being bought and owned by Bavaria, purveyors of orange skirted Dutch lovelies to the world; a beer whose bottle had as much style as a sunburnt, lobster-red, cargo-panted Englishman on Dover beach, scowling at France. I stand corrected. My nose was caressed and cuddled by sweetish caramel-toffee notes with a background of banana, the sort of ripe banana where dark bruises are starting to show, making for a sweet treat. The palate was sweet fruit, plums, roastiness balancing the sweetness; in the background a hop-derived pepperiness, alcohol and an almond-marzipan dryness, while the dry and bitter finish had dark plummy notes, a soft cloistered toiling of the bell, calling all to compline. I picked my jaw up off the table and carried on. And the finale to this most excellent of tastings, a glass of a 1998 and 1988 Chimay Grande Reserve, side by side; the younger brother, earthy, alcoholic, vinous, Madeira-like at first and then Calvados sprung to mind (the bocage of Normandy, tilled soil after the first rains of autumn), minus the fieriness. And then the eldest of the lot, the head of the family (or should that be chapter?) — I probably had my first Chimay around 1988 but I should have held onto it and it would have turned out like this: chocolate and Cognac, still some carbonation, imagine a cold, alcoholic stewed fruit compote with a touch of brandy and then turned into a beer, the ideal beer to accompany a wild and windy night in the depth of winter with Dickens on your lap (one of the author’s books that is). Or if you are lucky to get hold of one in the summer, pour some on a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and drink the rest. Perfect.  

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