Belgian monks are a resilient bunch. War, poverty, famine and plague have had little effect on these guys over the centuries. It may be argued that if it wasn’t for them beer wouldn’t be the beverage we all know today. See, Belgian monks were among the first to recognize the importance of hops.
I’ve mentioned before how, in older times, practically anything sugary would be used to ferment into their drinks… heather berries, fruit, juniper and even seaweed were some popular ingredients. The Belgians found and experimented with the native hops that grew wild throughout Europe. Lo and behold, when hops were used the beer would stay potable longer and provide a better buzz than the other stuff going around.
Use of hops meant big flavor. That in turn meant less malted grain had to be used equaling better profits. And as the Church owned most of the land upon which hop vines grew they did everything they could to ensure those profits stayed put. Unfortunately a couple of fleas carrying Bubonic plague started hopping around Europe. As disease reduced manpower, commercial breweries stepped in to keep production going. The secret of hops was discovered. That was the 14th century.
In 1096 a monastic order in was founded in Tours, Belgium, dedicated to following the teachings of St. Martin. A Christian soldier in the Roman army, he recanted violence and managed to retire from cavalry service. Before he left, it is said he met a beggar wearing very little. Being charitable, he cut his cloak in two to give half to the man. That night he had a vision that the beggar was really Christ and his life was now blessed. St. Martin was appointed Bishop of Tours in 371 and was hugely influential to Catholicism’s development in medieval Europe up to his death in 397.
Brasserie de Brunehaut was established in Tours in 1890. To this day, they make a blonde Abbey ale unlike any other blonde I’ve come across. Most are loaded with banana aromas and out-of-control malt sweetness bordering on the sickly. Not so with St. Martin. A beautiful perfume-y nose of flowers and honey sweetness float up out of the head. There’s something there in the flavor hiding behind the dried fruits, bready malts and light citrus zest… it may sound strange but, to me at least, I detect a tangy aftertaste of Smarties candy. Definitely something tart and sweet. Carbonation is ultra-crisp and refreshing.