Fans of beer the world over tend to make a fuss over Trappist ales. Is it because there’re so rare? Is it because they’re made by quiet, contemplative monks? What makes these beers so good?
Trappist monks are members of a Cistercian Roman Catholic order who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, the three basic tenants of which are stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience. The Trappist order was founded by Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rance in Normandy circa 1664 in response to relaxation of monastic practices in many Cistercian monasteries. He was, at the time, the commendatory abbot of the abbey at La Trappe. It was his job to bring in income for the abbey.
Chapter 48 of the Rule of St. Benedict calls for monks to live by the work of their hands. De Rance, already adept at providing for the monastery, converted totally to the order and encouraged the practice of goods production as a method of funding. The easiest item to sell was their beer. To this day, there are only seven Trappist monasteries making beer and the recipes are sometimes as old as 1000 years. These are rare beers made by people who quietly meditate upon the fruits of their labor and the gifts of the natural world.
So, are they good? When the person making your beer is dedicated to a life that honors God it’s a good chance that what you’re drinking is going to be the most cared for beverage around. Luckily, Bieres de Chimay is readily available. Like all Trappists, their beer is made with water from a protected natural spring within the walls of the monastery. Clean and pristine. Even the spent grain from the mash tun is given to their cows as feed and, eventually, those cows provide milk to make Chimay cheese. The Premiere (known as Red due to its label color) pours up a dark coppery-garnet hue with the ubiquitous Belgian tower of foam. Wonderful scents of plum, honey, vanilla and malt waft out of the glass. The flavors are numerous: fig, prune, vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, bread and caramel. Outrageously flavorful and drinkable, the Premiere pairs beautifully with the afore-mentioned cheese that is available locally. The beer article is over… you may go in peace. Amen.