9 November 2017

Belgium 2017 - The Beer Trappe

Ça sent la bière, donne-moi la main

La bière

Ça sent la bière de Londres à Berlin
Ça sent la bière, Dieu qu'on est bien
Ça sent la bière de Londres à Berlin
Ça sent la bière donne-moi la main

I love Jacques Brel....

And I love beer.....

And Belgium, Brelgium…. Ça sent la bière ….

Jacques Brel was only 49 when he died in 1978, but his wonderful songs remain.  He was an extraordinary performer, with intense feeling and perfect enunciation, and his lyrics have influenced many other artists, such as David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.  A favourite is La bière....

C'est plein d'Uilenspiegel
Et de ses cousins
Et d'arrière-cousins
De Bruegel l'ancien
C'est plein de vent du Nord
Qui mord comme un chien
Le port qui dort
Le ventre plein

I have been in Belgium, wandering from Brussels to the Ardennes, via Liège, carrying these words in my wallet, and sampling some of the finest beers in the world.  I can smell beer, God!  It’s so good!  There’s the scent of beer – give me your hand!

Ça sent la bière....


C'est plein de verres pleins
Qui vont à kermesse
Comme vont à messe
Vieilles au matin
C'est plein de jours morts
Et d'amours gelées
Chez nous y a que l'été
Que les filles aient un corps

Belgian beer is justly famous.  There are hundreds of varieties (some say 450), ranging from the standard draft lagers such as Maes, Jupiter and Stella Artois, through winey Lambic Cantillon, cherry flavoured Mort Subite Kriek Lambic Tradition and spicey, candy sweetened Faro, to the highly sophisticated unfiltered complexities of Trappist beers such as the 6.2 abv Orval (completed with a secondary fermentation using brettanomyces yeasts) and world champion (and very rare) Westvleteren 8.0º…..  And each beer has its specific glass....

Ça sent la bière....

C'est plein de finissants
Qui soignent leurs souvenirs
En mouillant de rires
Leurs poiluchons blancs
C'est plein de débutants
Qui soignent leur vérole
En caracolant
De "prosit" en "Schol"

The characteristics of Belgian beers are many and various, but they fall into categories, of sorts.  Lambic beers, which come from the Brussels region mix at least thirty per cent raw wheat with malted barley, but are then fermented and matured in wooden casks using wild yeasts which give the beers a distinctive winey sourness, sometimes likened to a mixture of scrumpy and sherry.  Some of the best Lambics are produced in the Anderlecht area of Brussels by the Cantillon brewery.  A more sparkling version of Lambic is known as Gueuze which is a blend of young and mature LambicsFaro is a Lambic beer sweetened with dark sugars.  

Kriek is Lambic which has been flavoured in later fermentation with small local cherries.

Ça sent la bière....

C'est plein de "Godferdomme"
C'est plein d'Amsterdam
C'est plein de mains d'homme
Aux croupes des femmes
C'est plein de mémères
Qui ont depuis toujours
Un sein pour la bière
Un sein pour l'amour

Other Belgian beers include White (made from half wheat and half malted barley), produced famously by Hoegarden; Brown (rich in malt and slightly caramel flavoured), often used in carbonnade flamande, particularly well made in Oudenaarde where the water is particularly soft; and Red, which is matured in large wooden tuns.  The Rodenbach brewery produces some of the best of the reds.

Ça sent la bière....

C'est plein d'horizons
A vous rendre fou
Mais l'alcool est blond
Le diable est à nous
Les gens sans Espagne
Ont besoin des deux
On fait des montagnes
Avec ce qu'on peut

But the contemplative, austere Trappist monks in a handful of Belgian monasteries are the master brewers whose products are without rivals.  These beers are not closely related to each other, having very distinct characteristics, but they belong to a family, with secondary fermentation in the bottle leading to strength, depth, and character.  Authentic Trappist beers are brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, under the control and responsibility of the community of monks, who are involved through the process of making and marketing the beer.  Most of the income generated by this activity is devoted to the needs of the community and social works.

Typically, taking Westmalle as an example, these beers may be designated Single (or Extra) [only brewed by Westmalle twice a year and  produced for the monks and their guests for their midday meal], which tends to be bright and golden; Dubbel, stronger, dark-brown and nutty (7%); and Tripel which is pale bronze complex and aromatic (9.5%).

The Trappist monasteries in question are Orval (almost certainly brewing its own beer since 1529, but reinvented commercially in 1931 to fund the reconstruction of the monastery); Chimay (whose Bleu, at 9%, is a wonderful dark ale with a powerful aroma); Rochefort (founded in 1230; brewing since 1595); Westvleteren (near Poperinge, whose label-less bottles are rationed, and retail at about €36 a litre….) and Westmalle (brewing since 1836 but since 1991 having a bottling capacity of 45,000 per hour).

Not to be confused with the Trappist beers are the many Abbey beers, which are made by commercial brewers in the environs of active monasteries, which may be Benedictine such as Affligem, Norbertine (or Premonstratensians, or White Canons), such as Leffe or Grimbergen, or Carmelite, such as Karmeliet.  These are excellent beers, and, like the Trappist ones, can be strong. 

But, so what?  These are the wines of the north.  It is not the custom to quaff them by the pint…..  These are beers to be savoured.  With a little cheese, and perhaps some bread.

And a little conversation, perhaps…..

Ça sent la bière de Londres à Berlin
Ça sent la bière donne-moi la main

Jacques Brel (1929 – 1978)

I love Jacques Brel....  He is still here, all around.  In one of his favourite bars, A La Mort Subite, {rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7, B-1000 Bruxelles} he can still be sensed drinking, smoking, pensive, as if composing…. 

The list of beers in this Elysian bar includes, Gueuze sur Lie, Grimbergen Optimo Bruno 11%, Grimbergen Tripple 9%, Grimbergen Gold, Duvel, Hapkin, Chimay Dark, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle Tripple,

and, on draught,  Chimay Blond, Westmalle Dobbel Dark, Grimbergen Blond, Grimbergen Dark, Ciney Blond, Ciney Dark, Cherry, Faro, and Lambic White Beer Mort Subite…..

Time, gentlemen, please....

And I love beer.....

And Belgium, Brelgium…. Ça sent la bière 


But, after all that beer, there's just time for a digestif.....  In LiègeWallonia, they peddle a kind of gin known as genièvre (colloquially as pèkèt). This stiff grain-spirit is often served in glasses little bigger than a thimble. 

Ça sent la bière de Londres à Berlin
Ça sent la bière, Dieu qu'on est bien

Night, night!

1 comment:

  1. Des trucs merveilleux. J'aime aussi la bière. et parfois la bière m'aime aussi! Brother Simon