Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Trappist Breweries: The grand daddy of them all

Here's to the Anheuser Busch of Trappist Breweries, Chimay. In fact, the name Chimay is almost synonymous with "Trappist". I've been surprised that in the last two or three years Chimay has made its way from small specialty beer bars (and stores) to your grocer's beer aisle all over the country. What's Chimay's story? Here goes:

The brewery was founded at Scourmont Abbey, in the Belgian municipality of Chimay in 1862. In order to meet their needs and to sustain employment in the region, since 1862 the Trappist monks of Chimay have produced beers and cheeses.

The brewery produces three commercially distributed ales and a beer exclusively for the monks. The brewery was updated in 1988, and currently produces 120,000 hectolitres annually. Since 1876 the monastery has also made cheese, and currently offers four cheeses.

As with all Trappist breweries, the beer is sold only for financial support of the monastery and other good causes. All of the profit from the sale of the beer is distributed to charities and for community development around the region. The water for the beers is drawn from a well located on the monastery premises. The filtered solids from the beer mash are recycled into livestock feed which is given to the same cows that produce the milk for Chimay cheeses. That's the monks way of keeping it Green!, no doubt.

Once brewed, the beer is transported from the monastery to the bottling plant 12 km away. The beer is then refermented in the bottle for three weeks before being shipped around the world. 20% of Chimay beer production is sold on the export markets.

The Beers

The brewing ingredients have been the subject of interest by many brewers world-wide, all the beers are made from water, malted barley, wheat starch, sugar, hop extract and yeast; malt extract is used in the Rouge and Bleu for coloring.

* Chimay Rouge (Red), 7% abv. It is known as Première. It is a dark brown color and has a sweet, fruity aroma. The malt in this beer has a nutty character that goes well with the hints of pepper from the house yeast.

* Chimay Bleue (Blue), 9% abv darker ale. It is known as Grande Réserve. This copper-brown beer has a creamy head and a slightly bitter taste. Considered to be the "classic" Chimay ale, it exhibits a considerable depth of fruity, peppery character.

* Chimay Blanche (White), or Chimay Triple, 8% abv golden tripel. It is known as Cinq Cents. This crisp beer bears a light orange color and a very bitter taste, and is the most hopped and dryest of the three.

* Chimay Dorée, 4.8% abv ale, brewed from very similar ingredients as the Red, but paler and spiced differently. It is intended only to be drunk at the abbey or at the nearby inn Auberge de Poteaupré which is associated with the abbey. The monks themselves drink this variety rather than the stronger three. The Dorée is not sold commercially and the rare bottles which make their way out are through unofficial sources. Even the brewery's own web site makes no mention of this variety.

The Cheeses

* Chimay with Beer, whose rind is soaked in Chimay beer.

* Chimay Grand Classic, a semi-hard pressed cheese.

* Chimay Grand Cru, made from pasteurized milk and matured for six weeks.

* Old Chimay, a hard cheese matured for at least six months.

Well that's Chimay in a nutshell. Pick some up next time your at the store, if you are extremely patient save a bottle or two and age it for a year or two.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Trappist Beer

A few days ago I shared a Koningshoeven Quadrupel with my father-in-law and Meg and I realized that it was a Trappist beer that I had never heard of. With the recent rise in popularity of Trappist beers, it got me thinking. How many Trappist breweries are there?

First, it probably makes sense to define what a Trappist brewery is. Trappist beer is beer brewed by Trappist monks. Who are the Trappist monks? They are Roman Catholic monks of the "Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance." According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (, this order was started by the Abbot de Rancé (b. 1626; d. 1700) in the Abbey of La Trappe, in France, in reaction to the relaxation of practices in many Cistercian monasteries.

The life of the Trappists is guided by the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century. As a "contemplative order", the Trappists live a life of prayer and penance. The day of a Trappist is divided between work and prayer. Manual work is preferred over other types of work and Trappist monasteries generally provide for themselves through the sale of goods produced in the monastery (e.g. beer, cheese). Except for the ill, they abstain from meat and fowl and eat fish on a limited basis. To the extent that it is practical, they are expected to remain silent throughout the day and most especially at night. They are expected to live a life of strict personal poverty with few personal possessions and limited contact with the outside world.

Currently there are nearly 170 Trappist monasteries in the world, the home of approximately 2,500 Trappist monks and 1,800 Trappist nuns. Despite the 170 monasteries, only seven produce beer commercially (six in Belgium and one in The Netherlands).

The posts to follow will cover each of these Trappist breweries.

Brew like a Trappist,


Sunday, December 21, 2008

So You Want To Brew?

Over the last couple of months some people have asked what one needs to get started brewing. Basically you need to two things (1) a bucket and (2) and some pot ... um, I mean a pot. Actually you need a couple of other things as well.

First, If your really interested in doing it right (not Mr. Beer), it would be a wise investment to purchase or checkout from the library, "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" by Charlie Papazian. Its a great guide to getting started. I've also heard good things about, "How to Brew" by John Palmer. Either one or both will get you set in the right direction.

Basic Equipment includes:

-A Brewpot: If your lucky you may already own a suitable pot. You need a pot that can hold at least 4 gallons. Realistically if you enjoy brewing you'll probably invest in a 10+ gallon brewpot eventually. But to get started just borrow a 4 gallon pot from someone if you don't have one already.

-Stirring spoon


-grain bag: you can these things at a homebrew shop or online for less than a buck. Well worth it, the first couple of batches I brewed, I did not use one of these guys and it is a mess trying to get steeped grain out of the pot before you start your full boil

-hydrometer and test vial: important because it will tell you how my alcohol is in your homebrew hooch


-Carboy with stopper and airlock: plastic or glass will both work. Both have their advantages, plastic is lighter and thus easy to move around, but it retains the brewing odor (basically hops) due to being somewhat porous. Glass is cool because you can actually watch your beer ferment, but they tend to be heavier and there is always the off chance that you might drop it and it will shatter.

You can buy these at any homebrew shop or online. You can also pick up the plastic carboys at home depot for cheap, they require a little modification, but nothing that a wireless drill can't handle.

-vinyl tubing for siphoning

-bottle caps

-bottle capper

-about 50 cleaned beer bottles

-Cleaning solution

You pretty much need all of this to get started and then there is infinite extra gear that is available that makes life easier, but you'll figure out what you need/want after doing a couple batches.

A great idea is to purchase a beginner setup from a website like or They both have reasonably price beginner setups. Also if you have a local homebrew shop, they can help you get setup with the appropriate equipment.

Last, you are going to need some ingredients. Its probably easiest to pick up a kit that comes with all of the ingredients you would need to brew a specific style of beer, such as these extract kits. Most kits will come with malt extract, yeast, specialty grains, priming sugar, and hops!

Spend some time reading up before you get started and you'll have a successful first brew day.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Triple Bastard

One plus one equals three. Pretty good math for a CPA, eh? One plus one definitely equals three when your talking about enjoying Stone Brewing Company's full line of Bastard Ales. One Stone Arrogant Bastard followed up with a Stone Double Bastard (one arrogant bastard + one double bastard = three bastards).

Well the 2008 Double Bastard starting hitting the shelves a couple of weeks ago and it was only a matter of time before Meg and I picked up a bomber of this bad boy. I thought it would be a good idea to also pick up one of the regular Arrogant Bastard and do a side by side comparison. Here goes:

Arrogant Bastard

This has been one of my favorite beers for years. What's not to like? A big hoppy American strong ale that's available all year round, yes please.

Smell: Massive hop smell as well as toasted grains, fruity esters and alcohol.

Appearance: Reddish brown in color with an off-white lace. Really frothy, and sticky head that retains remarkably well.

Taste: Rich, full and complex. Big malty sweetness with caramel, chocolate and toasted/roasted flavours. Fantastic raw hop profile, very coarse. The hoppiness helps to balance all the malt flavors. Very assertive when cold, as it warms up the beer becomes smoother.

As its name implies this beer means business.

Double Bastard

Smell: Very sweet smelling, caramel and pineapple.

Appearance: Pours a thick brown with garnet highlights. a relatively fast-fading off-white head that leaves a ring of solid, foamy lace.

Taste: Crazy sweet! but in a good way. More of a berry sweetness, with far less maltiness than the regular Arrogant Bastard. Chewy and sticky mothfeel. There's also a very nice spicy bitterness that lingers well past the end of the sip, a very piney hop profile. The alcohol is very present, but this should not be a surprise since it's 10.5% ABV.

This would be a great one to age and to see the complexity of this beer reach full maturity.

Conclusion, I love the regular Arrogant Bastard and I think that its just more approachable. The double bastard at over 10% is tough to get through by oneself (they only come in 22oz. bottles ... they also come in this size, seriously). If you are in to big beers that push the limit, pick up two double bastards and have one now and age the second for a year or two.

Happy Holidays,


PS- I was inspired by this bastard-off and I think that I will be brewing something akin to Arrogant Bastard this week to have on draft around the house.