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|Belgium Tour 2012 - Day Three|
|Written by Ale Street News Online|
|Sunday, 15 April 2012 15:54|
Fog greeted us on awakening in the town of Bouillon — I know, sounds like soup. It was pea soup. Our peeps had to feel their way across the bridge for the bus waiting on the other side — a relatively early start, 9 a.m.
We were still in the deep south of Belgium, well as deep as it gets! After a fairly "aggressive" (to use our tour operator's lingo) start to the tour, hurtling from Brussels airport into the Ardennes and the land of the Chouffes, and a full second day of Bastogne, Rulles and Orval breweries, our beery travelers had spent a quiet night for the most part, finding whatever restaurants were open in off-season Bouillon.Which reminds me, it's about time I introduced the crew — one big hoppy family. There were only 4 newbies, and one of those has traveled with us several times to the Great American Beer Festival.
The Blowers, Carolyn and Willy, they never miss a trip...or a sip.The Mullins, John and Maryanne, hard on their heels for most-traveled ASNers.Bill and Barbara Comella, familiar faces now, plus Bill Jr. from upstate NY.Tour regulars, Barbara "Blogster" Moore, Wayne "Smart" Palmer, Rob "Candyman" Purcell and Karl "Mr. Beer" Mende.
Richard Dorchak and Rich Jr. of Cloverleaf Tavern and U.S. Army fame respectively,The McCuskers, Joe and Kathleen, completing the NJ contingent.From NYC, Warren Montiero aka the BeerSensei, and Bill Jeffrey.The Shahs, Amit and Rae Ann, back after a 5-year hiatus, now hailing from Pittsburgh, and injecting some much-needed youth into the proceedings.Tom Stapleton, a novice, coming in from VirginiaAnd the fair maidens from Mondial de la biere, Jeannine Marois and Marie-Jose Lefebvre. And of course Greg "5-minute Rule" Dennis of Short Hills Tours, keeping us focused, and yours truly keeping us lubricated.
Export Director Fabrice Bordon met us at the gates along with new hire, Englishman Andy, an industry veteran who had worked for several breweries. As at other monasteries we have visited — Rochefort, Achel, La Trappe, the quietness is pervasive, although we did see a group of students on a visit. Also in common with other the other Trappist monasteries, many people visit for retreats for a weekend or a week — to live like monks. The Trappists have their set duties, breaking to worship seven times a day.
Chimay is the largest of the Trappist breweries, with an annual output of 165,000 hectos (about 150,000) barrels. In deference to the tranquility the monks cherish, the noisy bottling plant required to handle such a load is located off-site.
Fabrice showed us everything — from the chapel to the brewhouse, to the fermenting room, to the lab, to the tankers that truck the beer to the bottling plant three times a day, and finally to the tasting room.
We watched expectantly as Fabrice cracked a 1986 Chimay Blue. Sherryish and malty it had aged beautifully for a 25-year-old beer. Chimay is celebrating its 150th year as a brewery and although you can be sure there will be some kind of special release, Fabrice's lips were sealed. We did see some bottles for the Mont des Cats Trappist monastery in France for whom Chimay has begun some contract brewing.I also spied a box addressed to Paul Arnot in the lab. He was a former Chimay brewer who went to brew at Unibroue in Quebec for a few years, returned to Belgium, and is now evidently back at Chimay.
At the Auberge de Poteaupré, we began with a sampler of Chimay cheeses (classic, a la biere, grad cru and aged), paired with Chimay Red (7%, amber, slightly fruity) White (8%, golden and hoppy) and Blue (9% classic Trappist dark). Following that we enjoyed a quiche and traditional rabbit stew cooked in beer. Chimay White has been available on draft in the US for the past few years. Fabrice said there are no plans to release make any of the other Chimay beers on tap, although we did later discover a keg of Chimay Red at Delirium Tremens new Monasterium bar in Brussels.
A new interpretive center is being unveiled at eh Auberge this month (April) to commemorate Chimay's 150-year history.
A word of warning; when they invite you as guests to Chimay, they want a lot of your time. We were there 5 hours (including lunch) and we passed on the bottling plant. Not that we were complaining; the visit was rich and rewarding even it did impact our tentative stop at De Struise brewers. I had to call Carlo and tell him we couldn't make it in time. He was north of Bruges and we were south. "Ok, we'll see you at Alvinne," he said.
So, we boarded the bus and headed north with the Chimay Blue still flowing. Our driver had a little difficulty maneuvering our large (the largest we ever had) bus into Bruges. We couldn't fit through the first gate we tried, but eventually with an escort sent from the hotel we arrived at the elegant Grand Hotel Casselbergh. Pretty soon we were sipping nightcaps at t'Bruges Beertje, the Little Bruges Beer.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 15 April 2012 16:01|