Wednesday, November 06, 2002


A few years ago, when I moved to Belgium, beer would be that blonde thing you drink when either you don't have too much money or you're expecting to be drinking for a long period of time. And I believe that's still pretty much the way most people look at beer. But once in Belgium beer took a completely different dimension in my life. It stopped being that "boring" blond liquid you pour into your mouth to become something much bigger, something you respect and cherish.

And I'll tell you why.

The easiest reason is that Belgium has over 2000 brands of beer. And you have them in all possible sizes and tastes: You have lager beers (Jupiler, Maes, Stella Artois, Primus, ...), strong beers (Duvel, Judas, Kasteel, Leffe), Fruit-flavoured beers (cherry, banana, pine-apple, you-name-it) and Trappiste beer.

Today I'm focusing on Trappiste beer. The Trappistes are monks, like those guys you see in every movie about medieval europe. In France, Italy, Portugal and Spain monks make wine. In Belgium they make beer. And only the Trappiste monks can make Trappiste beer. If you take the same ingredients as them, the same water source, the same brewing process and you end up with an exact replica of their beer, you didn't make Trappiste beer because you're not a Trappiste monk. So, there's only 6 Trappiste abbys worldwide that can make Trappiste beer - and they're all located in Belgium (Westmalle, Westvleteren, Orval, Chimay, Achel and I forgot the 6th one). And this is quite a reason for national pride, because there used to be one Trappiste abby in Holland (La Trappe) that is not run by monks anymore (their beer is now called Dominus), so it means that ALL Trappiste beers in the world are Belgian.

Do I feel proud about that? Not really. But ask the average Belgian how he feels about it and he will probably tell you that the beer that the Dutch monks brewed was not very Trappiste, not as much as their own anyway, and it's only reasonable that only belgian monks can make Trappiste beer.

I'm still worried that I can't remember the name of the 6th Trappiste. My belgian colleagues will probably murder me later today. All this to tell you that today (or technically - yesterday) I discovered a bar, here in Antwerp, where you can choose from around 700 different beers from Belgium. You have them all there - the dark ones, the Trippel and Dubbel, the simple ones, the ones that are brewed in the bottle, the ones that have corks, the ones that have 11°, all of them. And, of course, all the 6 Trappistes. So, me and I my friend Joost found out that the only one we didn't know was Achel, the most recent one that actually took the place left open by the dutch monks when they stopped brewing La Trappe. If you don't know belgian beers you will probably not share my taste for them. It's an incredibly strong beer in alcohol (8°) but yet very light in taste. And you get the feeling you can spend an whole night drinking it. Well, obviously you can't, or I would be doing something useful, like playing Hot Pursuit 2 instead of writing this text right now.

So my goal for tonight is to have you drinking belgian beers. A few ones you can find all over the world, mainly Stella Artois - please don't drink it, as that is the worst beer Belgium has to offer. Try to find some Leffe (quite easy to find in most of Europe) and if possible try the dark Leffe. Or try Judas, that's also quite easy to find. If you're a pils-lager guy like I used to be, you will probably not like it - it just doesn't taste like beer - our concept of beer - but it is beer. If you find Duvel, try drinking 5 of them, and then tell me if you liked it. You will hate the first 2, that's for sure.
And then, once you've aquired a taste for belgian beer, try to find the Trappistes. Westmalle is probably the easiest to get outside Belgium. Give it a go, you'll love it. Or maybe not, but I do.

Well, time to sleep now, I'm working for Cinderella tomorrow.