Saturday, February 5, 2011

CT Column 26/01/2011 :Sacred vows

Last week I was very kindly given two very rare bottles of beer from the Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren Abbey in Belgium. In the low lands of Europe there are seven beer brewing Benedictine abbeys where the monks are known as Trappists. While at first the image of monks brewing beer might seem somewhat strange, Benedictine Monks are in fact expected to support themselves and their charitable activities ‘by the works of their hands’, and this tends to take the form of brewing, wine making, liqueur production or cheese making.
While some of the Trappist beers such as Chimay and La Trappe are well known and readily available at supermarkets at this end of the globe, the Westvleteren beers from Saint Sixtus are intentionally produced in very limited amounts and their commercial availability is actively discouraged by the Monks that brew them. The beers are only officially available from a serving hatch in the wall of the abbey on certain days through the month with only one type of beer being available at a time and a limit on how many cases each customer can take. If all that doesn’t sound un-commercial enough customers are required to book in to purchase the beer by phone prior to queuing at the Abbey wall. The beers themselves have no labels and are identified by different coloured caps. All these discouraging practices are aimed at limiting the production of the brewery so that it serves the Monks needs but does not impact upon their monastic way of life. Despite all customers to the Abbey being told that the beer is not to be resold a healthy black market has developed around the world no doubt fuelled by the fact that the beers are so hard to come by and thankfully taste fantastic. The beers are identified by a number that refers to an old way of calculating strength. All the brewery’s beers are brewed from pale malt, and northern brewer variety hops with the dark beers that I tasted having a healthy dose of Belgian ‘candi sugar’ added to provide colour and flavour. Westvleteren 8 was exceptionally fruity and warming with a suggestion of plum brandy, toffee and a long dry hoppy finish. Westvleteren 12 offered up a rich complex aroma that reminded me of a fine ruby port, with a rich velvety malt character and a smooth rounded finish. Both beers scream out for a cheese board of pungent washed rind cheeses and dried fruit. While a certain NZ beer retailer does have black market Westvleteren 12 for sale at a black market price those wanting to respect the Monk’s wishes and try something similar should try the Rochefort beers from the only slightly less reclusive Trappist Abbey of St Remy. St Remy Abbey survived pillage and plunder during the Eighty Years War, The French Revolution, and a large fire in December of last year. Rochefort 10 offers up a whole range of ripe fortified fruit and rich malt aromas and flavours and is available with the Monk’s blessings from Regional Wines and Spirits

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