Monday, July 19, 2010

L'école de la Bière.

When I think beer, I think monks. Wait a minute, I don’t. Because that’s crazy, right? Beer production and Catholicism? A recent trip to Belgium taught me otherwise.

Several weeks ago, I set forth on the path to brewing enlightenment and now hold this golden beverage in much higher esteem than before. The path began with several in-class (morning!) beer tastings; our professor Mirco lectured us on beer’s history, it’s production methods, and the cultivation of hops. We then sampled beers from Germany, the Czech Republic, England, Scotland, the US, and Italy - even some of Mirco’s own home-brew! Which was su-perb.* We held back from Belgian beers, since the next week we’d be hopping** on a bus and driving all the way to Brussels, our home-base for the week.

During our trip we visited many different places and producers, but the things that stuck out for me were:

a) the abbeys we visited that make beer, and
b) the fact that no one seemed to want to emphasize the fact that the abbeys we visited make beer.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always had this vision of monks as strictly celibate, conservative, and pleasure-forbidding beings who’d frown upon the consumption of alcohol, let alone make it. I am apparently a terribly ignorant soul; trappist monks, such as those at the Monastery of Westvleteren where we visited, have been brewing beer since the middle ages. Originally this was done in order to ‘feed’ the monastery and local community (beer was often safer than water to drink and provided nutrients), but the practise is kept up today in order to fund the monasteries and provide money for charities. At each abbey we visited, our guides were quick to point out that monks are first and foremost devotees to God, not brewers; the beer is produced out of tradition and to provide monetary security.

Unfortunately, we never got to talk with any monks, but we were greeted by one when an outstandingly eccentric hops-grower (who’d forgotten we were coming and was very surprised to see our bus pull up to his house) attempted to get us in through the ‘back door’ for a look at the brewery. It didn’t work, and we had to settle for an ‘mock-cloisters’ tour and talk like everyone else. During this talk, however, we were told that members of the monastery still consume their own beer and have taken to using the internet, so now I am legitimately able to picture a monk drinking a pint and surfing the web.

That the monks aren’t after fame and profits is significant, because it seems that this is the key to producing an outstanding product. Trappist beers have been touted as some of the best in the world, so I purchased a hearty amount and backpacked them home to drink with my dad when he and my mom arrive next week for a visit. Holy beer, I am a good daughter.

*Mirco will shortly be emailed the link to this site. Let the extra credits start a-rolling in. But truly, his beer was delicious.
**Accidental pun. The best kind.


At the Brurie Chocolatiers

The hops grower!

A happy goat

Herve cheese

At Van Hoos restaurant in Halle, where our Belgian classmate Jules worked for 2 years

Mussels and Fries (Moules and Frites) at Van Hoos

Stairway leading up from the Veuve-Cliquot champagne cellars in Reim

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