Belgian breakfast

Celebrate the end of Lent with a Trappist ale

During the Lenten season of denial, my thoughts always turn to Father Theodore at the abbey of Chimay, in the Ardennes. He once told me that his fellow Trappists dubbed less rigorous orders of monks "meat eaters". Even the Trappists no longer follow the monastic Lenten diet of "liquid bread" - in other words, beer - but they still enjoy their own product with their meals.

The first time I met Father Theodore, in the mid-1970s, I noticed Pasteur's studies on beer on his bookshelf, and realised I was in the presence of a very serious brewer. Trappists are excused their vow of silence when they discuss their work, and Father Theodore was most voluble in his opinions on water, barley, malt hops and yeast.

At the time, his wonderful beer was unknown outside Belgium. "Now you have found us, we shall deluge the world," he joked as I departed. A few years later, he retired, and subsequently sent me a fax saying that he was bored. I don't know where faxes fit with the vow of silence, and I suspect that a life of devotion to God is not meant to be boring, but it is easy to see how Father Theodore misses the mash- tun and the kettle.

At 83, he still samples a couple of bottles from the day's output each morning. I was at the abbey recently, and joined him for a beer or two. The export manager offered me a third, and Father Theodore said that he, too, could manage another. "I'm not driving," he explained.

Father Theodore particularly enjoys the 8.0 per cent version of Chimay beer, with the white crown-top (Capsule Blanche). Since the 500th anniversary of the town of Chimay, this brew has also appeared in a champagne bottle, labelled Cinq Cents.

It is an especially hoppy beer, and therefore very dry. In either bottling, it is usually served lightly chilled. I have especially enjoyed it in nearby restaurants with escaveche, the peppery pickled trout or eel dish that is a reminder of Belgium's period under Spanish rule.

Perhaps Father Theodore does not monitor quite so closely the maltier, and sweeter, Capsule Rouge (or, in the champagne bottle, Chimay Premiere), at 7.0 per cent. Or the 9.0 per cent Capsule Bleue (Grande Reserve). Or perhaps he was telling God's own truth when he denied my suggestion that these two beers had lost some of their nutmeg and juniper spiciness and complexity.

Despite that misgiving, I still think the Rouge is the perfect Burgundian beer with the game dishes of the Ardennes, and the port-like Bleue with cheese. The monastery's auberge offers it with the monks' Trappist cheese, similar in style to Port Salut, but it is even better with a blue like Roquefort.

Some critics have suggested that a diminution in spiciness came with larger output during the 1980s, as the beers gained a following from London to San Francisco to Tokyo. Although production has not increased in the last few years, a more modern brewery has been installed. Open fermenters have been replaced by taller, closed, vessels. This has undoubtedly influenced the behaviour of the yeast, and the flavour of the beer.

The brewery is now managed by a well-rounded, red-faced, smiling monk who could have been selected by central casting. Many Belgian beers that are not made in abbeys use such figures on their labels to suggest that they are.

This upsets the genuine Trappist breweries: Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren and (across the Dutch border) Schaapskooi. They have been considering sharing a discreet logo on their labels as a seal of authenticity.

Not only are the Trappists concerned to protect their appellation, and worried that the consumer may be confused; they also feel that pictures of beaming monks show a lack of respect for their calling. Some of the monasteries have difficulty in attracting novices, and attribute this to the trivialisation of their image.

In fact, as brewing has grown into a small industry, it has become a demanding pursuit for a monk,competing with the with six or seven daily calls to prayer. The actual beer-making at Chimay is now carried out by two secular brewers. One, Paul Arnott, is a Scot from the brewing town of Alloa, who studied at Nancy on a European Community exchange programme. Lay workers are required to "have a spirit and culture consistent with the community". They need not, however, lead a monastic life. Since going to Chimay, Arnott has become a married man

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments