CHIMAY TRAPPIST ALES: Our 30-YEAR TRIBUTE

In the summer of 1983, I discovered Chimay Trappist ales for the very first time.  The summer of 2014 will actually be 31 years that I have been enjoying Chimay Ales. This means that for over half of my life, I have experienced, savored, and cherished these wonderful beers inspired by GOD these past 367 months. I have savored these ales nearly 1000 times. Each moment, each event, each occasion where there was Chimay available, was always made special. Even in a time of extreme loss, a Chimay Trappist ale was there- I’ll explain more about that later.

I have had many beers over these past 3 decades. I have had all of the Trappist Ales, with the exception of Zundert, Stift-Engelzell, Spencer (the very newest beer from the United States bearing the famous Trappist logo) and Chimay’s latest release to the public: Chimay Doree. Once we are able to get Chimay Doree in our area, we will review it.

If someone decreed the extreme extent over me of, “You are only allowed to have beers from ONE BREWERY ONLY in the world from this point on” my choice would immediately be CHIMAY. In my opinion, the Trappist ales from Chimay are the most unique- with the execption of Orval (also coming in a future review). The beers from the other Trappist breweries, as excellent and world class level as they are, (again with the exception of Orval) have somewhat similar flavor profiles. I can profess here with the utmost certainty, that if I was placed in a blind tasting of let’s say, all of the Trappist Quadrupels (Abt’s), I could identify Chimay Grande Reserve out of the panel.

So now that you have an idea of my love, admiration and respect for Chimay Trappist Ales, I will do my best to articulate what these treasures from the hand of GOD have meant to me, and why they have a special place in my heart.

A (SOMEWHAT) BRIEF HISTORY OF CHIMAY

The abbey of Chimay, (or more formally known as Abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourmont) was born when a local priest persuaded Prince Joseph II of Chimay to convert barren land in the area and build a house of GOD; an abbey. In July 1850, ten monks from the abbey of St. Sixtus (Westvleteren) came to clear the undeveloped land and perform major landscaping. With no real “modern” equipment available to perform this monumental task, it has been said that the brothers of St. Sixtus endured a hard road. However, since a monk does all of his work for the Glory of GOD, I believe this is what spoke to their spirit, and helped them complete the task- (1.Philippians 4:13). By 1862, the first beers were being brewed at the abbey.

In his 1989 video from the series, “The Beer Hunter” (Episode: “Our Daily Beer, Part 2” see video below) the late, great beer writer Michael Jackson states: “The term Trappist Beer was first used by the monastery of Chimay across the border in Belgium… (this is in reference to the Abbey of La Trappe in Holland) Originally the beer was reserved for the monks and their guests, but in the 1860’s, Chimay became the first Trappist monastery to release its beer to a grateful public.”

However when I read the most excellent article written by my friend at I THINK ABOUT BEER.com titled, “The Brewing Monks: The Eight Trappist breweries- Part 1” beer writer Christopher Barnes states that Abdij der Trappisten van Westmalle: “The work on the brewery began in 1834 and was completed in 1836. The first beer was served on December 10, 1836 at lunch. The first beer was described as rather sweet but light in alcohol. In 1856, they added a stronger dark beer, which is believed to be the first ever Dubbel to be brewed. At this time, the monastery started to sell their beer at their gate to the local community.” His statement “At this time…” does that mean that Westmalle was the first to offer their beers to the public in 1856, or is more clarification needed as to what the actual year was that Westmalle offered their beers to locals? Or is Michael Jackson correct in his video statement? I have performed research on this subject, and could not find a conclusive answer. I can say this- Mr. Barnes’s well written article is one of the most detailed on the subject on Trappist beers that I have found on the internet today. Many of my books from Michael Jackson on the beers of Belgium have been lost several years ago unfortunately, and I have not replaced them as of yet to re-reference any articles Mr. Jackson wrote. Plus, I don’t own an iPad or a Kindle…

JEAN DE CLERCK AND FATHER THEODORE HELP SHAPE CHIMAY TRAPPIST ALES

Fast forward to the mid years of WWII. After the Nazis had plundered and occupied Belgium, the monks could not return to their way of life until the allied troops liberated Belgium in September 1944. (WWII ended entirely one year later.) When the monks returned to the monastery, it was in shambles. During the period of restoration, the abbey tried to begin brewing again- with very poor results. As beer writer Christopher Barnes of I THINK ABOUT BEER.com writes in his article, “The Brewing Monks: The Eight Trappist Breweries- Part 2”: “The monks began working on reviving the monastery and their brewery. Unfortunately, the beers they were producing were of poor quality and 80% were being returned and being described as “ropey.” The brewery had an infection! Most likely it was a pediococcus bacteria infection, which can cause rope like goo in beer. The monks had a hard decision to make: stop making beer or radically change what they were doing.”

The Abbot of the monastery appointed Belgian brewing scientist Jean De Clerck to help with re-developing the Chimay Trappist Ales. De Clerck decided that a capable person was needed to oversee the operations of the new brewery to be set up. The Abbot decided to elect Father Theodore to be the individual who would take on this task. Father Theodore attended brewing science classes at the University of Leuven (Louvain).

In 1948, Father Theodore (along with a colleague of Jean De Clerck) started to develop and isolate the now famous yeast strain that resurrected the Chimay Trappist ales. Father Theodore states in the “Our Daily Beer Part 2” video (see above): “I isolated a single yeast cell…. and with Benedictine patience…” The work that Father Theodore did in 1948 is the same yeast strain that the brewery uses today. NOTE: I contacted the brewery around 2000 or 2001(?) to obtain general information about the brewery. I also made a general inquiry about Father Theodore since we had read an article from Michael Jackson at the time that Father Theodore was no longer enjoying good health. The brewery had told me that Father Theodore had passed on, and was enjoying his home at rest in Heaven.

CHIMAY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Today because of Father Theodore’s work and his vision on transforming the financially struggling region were the monastery was based, Chimay is now one of the largest employers in the region with 200 + employees that are well paid, and with benefits. The brewery is extremely modernized with the latest in brewing technology and equipment. None of the actual monks have actual hands-on involvement in the brewing process any longer, however the brewery is still under close supervision by them. Chimay is by far one of the most financially successful of all the Trappist breweries with world-wide distribution, and year-round availability.

HOW I DISCOVERED CHIMAY TRAPPIST ALES

As I have mentioned before, I discovered Chimay Trappist Ales in the summer of 1983. How I discovered them was I believe, a Divine Appointment from GOD. I visited Liquor Barn in Dublin, California seeking out a new beer to try. Looking over the shelves, I was not having much luck. What I was finding were Dopplebocks, Hefe Weisens, Lagers, etc. And then… there it was. What looked like a bottle from Holy Grail times, I found sitting on a shelf all by itself- a 750 ML corked bottle of Chimay Premiere! I was immediately drawn to it; the red label simply said, CHIMAY PERES TRAPPISTES. In those days, there was no government warning label, the language on the front and back label was in French or Flemish.

What I did see was the little illustration of what glass to properly serve it in and at what temperature. So I took extreme care of handling this Chimay Trappist ale- I kept it out of light and away from heat.

THE MOMENT OF THE FIRST TASTE

I remember the month being either June or July in 1983, because it was right after my friend graduated from high school. We were watching soccer games on a Mexican TV station- ESPN was not broadcasting games from Europe at that time. I remember the Mexican broadcaster yelling, ”PLATINI-PLATINI-PLATINI…GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!” (Referring to French Soccer player Michel Platini). Upon removing the bottle of Chimay from my bag, my friend’s dad said, “Where did you get that beer?? I have not seen it since I was in Europe in WWII!!” Knowing the history of how the monastery of Chimay was ransacked during WWII, how he was able to actually drink a Chimay during the war must have been a bottle that somehow made itself available in the black market. I never found out that fact to be certain- I am only speculating now.

We found plain open-mouthed goblets to try this Chimay Trappist ale, because that’s what the label on the back said to do! We also tried it for the first time at the correct temperature. We all went to the outside patio to observe its color and clarity in the glass. I remember the day being sunny and warm. So upon opening the bottle and hearing the cork “pop” for the first time, we immediately knew we were in for a treat! Out of the bottle poured a beautiful murky brown liquid with a dense, thick, off-white head. I had never seen a beer like this before in my life. You could actually “hear” the fizzy carbonation and effervescence as the beer was poured. I remember learning from Michael Jackson’s book, (The World Guide to Beer) on how to sample and drink beer. So first- smelling the aroma. The bouquet was incredible! I remember smelling a wonderful aroma of fresh yeast, and a Heavenly combination of chocolate with a unique fruitiness. And then… the moment of truth- THE TASTE. BAM! What a revelation. I remember the sparkling feel in my mouth from the bottle conditioning that left me speechless. I remember the taste being of chocolate and apricots, with a gentle hop bitterness to it. I could not get enough. From that point, I knew that Chimay beer would be my favorite.

As time passed in the 80’s, I discovered that Chimay had two other ales available: Chimay Cinq Cents (White Cap / Tripel) and Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue Cap / Quadrupel) I had enjoyed all of them on numerous life occasions- weddings, picnics, dinners, vacations, holidays, various family gatherings, and many more. I introduced countless individuals to Chimay Trapppist ales. The 1990’s found me working in the beer industry for various companies, (one such company I worked for distributed Chimay in Seattle, WA). I also volunteered at countless beer festivals including: the Seattle International Beer Festival, and numerous times at the KQED International Beer and Food festival at the Concourse Pavilion in San Francisco. The KQED beer festival was always my favorite. The booth that Chimay would display was always a crowd favorite. (In early 1990, KQED was the TV station in the San Francisco Bay Area that broadcast Michael Jackson’s THE BEER HUNTER series. I recorded it on a VHS tape… sadly, that tape is long gone.)

PRESENTING THE MAIN MONSIGNOR OF ST. MICHAEL’S CHURCH IN LIVERMORE, CALIFORNIA WITH A CHIMAY GRANDE RESERVE (Jumping forward in my personal history a bit)

While living in Livermore, California for most of my life and being raised Catholic (now I am a member of an Evangelical church), I had ties with our Catholic church (St. Michael’s Parish) before I left the San Francisco East Bay. In 2002, the church was holding a dinner at its parish hall in honor of one of its longest serving members, Monsignor Robert G. Adams.

I had known Mosnignor Adams since I was a child. He was the one who baptized me as a baby, I went through catechism, received my confirmation all through St. Michael’s church- with Monsignor Adams at the helm. My personal relationship with him spanned 38 years at the point of his honorary dinner in 2002.

I decided that I would present Monsignor Adams with a bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve. I had approached him at his table and congratulated him on his many decades of service to GOD. And then I presented him with the Holy ale. I explained a brief history about Trappist Monasticism, and ales being brewed in the Trappist (Cistercian) order in Belgium and Holland. He was very grateful to be given such (in his words) “A treasured beer.” He humbly told me that he was very familiar with the way Trappist monks gave their lives for the purpose of serving GOD.

I opened up the pages to Michael Jackson’s book, THE GREAT BEERS OF BELGIUM and showed him the pages regarding Trappist ales, the associated monasteries and breweries. Immediately his attention was captured (along with the other priests sitting with him) on the pictures in the book. He made a comment on one of the pictures that depicted a monk enjoying a Trappist ale from a open-mouthed goblet. I remember his comment: “Now that’s a cheery monk!”

After my 10 minutes with Monsignor Adams on that day, he thanked me for the wonderful gift, and told me he would enjoy it after his time in reflection and prayer. Monsignor Adams went to be home in Heaven on January 26, 2010 at the age of 90.

INTRODUCING MY DAD TO CHIMAY TRAPPIST ALES

In the mid 80’s, I entered the wonderful work world of residential landscape maintenance and started a business with my dad. I knew he was a beer drinker, and I introduced him to Chimay Trappist ales (to the best of my memory) around 1987(?) He immediately loved the taste. And like me, his favorite was the Grande Reserve. I remember several occasions where we would finish our work day, purchase a bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve at the local beer shop, and then head to our work equipment storage unit. We’d put our equipment away, and then open the bottle of Chimay and split it between us.

Our conversations ranged from topics of the LORD Jesus Christ, women, politics, music, life, and of course, work. I was an absolute terrible, rebellious teenager and treated my parents horribly. My dad took the great leap of faith going into business with me, knowing how I was as a person back then. The times that we had our talks over a shared bottle of Chimay were ones that helped me reconcile my relationship with my dad. That is a period of time I will never forget.

THE MOST IMPACTFUL MEMORIES OF MY DAD AND CHIMAY

New Year’s Eve, 1998 (heading into 1999) my brother-in-law and my sister had an outrageous party at their home in Livermore, California. All of our family and relatives from Southern California were in attendance. I remember loading up with beers from Belgium to enjoy while at the party, Chimay being no exception. There was an English pub in Livermore named the UK Café where we used to enjoy a chalice of Chimay from time to time. (I was fortunate to help develop their beer list before they opened up) My cousin’s husband Gabe and my dad left the party to go to the UK Café, because my dad wanted to listen to live Celtic music. My brother-in-law Chris and I soon followed after to join them. The rest of the family stayed behind at the party to socialize.

Arriving at the UK Café, I found my dad with a bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve in one hand and the Chimay chalice in his other hand eager to surprise his son. That sight brought tears to my eyes, because of all I had put my dad through in my life, and how we had reconciled over the years leading up to that moment was impactful. It was his way of showing me his love and forgiveness. (Luke 15:22-24) We all stayed at the UK Café until Midnight. At that moment, they turned all the lights down, had only candles lit and a Scottish bagpipe player in full ancient kilt dress played Auld Lang Syne on the bagpipes to ring in 1999.

As the world welcomed in the new millennium, I noticed a change in my dad’s demeanor. In early January 2000, my dad and I were enjoying lunch at a local park in a neighborhood where we were working. We purchased sandwiches at Nob Hill Foods in Livermore along with 2 small bottles of Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue Cap). As we were eating, my dad’s conversation became very retrospective. He just looked at me and said, “I’ve lived a good and long life. There’s 2 ways I would want to go.” He described one way, which was very private (out of respect I will not mention here) and the second he described with a pint of Chimay in his hand. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he knew he was not long for his time on earth, and could sense his Heavenly Father calling him home. My response was, “I understand” and left it at that.

The night of January 27, 2000 is one that shook me to my core. I received a call that late evening from my sister stating that “they took dad to the hospital in an ambulance.” My dad suffered a massive heart attack. My sister said that when the ambulance came to pick him up, he was still alive, fighting for his life. As we got to Valley Memorial hospital in Pleasanton, California, we were told to wait in the ER lobby. That’s when all of us heard the heart scope flat line. At the age of 74, my dad at that moment had gone home to be with Jesus in Heaven. I tear up as I write this, because nothing more impactful in my life has ever happened than having my dad pass away from this life. (The only other exceptions were when I met my beautiful wife in 2006, and married her in 2007, and (most impactful) when I gave my life to the LORD Jesus Christ in 2004.)

The day of my dad’s funeral, there were almost 500 people in attendance at St. Michael’s Church in Livermore. He had positively impacted so many people in his lifetime in the local Livermore community. He was gregarious, fun loving, a great dad, and loved the San Francisco Giants, the San Francisco 49ers, and his Chimay Trappist ale!

After the ceremony at his burial site was over and done, I went back to visit my dad and have some alone time with him. With a small bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve in my hand, I said my final goodbyes to him. I did the Austin Powers thing and poured the entire bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve over his tombstone and said in the first pour, “One for me” and in the second pour, “One for my home boy.”

Shortly after my dad’s passing, the UK Café closed the pub to the public in honor of my dad. I and other people he knew had Chimay Grande Reserve to remember him. Sadly, the UK Café in Livermore, California closed in 2004(?) due to very poor management, and its owners from England, returned back to their home country. It is now The Riata Diner and Tavern. I have never been inside the Riata and have no plans to ever visit it.

The 14th anniversary of my dad’s going home to Heaven is on January 27th. I wanted to complete this tribute in time to honor that. You can bet that I will drink a Chimay Grande Reserve in his honor on that day.

These accounts are the reasons why Chimay Trappist ales will have a special place in my heart and will forever. If you would be so kind, the next time you enjoy a Chimay Trappist ale, would you raise a toast to my dad (his name was Frank) and wish him cheers? He’s part of the great cloud of witnesses in heaven, and will thank you. I know I will each and every time I have a Chimay. Someday I will see him again. Here’s to you dad… I miss you very much and I love you. CHEERS!

NEXT: OUR BREWVIEW OF CHIMAY PREMIÈRE (RED CAP)

CHIMAY IMAGES PAGE LINK

6 thoughts on “CHIMAY TRAPPIST ALES: Our 30-YEAR TRIBUTE

  1. Christopher Barnes says:

    What a wonderful post and tribute to Chimay and your father! This is why beer is more than just beverage and why people like us love it so much.

    As for Michael Jackson, he was at the forefront of the world beer revival and thus the information available to him wasn’t always the most accurate. If you read his writings on various subjects over the years, he often changes what he said in the past or contradicts himself. He was there for the early days as people and information was involving. Most early MJ quotes should be taken with a grain of salt, not because he was making stuff up, but just because he was operating with the best information at the time which has continued to develop.

    Thanks for quoting and linking to my pieces on the Trappists. The Brewing Monks has been a hugely fun project and will continue as an ongoing feature.

    Great Post, Gordon!

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