NEIL MILLER gets converted to an ancient religious order. Of beer, that is. (Oh, and he sees the light, too).
While today I am known as a hop fiend with a love for IPAs greater than the fire of a thousand suns, it was actually Belgian beers which took me away from my initial beer trajectory of Tui corporate drone.
The venue for my enlightenment was the excellent Leuven Belgian Beer Café on Featherston Street in Wellington. It is still there today, and rightly so. Initially, I quaffed hexagonal glasses of Hoegaarden with buckets of mussels, but then I discovered the Trappist beers, and all bets were off.
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The iconic Oxford Companion To Beer later filled me in about Trappist ales:
“They are produced within the walls of the monastery. The monastic community determines the policies and provides the means of production. The profits are primarily intended to provide for the needs of the community or for social services.”
Each is top-fermented, unpasteurised, contains no chemical additives, adds sugar to the wort in the kettle, and is bottle conditioned.
“I quaffed hexagonal glasses of Hoegaarden with buckets of mussels, but then I discovered the Trappist beers, and all bets were off.”
At the time I was just “what the heck did I just put in my mouth and why does it taste so divine?” That first sip of Chimay Cinq Cents radically changed my beer trajectory and my career trajectory.
You really have to admire a brewery whose mission statement is: “Here, in this heaven of peace and silence where since 1850 Trappist monks have dedicated their lives to God, beer and cheeses are made which in themselves gladden the heart of man.” This is the brewery known around the world as Chimay (properly Notre-Dame de Scourmont or Our Lady of Scourmont).
“Since 1850 Trappist monks have dedicated their lives to God, beer and cheeses”
It was ordained that beer and cheese go together. You can be assured it is easy because the pictures are of the two platters I made myself. Therefore, it must be idiot-proof. But rest assured that these ale and fromage combinations have delighted no less than Chef Martin Bosley, New Zealand’s Culinary Sexy Beast (Trademark Pending).
My favourite of the range is Chimay White (8%), the first and one of the best Tripels I have ever tried. It is heavily hopped (by Belgian standards) with the resulting bone-dry golden ale showcasing notes of muscat, juicy raisin, salt, apple and a champagne mouthfeel. I have matched it with a washed rind cheese, the style of cheese the monks make alongside it. The tomatoes were added by my fiancé. They were not harmed in the photoshoot though the beer, cheese and bread did not make it through lunch.
The dark beer is Chimay Blue (9%), easily the most critically acclaimed Chimay. It has notes of chocolate, caramel, prunes, vanilla, funky yeast, smoke, and brown sugar. I initially described it as “like motor-boating a vat of decadent dark chocolate.” Still not sure about whether to be proud or appalled at that descriptor. It is matched with a funky blue cheese which has been out of the fridge for hours. It makes a huge difference.
I have used this combination in nearly a hundred beer and cheese matchings, but never quite figured out the soundbite about why they work so well together. They do – I have seen people who don’t like dark beer love the combination, people who don’t like blue cheese love the combination, and even people who don’t like either, enjoy the result when they dare to try the combination. It truly is a match greater than the sum of its parts.
The best I came up with was a “crocodile death roll of flavour combinations”. The cheese makes the beer taste sweeter and smoother, while the ale embraces the big combative flavours of the cheese in a loving embrace. Am I right? You will have to try it to find out.
Beer and cheese gladden the heart of this man.
But I do still have the Tui couch… and the Tui television set though…