MOVIES & BOOZE: Some beer for your weekend

Dean McGuinness, the Beer Messiah, reviews Chimay Grande Reserve Oak Aged and La Guillotine

The theme for to-day’s Movies and Booze is both simple and profound – we are looking at Belgian beers, but in particular looking at both the history of Belgian beer and brewing, and how it has contributed to beer culture across the world, and also to the future of Belgian beer, and how the craft brewing movement is starting to influence how Belgian beers are developing and evolving into the future.

Belgian Brewing –

Brewing dates back about 6,000 years. Evidence exists of brewing taking place in ancient civilisations in Sumeria, Mesopotamia and Egypt. However, in the modern world, there are a number of centres around the world that are recognised for both their brewing heritage and for the quality of the beers coming from those countries. Germany, Eastern Europe (Czech Republic in particular), England and Ireland would be included in any short list of countries that is closely associated with quality beer. The emergence of the craft brewing scene in the United States would now qualify the U.S. to be on this short list, but really only for the last few decades. However, many people would argue that the country that combines both brewing heritage, and sheer distinctiveness of beers brewed in terms of range of styles, diversity and beer quality is Belgium.

One could be quite simplistic about it and profile each country in terms of their reputation and contribution to world brewing culture. There is no doubt that England and Germany are steeped in heritage when it comes to brewing. Germany – as founders of the Rheinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Laws) – are famous for enacting the first piece of consumer protection legislation. Any yes, they got their priorities right, because the start and end of this legislation was to ensure that beer drinkers received quality beer at a fair price. Germany is also associated with the origins of the Lager Revolution – a movement which both changed and challenged brewing traditions in this country.

England, likewise, has a proud brewing heritage. There are two things in particular for which England is known – the place where the first brand mark was ever registered (the Bass red triangle), and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. These two factors (Marketing and Mass Production) many would argue further stoked the fire of the Lager Revolution.

So while Germany and England both have long-lasting brewing traditions, developments in both of these countries lead to the emergence of mainstream lagers. This growth in mainstream lagers – driven by global multinational brewing conglomerates – has been the greatest threat to brewing traditions. Stiff competition from large breweries has been the greatest challenge to traditional family brewers who have been looking to maintain their brewing traditions that in many cases date back generations.

Belgium is an exception in many ways. True, the largest brewing corporation in the world, and the brewing company/beer most associated with bland mainstream lager (AB Inbev, and Budweiser respectively) is now based in Belgium. The recent announcement of the intentions of AB Inbev (the largest brewing company in the world) to merge with SAB Miller (the second largest) further puts Belgium at the heart of the globalisation and ‘mainstreamisation’ of beer.

However, in the face of this, traditional Belgian brewers have maintained their culture, heritage and unique identity. No other country can boast such a diverse range of beer styles. Michael Jackson – the Beer Hunter – was a particular fan of Belgian beers, and was responsible for profiling beers in terms of style. His seminal work – The Great Beers of Belgium – is a classic to this day, and has laid the foundations for understanding the wide range and diversity of styles of beer brewed in Belgium.

Belgian brewers have been the birthplace or place of continuance of styles that are more closely associated with other countries. For example, the Porter style (normally associated with England) grows out of the concept of barrel aging of beers that is central to the beer Rodenbach. While porter is now normally brewed using modern brewing techniques, Rodenbach continues to be brewed according to these ancient barrel aging traditions.

Belgians brewers have also broken the mould when it comes to family businesses. The rule of thumb for a family business is that the first generation establishes the business, the second generation builds it, and the third generation causes it to fall apart. It is unusual for businesses to survive beyond three generations in the modern world – if businesses even survive to the point where they are even handed to the next generation at all. When it comes to Belgian Family Brewing concerns, this rule is thrown out the window. It is not unusual to find that many Belgian brewers are now operating in their fifth, sixth or seventh generation of family ownership. In fact, one brewery is now passing its 12th generation of ownership within the same family.

Perhaps it is Belgium’s position as the battlefield of Europe that has lead to this spirit to retain their identity and independence. For both the First and Second World Wars, Belgium found itself located in the firing line between England, France, Russia and Germany. Perhaps it is a five hundred year struggle for Home Rule, during which Belgium existed with various overlords – France, Italy, Spain, Austria, the U.S. and Holland – that has lead Belgium to have an indomitable desire to ensure that their culture and individuality survives. In many cases these overlords returning for a second period in control of Belgium, so finally achieving Independence in 1945 is an endorsement of this spirit.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that Belgian beer reflects a uniqueness, distinctiveness and eccentricity that means their beers stand out across the world. While the first influences in the U.S. craft beer scene were undoubtedly from Germany and England, as the U.S. craft brewing scene has matured, the respect that U.S. brewers pay to Belgian beer styles is becoming evident. Many U.S. brewers are attempting to emulate Belgian styles in the most quirky and unusual of beers that they are brewing.

One thing is certain – the world would be a poorer place without Belgian beer.

The two beers that we are tasting today demonstrate both the heritage and the ‘forward-lookingness’ of Belgian brewing. The first beer – Chimay Grand Reserve Oak Aged – is a fusion of Trappiste traditions with the old art of barrel aging – an art which is fast being revived as a cornerstone of high quality beers in the craft brewing scene. Our second beer demonstrates how Belgian brewers DeHuyghe have fused the Belgian Strong Golden Ale style with the IPA style to deliver a Belgian IPA that is true to both traditions.

Chimay Grand Reserve Oak Aged –

Beer Style - Oak Aged Trappiste Quadrupel
Alcohol by Volume - 10.5% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Chimay
Brewed in - Abbey de Scourmont, Chimay, Belgium

There is a lot of talk about craft beer over the last twenty years. Before this time, the term didn’t really exist. However, in my opinion, Trappiste brewing is possibly the most perfect embodiment of craft brewing. While there is no universally agreed definition as to what craft brewing means, people who appreciate craft beer have a fundamental understanding as to what is at its core. Quality, diversity, choice – these are three ideas that are very central to craft brewing. However, the idea that craft brewers brew for the community, and are not driven by soulless number-crunching accountants/global corporations is also a tenet that many would agree with. Trappiste brewing – where the brewing is conducted completely under the control of Trappiste monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance – is possibly the purest form of brewing for the community. A vow of poverty by the Cistercians ensures that drive for profit will never be the central tenet of their brewing work. Likewise, the commitment by Trappiste breweries that all of their profits will go towards the charitable causes in which the monks are involved further ensures this. All of this together results in a commitment to quality, heritage and tradition that embodies the values of craft brewing.

Chimay Blue was originally brewed as a Christmas beer by the Chimay brewery. However, its popularity worldwide has meant that it is now brewed year round, and has become the most popular of the range of beers brewed by Chimay. In recent years, Chimay has started to oak age their Chimay Grande Reserve (the 750ml bottles of Chimay Blue that can be cellared / aged).

Chimay Grande Reserve Oak Aged is Chimay Blue that has been aged for three to six months in wooden casks. This particular blend of Chimay Grande Reserve has been aged in Chestnut, Oak and Cognac casks.

The overall impression that this beer delivers is one of restrained sophistication. While one would expect it to pack a powerful punch, it does this with a velvet glove – layers of flavours and aroma come through and develop subtly one after the other. Aromas are predominantly sweet – with smooth sweet alcohol, dark fruits caramel and dark malts all in evidence – and oak woodiness emerging as the beer opens up. The first taste of the beer gives flavours of rich dark fruits – raisins, figs, dates - with soft but distinct spiciness developing on the front palate – black pepper combined with chilli peppers. Sweetness comes through as oaky caramel and dark fruit sweetness. There is a background, and distinctly restrained bitterness that provides balance but is very much secondary to the flavour of the beer. Each mouthful of this beer delivers a different array of flavours, and these flavours open and develop with each mouthful.

Chimay Grand Reserve is a beer that will cellar and develop with age for many years to come. While the bottle that we are drinking (bottled in March 2016) has a ‘Best Before Date’ of 2012 (they don’t bother with a month), this is very much a guideline. Experience has shown that Chimay Grand Reserve will develop in character for up to and beyond ten years from bottling. If cellaring this beer, it is important to store it in a cool and dark place.

Different releases of Chimay Grand Reserve will consist of different blends from aging in different barrels. So, not only can one cellar to enjoy how the beer develops over time, cellaring can also be done to allow one to compare different vintages through ‘vertical tastings’.

La Guillotine –

Beer Style - Belgian IPA
Alcohol by Volume - 8.5% a.b.v.
Brewed by - Brewery deHuyghe
Brewed in - Melle, Belgium

De Huyghe is famous for strong golden ales. Delirium Tremens has become world-reknowned as a beer of note from Belgium. La Guillotine was originally brewed to celebrate the anniversary of the French Revolution (hence the name) and is a more modern version of the strong golden ale – brewed in the style of a Belgian IPA.

Aromas of citrus, spice, clove, nutmeg, sweet peach, apricot, pear, white pepper, apple, bread and canid sugar and earthy hop notes come through on the nose with this beer from the noble Saaz, Amarillo and Brewers Gold hops used in this beer. These fruit flavours develop into the taste of the beer, with honey sweetness providing a foundation for Belgian spice and cloves. Crisp noble hop character is very much in evidence from the Saaz. Sweetness is balanced both by spice and by very soft and delicate bitterness in the finish.

The perfect fusion of Belgian tradition and modern interpretations of the IPA style, La Guillotine is a superb beer to taste.

Chimay Oak Aged Grande Reserve available in –

Jus De Vine Off-Licence, Portmarnock, Dublin
Martins Off Licence, Fairview
Drink Store, Manor Street, Dublin
Redmonds of Ranelagh , Dublin
McHughs O/L, Malahide Road, County Dublin
McHughs O/L, Kilbarrack, Dublin
Matson’s Inns, Douglas, Cork
Baggot Street Wines, Dublin
Blackrock Cellars Off Licence, Blackrock, County Dublin
The Wine Centre, U12 Kilkenny Retail Park, Springhill, Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny
Mace SCR, 578 South Circular Road, Dublin 8

Beers from DeHuyghe available in –

Egan's Food and Wine, Portlaoise, Co. Laoise
Joe Smith Bar, Navan, County Meath
The Hole in the Wall, Blackhorse Ave, Dublin 3
Brew Dock, Amiens St Dublin 1
The Dark Horse, Blackrock, Co Dublin
Alfie Byrnes, Conrad Hotel, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2
The 108 Bar, Rathgar Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6
Hollands of Bray, 79 Main Street, Bray, Co. Wicklow
Whelans Wexford St, Dublin 2
Cork's Off-Licence, Terenure Road North, Dublin 6W
Deveneys, Rathmines, Dublin
Gibneys Off-Licence, Malahide, County Dublin
The Comet, Santry, Dublin
The Vintry, Rathgar
The Lord Mayor Pub and Off-Licence, Swords, County Dublin
Martins Off-licence, Fairview, Dublin 3
McCabe's Off-Licence, Blackrock, County Dublin
Drinks Store, Manor St, Dublin 1
Redmond's of Ranelagh, Dublin
Callans Off-licence, Dundalk, County Louth
Sweeney's Wine Merchants, Phibsboro, Dublin
Against the Grain, Wexford St
The Black Sheep, Capel St, Dublin
Holland's, Bray, County Wicklow
Ice Box, Balbriggan, County Dublin
Next Door James St
Probus Wines, Fenian Street, Dublin 2.
The Malthouse, Trim, County Meath
Spar Rathoath
The High Horse, Market Street, Trim, Co. Meath
O'Dwyers Bar, 118 Lower Kilmacud Road, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin
The Beer Market, Christchurch, 13 High Street, Dublin 8
The Beer Trader, 75 York Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
T/A The Coach House, Ballinteer Avenue, Dublin 16
Deveney's of Dundrum, Dundrum, County Dublin
The Bar Tender, Dundalk
Bull & Castle, Christchurch, Dublin
O'Donovan's Off-Licence Group
McHughs O/L, Malahide Road, County Dublin
Molloy's Liquor Store, Tallaght, County Dublin
Molloy's Liquor Store, Clondalkin, County Dublin
Molloy's Liquor Store, Nutgrove Shopping Centre, Dublin
Molloy's Liquor Store, Crumlin, Dublin
Molloy's Liquor Store, Finglas, Dublin
Molloy's Liquor Store, Ballyfermot, Dublin
Molloy's Liquor Store, Clonsilla, County Dublin
McHughs O/L, Kilbarrack, Dublin
The Spirit Store
Molloy's Liquor Store, Leopardstown, County Dublin
O'Brien's Fine Wines, Nationwide
Molloy's Liquor Store, Francis Street, Dublin
Lohan's Next Door Off-Licence, Salthill, Galway
Next Door, Wicklow Town, County Wicklow
Next Door @Donovan's Hotel, Clonakilty, Co. Cork
Worldwide Wines, Dunmore Rd, Waterford
Carry Out stores nationwide
Coolers Off-Licence, Swords Village, County Dublin
Next Door South Circular Road Dublin 8
Bradley's Supermarket, North Main Street, Cork City
1601 Off-Licence, Kinsale, County Cork
Matson's Off-Licences, Douglas and Bandon, Cork
The Bierhaus, 28 Popes Quay, Cork, CO. Cork
The Charcoal Grill, 30 Popes Quay, Cork, Co. Cork
No. 5 Off-Licence, Waterford
The Abbott Ale House, Devonshire Street, Cork
Number 21 Off-Licence, Coburg Street, Cork
Number 21 Off-Licence, Midleton, Cork
Matson's Inns, Douglas, Cork
Next Door @ Shannon Knights, Skycourt, Shannon, Co Clare
Number 21 Off Licence, 2 Park Mews, Charleville, Co. Cork
Number 21 Off-Licence, Ballincollig, Co. Cork
Number 21 Off-Licence, Ashdale House, Blarney, Co. Cork
Sheahan's Off Licence, 14 New Street, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Number 21 Off Licence, The Glen, Waterford, Co. Waterford
Reddy's Off - Licence, 37 Ballybricken, Waterford, Co. Waterford
Mickey Martin's, Limerick
The Mardyke/Porterhouse, Cork
Tom Collins Bar, Limerick
Tom Ryan's Bar, Waterford
Greenhills Hotel, Ennis Road, Limerick
The Counter Dundrum/Suffolk St/Blackrock
T/A Grand Canal Hotel, Grand Canal Street, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
T/A Temple Bar Hotel, 13-17 Fleet Street, Dublin 2
Dwan's Spar, Ballycullen, Dublin 16
Foleys Off-licence, Sligo
Baggot Street Wines, Baggot Street, 17 Upper Baggot Street, Dublin 4
Blackrock Cellars Off-Licence, Blackrock, County Dublin
The Wine Centre, U 12 Kilkenny Retail Park, Springhill, Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny
Donnybrook Fair, 89 Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Mace SCR, 578 South Circular Road, Dublin 8
Sine E, 14-15 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7
L. Mulligans Grocers, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7
Kavanagh's Off-Licence, Dorset Street, Dublin 1
Sky and Ground Wexford
Healys Wicklow
Salt House, Ravens Terrace, Galway, Co. Galway
Oslo Bar, 226 Upper Salthill, Galway
Avenue Restaurant, 1 A Crowe Street, Templebar, Dublin 2
The Waterloo Bar, 36 Upper Baggot Street, Dublin 4