Kenyans should taste beer from Belgium, but drink it with wisdom
Posted Thursday, May 31 2012 at 19:20
On a chilly October evening, two students from Burundi invited me out for a drink to celebrate my arrival at Louvain-la-Neuve. We went to one of the many pubs on campus where they insisted on selecting a beer for me.
They chose a Chimay Bleu and drank something else themselves. I took to the taste of this dark, bitter ale— which made me mellow and seemed to improve my French— and very unwisely ordered a second one.
Only when we got up to leave did I discover that while I still had my mental faculties, my legs had completely disowned me; in short, I was legless but fully able to appreciate the aptness of that expression.
Needless to say, my two new friends found my predicament hilarious.
Chimay Bleu contains nine per cent alcohol by volume and is one of four types of beers that have been brewed by Trappist monks in the Chimay region since 1862.
In 1876, the monks started producing a variety of cheeses—some flavoured with Chimay beer—and have maintained and increased the production with milk sourced from a local cooperative of dairy farmers.
Both products are exported around the world with a large slice of the profits going to charity and community development in the region, the rest being used to finance the monastery and support the monastic community.
There are only eight Trappist monasteries in the world where monks brew beer as they lead contemplative, peaceful and silent lives.
The six located in Belgium are having difficulties satisfying increasing demand as they are unable to expand production within the monasteries while the beers would lose their Trappist label if produced elsewhere.
But the Trappist monks aren’t the only ones doing the brewing; with at least 680 different types of beers varying in strength from 0.25 per cent to 12 per cent alcohol by volume, Belgium has to be the beer capital of the world and, despite reports of its imminent death following the smoking ban that was extended to all bars last July, the Belgian pub culture remains very much alive.
Pubs in Belgium are woven into the very fabric of community life, acting as a sort of social club where friends meet for a drink and a gripe against politicians, to watch football or celebrate a milestone in life.
The gastro-pub in my neighbourhood is conveniently located just a few meters down the road from the local church and a few doors away from the local funeral parlour and is often a venue for celebrating couples and grieving relatives.
It once served the last supper to a very elderly lady who partook of Jean-Marie’s excellent cuisine, closed her eyes and gently expired.
It is this pub culture that has spawned the Belgian Beer Cafés to be found in Europe, Asia, North America, the Middle-East and even as far as New Zealand.
The cafés serve Belgian beers and cuisine in a setting resembling a typical Belgian pub.