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Tippler Does Belgium ....Chimay visit De Koninck click here or Brussels Bars click here

The Abbey Habit

Now working in Belgium for an English-language magazine, Tippler is ideally placed to carry on his love of beer. Here he visits the Belgian town of Chimay and the abbey of Scourmont, where Trappist monks brew some of the best beer in the world

Chimay is among only six....

The first taste of a glass of Chimay trappist beer, back in England a dozen or so years ago, planted the idea of one day visiting the famous abbey brewery and nearby town. So, now living in Belgium, I grabbed the chance.

For the uninitiated, Chimay is among only six beer labels in the world that can genuinely call itself 'trappist' and sport a logo to that effect on its bottles. All are brewed in Belgium, the other five being Westmalle, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren and Achel. Dutch beer La Trappe once shared the distinction but is no longer brewed under the supervision of monks.The nectar itself is created in a surprisingly hi-tech plant to the rear of the Cistercian abbey of Scourmont-lez-Chimay, close to the French border.

...a longish monk's hike....

The abbey can be found a few short car miles (or a longish monk's hike) from the picturesque town after which its most famous product takes its is not-so-grand but charming in a rural, off-the-beaten-track kind of way. Under the shadow of a church and dotted with terrace cafes and restaurants, it's a perfect place to eat, drink and soak up the atmosphere on a hot summer's day.

The natives are friendly - helping to create the ideal location for ordering a bottle of rouge, bleu or triple, pouring it gently into a deliciously rounded Chimay glass (at the correct angle, of course, to leave the beer's sediment in the bottom of the bottle) and absorbing the following bit of historyŠ

...the Order of Strict Observance....

The monks of Scourmont follow the doctrines of a celebrated and, indeed, sainted sixth century monk called Benedict. Six centuries after him the monastery of Citeaux was founded in Burgundy. From that monastery we get the term Cistercian. Later, the 17th century monks of La Grande Trappe in Normandy started to go in for austerity in a big way - it caught on, and from that came the Order of Strict Observance, or Trappist Order of monks.

Scourmont itself is relatively young - just 151 years old on July 25th, in fact. On that day a bunch of Trappists from Westvleteren, near Ypres, set about clearing a piece of land donated by the Prince of Chimay in order to farm it. This they did, selling any excess foodstuffs to the locals and, along the way, eventually building a simple but stunning abbey which now brews some of the best beers in existence and incorporates a cheese-making plant.

...millions of BF every year into social projects....

The manual tasks involved in these industries tie in beautifully with the ethics of the monks and, so successful have they been, that the monks of Scourmont are now, directly and indirectly, the biggest employers in the Chimay region. Crucially, too, they have decision-making seats on the company board and put millions of BF every year into social projects both here and abroad.

While the monks spend most of their time in prayer, study and the quest for God, they dedicate a few hours each day to making sure that the food and beer industries run smoothly enough to support themselves, various foundations in India, Wales and the Congo and local social aid programmes. It's pretty impressive and stirring stuff and makes the beer - brilliant though it undoubtedly is - almost pale into insignificance.

Except of course that the beer (and the cheese) is hugely significant. Were the monks less successful at brewing then their ability to fund projects and keep the area prosperous would be curtailed dramatically. Hence the ultra-modern, hi-tech brewery gear that sits, somewhat incongruously it must be said, alongside the abbey. To be honest, the sight of habit-clad monks wandering the cloisters alongside laboratory techie-types can be a bit odd. Enough to drive you to drink, in some cases (ie mine - but fortunately I was in the right place).

...celibate monks whacking back gallons of bleu....

And while we're on the subject of drink - yes, the monks do occasionally sample their own beer, but it's a much lighter version that's, sadly, not available at all good retailers. Hence my pre-visit vision of dozens of God-fearing and celibate monks whacking back gallons of bleu every night proved to be merely a nightmare brought on by too much good Chimay cheese before bedtime.

But I digress: the first beer produced at Scourmont saw the light of day in 1862 and was sold in 75 CL corked bottles. By 1948 it was available in 33 CL capped bottles. A coppery-brown beer weighing in at 7% alcohol by volume, it's the monks' most famous product - exported across the world. Also in 1948 came the dark-coloured bleu, at a hefty 9%. It was originally brewed as a Christmas beer and back then, as now, was not for the faint-hearted. Then again, as all Chimay products use only natural ingredients, at least the subsequent hangovers are, um, wholesome ones. This beer is a 'vintage' by the way, and will improve over several years.

The last of the Scourmont Holy Trinity to arrive was the golden-coloured triple, introduced in 1966 by the Reverend Father Theodore. It's a light beer (ha ha - it's 8%!) with a lovely aroma of fresh hops and a hint of muscat. All three Chimay beers are brewed using the top fermentation method and are neither filtered nor pasteurised.

...sample the delights of Scourmont and Chimay....

But beer aside, you can still sample the delights of Scourmont and Chimay even if you're teetotal. Visitors to the abbey are allowed into the grounds, with the sun dappling the pathways through leafy trees, a stunning silence that is in some ways more startling than any noise, and exquisite floral smells. Scourmont's peacefulness is both humbling and uplifting - broken only by the occasional lorry pitching up to transport beer to the bottling plant in nearby Baileux or the even rarer footfalls of a strolling monk. Quite frankly, if you're ever going to get religion, this place is as good as any and better than most.

Oh yes, and the beer's not bad....

The brewery itself, being housed alongside a deeply religious order, is off limits to casual visitors. But modern brewing plants - even those in abbeys - are all pretty much the same these days, lots of stainless steel mash tuns and people in white coats pushing buttons. The abbey and the town are the best bits. Oh yes, and the beer's not bad, or so they tell meŠCheers!


Visit another Belgium brewery with Tippler click here for De Koninck


Click below to find out about 21 of Brussels Best Bars...


Carpe Diem Café


Fabian O' Farrell's

L'Amour Fou

Le Trappiste

Fat Boy's

Mini Louise

Tierra del Fuego

L'Ultime Atome

Matonge, Ixelles

Le Booze 'n' Blues


The Crow

Le Fourquet

Le Stoemelings


L'Horloge du Sud

Le Bier Circus

O' Reilly's

The Bank

Here are a few UK York pubs......
The Maltings

The Blue Bell

The Three Cranes

The Roman Bath

The Snickleway Inn

The Royal Oak

The Red Lion

Blackmail Corner....what did you get up to last night....could it be you?


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