San Diego Beer week is underway. We haven’t gone to any of the events yet, but at least will be hitting up Urban Solace for the Airdale flight. But in the spirit of celebration – who am I kidding, for the love of good beer we had an import with dinner tonight. Chimay. The blue label (go big or go home, right?).
Borderline obsessive thoughts about beer lead me to reflect on a few things: What the hell is a Trappist? How did the microbrewery rise to such exaltation in San Diego County? and, How in the world did I even come to like beer in the first place? I only have the fortitude to answer two of these questions at the moment.
Fifteen years ago I was barely developing the taste for Chablis. Um, yeah. It might have been in a box. I can’t remember; maybe it’s best that way. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been able to name one good pub. My beer encounters were sadly limited to Natural Ice and Red Stripe. Hang on. Sad is an understatement. It was a tragedy.
Then I met Jack, who introduced me to German wheat beer. It was different. It coated my tongue with a whole array of taste and sensations I had not yet encountered. And I liked it. Spaten became my go-to beer. Hefeweizens from various breweries were heaven on my tongue. Stone, with its snappy, bright and bitter as hell IPAs, worked its way in there, too. A San Diego staple, how could it not. Around the same time I started drinking red wine. Cakebread and Grgich stand out for their lusciousness, and the way they wicked away every bit of moisture from my mouth.
Something was happening, my palette was changing. Not uncommon, according to experts. In fact, bartenders are trained to chose drinks for people by not only asking their flavor preferences, but also by judging how old they are.
Three years in Italy with some of the best wine in the world further adjusted my palette; as did a detour to Prague for some authentic pilsner (brewed by secretive monks no less). When my friend Theo introduced me to Plaza Liquors and Fine Wine in Tucson, I was ready to try something else. This was when and where I fell madly in love with Belgian and Belgian-style beers.
We must have tried 20 different beers in a month’s time span. By the end of it, I was certain that the darker and stronger, the better. That meant “trippel” was one of the first things I looked for on a label, aside from “Belgian” and “Trappist”. Somehow it wasn’t until tonight, gallons of beer beyond Plaza Liquor (a fantastic place to patron if you’re in Tucson), that I asked what was a Trappist in the first place.
They are the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observances.
No? Well, not for me either. La Trappe is a place in France that has a monastery. The Trappist monastic order arose in the 1600s as a protest and response to the lax and liberal ways that had inundated many abbeys. Seeking something more substantial, Benedict’s principals sang to the Trappist and have guided their order for over 400 years.
Alive and preaching in the 500s, Benedict’s words (presumably) and beliefs are still inspiring monks and nuns. At the core are three tenets: stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience. Achievement of the three tenets is helped by silence. Combine this with the 48th chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which states “for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands”, and you have a recipe for divinely inspired brew masters. Enter Chimay, the largest and most productive (over 3 million gallons of beer sold each year) of seven monasteries in the world authorized to label their brew as “Trappist”.
Any post on San Diego microbreweries requires more research. Hands on, of course.