Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: Preface

A pastoral interlude

Way back in the 1960s Malcolm was plonked down in the valley of the Semois, just inside the Belgian border from France. This was a good thing, for it was comfortably adjacent to the Trappist monastery of Orval. Moreover, Orval is located in the far south, in the province of Namur, adjacent to Luxembourg. Down here they enjoy their food: sausages and game, washed down with Moselle wine (the cheaper varieties flavoured by fruit liquers). So Orval (and one other great Trappist brewery, of which more anon) are a good deed in a naughty world.

If there is a beer-topers' heaven, Malcolm discovered it forty-odd years ago. It involves Orval beer, Orval cheese, being young, no worries, on a warm summer's day, snoozing in long grass beside the Semois.

Any visit to Belgium, Malcolm decided, must celebrate that afternoon and start with a bottle of Orval. So Malcolm inaugurated that personal tradition. As Tim Webb suggests, the pressures of modern commerce mean that the Orval brew is not quite the same artisanal product it was those four decades ago, when Malcolm first encountered it. Now, for example, Orval seem to prefer a goblet to that rough, orange earthenware mug Malcolm purchased as the Abbey (and still has). Orval has an alcohol content over 6%. Like most good Belgian beers it therefore demands gentle sipping, rather than sloshing. There is a sharpness of hops, but less bitter than, say, English north-country beers.

The smoking issue

Malcolm reckons that the greatest difference to his social life in recent years is the ability to escape from a session in a pub without being kippered by nicotine fumes.

The Belgians have not quite reached the same level of civilisation. In Belgium, each establishment advertises its policy on the weed at the point of entry. It is easy, therefore, to avoid second-hand smoke. It is a system which works.

Then for some hard drinking

Now there are two ways of coping with this:
  • flit from drinking hole to drinking hole, sipping from as many founts as possible;
  • find a perch or two, and return regularly.
At his advancing age and after years in which he has gained some limited discretion, Malcolm now leans to the latter.


Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: draining Leuven dry
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