Drinking The Beer The Monks Drank

Important news from Belgium for beer lovers — the monks of Grimbergen Abbey have managed to piece together long-lost information about the ingredients and methods used to brew their different beers going back in the Middle Ages, and have started to brew beer again.  The rediscovery of the recipe is a kind of historical detective story where language plays a key role.

rtx6vw88The story starts with the monks of the abbey, who like other monks of the Middle Ages, brewed, and enjoyed, beer.  (In fact, some monks fasted during Lent and drank only specially brewed beer that was a kind of liquid bread during that period — which probably made for an interesting Lenten season.)  The Grimbergen Abbey brews were known far and wide, and their ingredients and the methods used by the monks were set down in books first written in the 12th century.  The monks continued to brew their beer, changing their recipes periodically, until 1798, when French Revolutionaries, who were no friends to religion, burned the monastery to the ground.  The 1798 incident is one of three times that the monastery has burned down.

But the monks of Grimbergen Abbey are resolute.  Fortunately, some of the monks rescued the 12th-century books and stored them, but the recipes and methods were thought to be lost because no one could read the writing, which was in a mixture of old Latin and old Dutch.  Four years ago, the monks at the monastery decided to tackle the problem and invited volunteers from the community to help them in trying to decipher the writings.  Together they were able to identify ingredient lists, the types of hops and bottles and barrels that were used, and even the names of the different beers the monks brewed over the centuries.

Now the monks, in partnership with Carlsberg which offers a number of the Abbey’s previously known beers for sale, have built a new microbrewery on the site of the original brewery and have started to brew a beer based on some of the old recipes and methods.  It’s a heady brew — 10.8% alcohol, by volume — and will be sold by the glass in Belgium and France.

A toast to the indomitable beer-loving monks of Grimbergen Abbey, and the volunteers who helped them to recover a bit of liquid history!

Pretentious, Indeed

The Doc Next Door knows I like sour beers, so when he and Mrs. Doc came over for a visit last night, he brought along four assorted sours he picked up at the Pretentious Barrel House. The bottles are a bit pretentious, I suppose — they hold 8.45 ounces and are shaped like tiny champagne bottles — and with handles like Grandiloquent and Magnanimous the beer names are, too. But the beers really aren’t. The Grandiloquent, which I enjoyed last night, was a great, mouth-puckering, as sour as sour can be effort, and today’s Magnanimous is a bit fuller-bodied and less tooth-curdling . . . the perfect beer to sip and savor along with Tiger Woods’ improbable Masters triumph.

Pretentious? I’ve never thought of making tasty beer as pretentious, but who am I to argue with brewers who produce these kinds of results?

Debunking Drinking Wisdom

Shortly after I passed the legal drinking age and started drinking adult beverages, I first heard the aphorism “wine, then beer, and have no fear.”  Some years later, I heard the flip side:  “beer, then wine, and I feel fine.”  The idea behind each of the sayings — which are seemingly contradictory, in case you hadn’t noticed — was that if you sequenced what you drank, you could avoid a hangover.

wineandbeerAre either of the sayings true?

No, of course not . . . and now a study has confirmed it.  Researchers from the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom — two countries, incidentally, that are very serious about their wine and beer — studied whether the sequence in which alcoholic beverages are consumed might affect how people who overindulge feel the next day.  One group drank beer, then wine, and another drank wine, then beer.  A third, control group drank only one or the other.

The study found that the drinking sequence made no difference in the hangover impact.  One of the researchers explained: “The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover. The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”  (No kidding!)

And get this:  another of the researchers makes the dubious argument that hangovers actually can have positive effects.  He stated: “Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least: They are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior. In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes.”  Boy, scientists are perverse, aren’t they?

I’d never argue that hangovers are a good thing, but I do know this — any perceived folk wisdom about drinking that rhymes and is capable of being remembered after a few drinks probably isn’t that wise after all.

All Beers Are Not Created Equal

Deutsche Bank has performed a useful service for travelers who enjoy a fermented beverage now and then:  its latest Mapping The World’s Prices report includes a pint of beer as one of the cost items being surveyed.  As a result, beer fans (like me) can get a sense of the comparative cost of a glass of suds in 50 different cities around the world.

save-pubs-hed-page-2018According to this year’s report, the most expensive pint is in Dubai, in the Arab Emirates, where the average cost of a cold one is $12.  Oslo, Norway is the only other city to exceed the $10 barrier for a brewski.  The most expensive beers in the U.S. are found in New York City and San Francisco — no surprise there — where you’ll pay an average of $7.70 and $7.40, respectively, and Boston isn’t far behind at $6.70.  The cheapest pint can be found in Manila, in the Philippines, where beer afficionados can slake their thirst for only $1.50.  Columbus isn’t one of the 50 cities on the list, but in my experience the beer costs here are closer to the Manila end of the spectrum — which is one of the many nice things about living in Ohio’s capital city.

But while the Deutsche Bank report is useful for travelers who might want to factor in beer costs to their trip planning, it really doesn’t tell the whole story.  A beer isn’t always just a beer.  To me, at least, whether we’re talking about a lager, an ale, one of those infernal bitter IPAs that seem to dominate beer menus these days, or something else, would make a real difference.  Even $1.50 for an IPA would be more than I would pay.

And the setting is important, too.  I’m guessing that someone coming into a pub from the fiery heat of Dubai might consider $12 for a cold one to be a bargain.  And speaking as someone who particularly enjoys the dark, warm, woody ambiance of a real British pub like the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden, I’ll gladly pay $7.20 that is the average cost of a beer in London.

North Haven Brewing Company

These days you find American craft breweries just about everywhere. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the North Haven Brewing Company tucked into the walkout area of Calderwood Hall in North Haven — even though it’s a town on an island off the Maine coast that is accessible only by boat.

We stopped by to sample the wares NHBC offers and found them to be excellent. I had a red ale, and Russell enjoyed the coffee stout, brewed with coffee from 44 North in Stonington. One of the proprietors said they started a home brewery and found they liked it so much they decided to start a company. All of their offerings are brewed on the premises at Calderwood Hall.

The American craft brewing movement is a great thing, and it’s pretty cool to see it represented in a community like North Haven.

Beer Serape

In Ohio, we have cheap foam beer coozies. They don’t look great, but they do keep your beer cold — which is important.

Out here in San Diego, they’ve got much more classy coozies. In fact, they’re not coozies at all, but rather beer serapes. It’s the Corona covering of choice for any fiesta.

The beer tasted very good and went down easy, so I’m not sure whether my serape kept my beer “coozie cold.” It sure looked good, though.