After a few days in Brussels, it was time to head south to Wallonia, and the city of Namur, a French speaking historically war torn city with a rich history and within a close drive (or several long train rides) of the Trappist breweries Orval, Rochefort and Chimay. At the centre of its rivers and artisanal architecture is the Citadel, with cafe, museum and restaurant. I took the opportunity to sit at the top of the city and drink a nice frothy Blanche de Namur, the classic Wit Bier, White Ale or Belgian Wheat. Whatever you want to call it, its packed full of sweet orange peel and coriander with the creamy texture of unmalted grains and a spritzy lemon finish.
Now, there are a few different seals brewers can bestow upon their packaging in Belgium, such as “Belgian Family Brewers” (e.g. Lindemans) or the “Certified Belgian Abbey Beer” (e.g. Leffe), but the hardest to attain is the designation “Authentic TrappistProduct”. Remember, Trappist beer is that which is brewed by or under the direct supervision of Monks to which the majority of the profits go to charitable causes.
From Namur, we opted to hire a car and drove just under two hours to the Trappist Abbaye d’Orval, nestled in a valley surrounded by trees there is a cafe, museum and gorgeous abbey ruins contrasting the new abbey. The land here was originally occupied by Benedictine monks from Italy in 1070 and Orval became a Cistercian monastery from 1132 until 1793 when it was raised by troops of the French Revolution, before Trappist monks returned in 1923 and the construction of the new abbey began.
The brewery itself produces just two beers one of which is what I would call a Patersbier or lawnmower beer for Monks, with grainy undertones and lovely fresh floral hop character, at 4.8% its only available on tap at the restaurant. A big point of difference for Orval is that their one packaged beer is a mixed fermentation with wild yeast, bringing a side of old leather to the fruity esters and spicy phenolics of other Belgian ales.
On the way back to Namur, we took a detour through the town of Rochefort for a sneaky Rochefort 6 and a damn good cheese board at a local pub before heading to nearby bottle shop, Drink Scaillet. With about 700, mostly Belgian beers to choose from, this place is legit a freaking candy store that I could only dream of as my local.
The next day we checked out of our hotel in Namur and took a pleasant drive through the lush green countryside to Chimay, where we would spend the next two days. Auberge de Poteaupré, the pub slash museum slash inn, seemed like pure fan fiction, with gorgeous old wooden decor that extends out into an intimate beer garden backing onto green paddocks and pine forrest. Here you can drink Chimay Gold (Blonde 4.8%), Premiere (Dubbel 7%), Cinq Cents (Tripel 8%) and Grand Reserve (Dark Strong Ale 9%), all day until 10pm if you wanted to, then retire to one of only seven cosy rooms at the Inn, complete with a well stocked mini bar of Chimay.
I highly recommend staying here for at least one night, to sufficiently sample the beers and take in the surrounds, we spent a couple of hours walking one of the local trails, and there’s also a Michelin Star restaurant around the corner if you’ve the coin. Taking the tour of the Chimay Experience I learned that the selection of Chimay cheeses are made with local ingredients and the brewery has an ethos to reduce carbon emissions and increase sustainability, how much more craft beer could you get? By the end of the second day, believe it or not I had enough Trappist beer and cheese for the time being, and it was off to wine country. Cheers.
Andrew Dean – Brewer | Certified Cicerone®