Trapped in Tilburg

Twenty-four hours in Tilburg isn’t on many a traveller’s bucket list. The small southern Dutch city does not attract much attention. Only the most ardent football fan would recall that it was in Tilburg on 20 April 1994 that Ireland’s Tommy Coyne scored the solitary goal against Holland. It was a warm-up ahead of USA ’94 and it was highly likely the last time the city was mentioned on Irish TV.

What brought me to Tilburg was an invite to a 25th wedding anniversary party. I had gotten to know Willem through my beer tastings. He was a regular fixture in Probus Wines. A group of us from there travelled over for the laugh. It appears that if you’re having a party, the local butcher throws in the bbq, bar & kegs, gazebos, the lot just for buying the food from him. It’s a good deal, even if the beer choice is limited to Jupiler. We did manage fortunately to try some Dutch beers from the local supermarket earlier that day.

 

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We were keen to have a look around the city the following day. Lonely Planet listed only two sights for the city, a textile museum and a modern art gallery. We were also apparently only 5km away from the ‘Dutch Disneyland’. Talking to locals the night before, it was suggested we take in the highest point in the city, no more than a larger-than-normal hump in the road. If we wanted, we could also visit tallest apartment block in the country. Well it was the tallest until the rival city of Breda built a taller one. This had all the hallmarks of a Springfield-Shelbyville sized rivalry. Willem had other plans. As it was a Sunday, he suggested we take a trip to a nearby monastery in Berkel Enschot.

The Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van de Koningshoeven is situated on the outskirts of the city in a quiet, wooded area along a canal. This it seemed was the place to be on a Sunday. It’s a popular destination for cyclists and the whole families come trundling along. This particular monastery is better known as the home of La Trappe beers (Koningshoeven in the US) and at one time was the only non-Belgian Trappist brewery. There are now two in the country and others have commenced operations in the US, Austria and Italy.

 

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La Trappe is the black sheep of the Trappist breweries. It lost and subsequently regained the right to use the “Authentic Trappist Product”. In 1999 the monastery sold control of the brewery to industrial powerhouse Bavaria. They took this tough decision because the monastery could no longer support the brewery. We tend to forget that they are religious establishments first and breweries second. Trappist monks are reported to say that they brew to pray, not pray to brew. Thankfully six years later, following a new arrangement where monks would have a greater role in the production process, the brewery was allowed back into the hexagonal club.

This wasn’t the first time that La Trappe had a flirtation with other breweries. They licenced their beer to Stella Artois in the 1970s. At one point, they themselves brewed a wit beer for Chimay. Imagine if that occurred today – a Belgian Wit produced over the border! This would attract scorn, derision and protest, well in the dark web of the beer world at least.

 

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Set in the gardens of the monastery, the brewery bar has the look and feel of an oratory. It’s a modern, simple and modest design. Rather than having an altar, a bar immediately faces the congregation of beer drinkers as they enter. The beer garden is extremely popular, which is hardly surprising given the number of smokers about. Beer and traditional Dutch snacks like Buitterballen were plentiful.

 

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One of the remarkable things about La Trappe beers is their value for money. 750ml bottles of the Blonde and Dubbel can be purchased in Ireland for around €7. Here at the monastery was no different. Cars were pulling up at the shop, complete with monks behind the till, to purchase cases of their favourite local beer. The Wit beer in the local supermarket was 70 cent a bottle.

 

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Unfortunately, my time in Tilburg was coming to an end. I was getting the train back to Brussels National Airport. However, it would’ve been bad to have left here without having tried La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged. Batch 19 is the Quadrupel aged in banyuls barrels. I’m generally not a fan of this French fortified wine but could imagine how the sweetness could compliment the rich, dark fruit character of the beer. A bottle and glass were quickly sourced from the kloosterwinkel or brewery shop. This was set to be one indulgent train beer!

The beer poured cloudy with an appearance of mahogany. Strong oak wafted from the bottle once the cork was popped. This aroma was not only immediately apparent to me but also to a fair few fellow passengers. It didn’t help that I was standing between the carriages, trying to pour this beer carefully into a glass.

 

La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged

Once the oak notes had settled down somewhat, the aroma took on a plum, raisin and sherry-like character. This continued into the flavour. This beer was pleasantly smoother and creamier than you might expect. It’s unmistakably a Quad but it has an exceptional complex finish. It’s a blend of desiccated coconut, honey and sherry. All of this is on top of a warming alcohol finish. It was certainly an interesting sipper and helped the journey pass by.

Tilburg was certainly worth the visit. A number of beer bloggers will be touring La Trappe this week as part of the European Beer Bloggers Conference. Unfortunately, I will be unable to make this year’s conference in Amsterdam and excursions. I was registered to attend but other matters have gotten in the way. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

The most wonderful time for beer

The only bit of Christmas shopping I like is carefully selecting the beers to enjoy over the holiday period. The most important choices are the beers to be savoured alongise the Christmas meal itself.

Food and beer pairings can be a joy but also at times the attempts to get them right can be a real test of endurance. Christmas Day dinner can be one of those occasions where choosing the right beers can be a particular ordeal, simply because of the range of food and differing flavours being experienced. One caveat is that Christmas seasonal beers may not be ideal because of the strong flavours contained within. These can be perfect on their own (e.g. BrewDog’s Hoppy Christmas while decorating the Christmas tree) but depending on the specific profile of each beer, they can be tricky to match with food, particularly a Christmas menu.

Menus of course vary between households but a common thread exists – deep, rich and luxurious foods that will appeal to a broad range of ages and people around the table. Some may go with a 1970s style with a prawn cocktail to start and a trifle to finish but others may have soup or light starter finishing off with the traditional heavyweight Christmas pudding. At the heart of most menus will be a roast. An obvious choice given so many dishes to be prepared for one meal, taking advantage of a slow-cooking main course helps preserve the sanity of the chef.

Christmas Menu

Starters

Prawn Cocktail

The problem with this course is not necessarily being careful not to overpower the prawns themselves but the Marie Rose sauce. The tang of the ketchup is the key feature of this dish.

Verdict: Galway Hooker is a fantastic match (it would also be an excellent choice for a Christmas all rounder).

Smoked Salmon

This can go in many directions. A Weisse beer that has strong lemony-citrus notes such as Franciscan Well’s Friar Weisse would work here as could O’Hara’s Curim Gold. Belgian Wit beers would be okay but to be aware that not everyone likes coriander as much as one might think. Hitachino Nest’s Weisse is a stunning match for smoked salmon (tried it at a tasting earlier this year), after all Japanese independent breweries are making incredible beers that match fish perfectly. I’m also thinking of the smoke and some porters would work here (e.g.  Five Lamps’ Blackpitts porter would bring something to the dish). A light smoked taste with also a bit of body would be O’Hara’s Stout. While it has flaked oats in the beer, a wholemeal stout itself could be too filling. We’re not having a sandwich here and we have to leave room for the main course itself. For citrus aromas and flavour, it’s easy to go down the route of an IPA but you should air on the side of caution. We would need an IPA that doesn’t have too much heft in the body in terms of caramel malt. An interesting possibility to use a black IPA (e.g. burnt notes in Eight Degrees’ Zeus along with some citrus character but have already selected one of theirs for later).

Verdict: Estrella Damm Inedit, need I say more. The bottle brings a certain celebration to the proceedings. It just pairs like no other, after-all it was perfectly crafted to accompany many a dish at the now closed elBulli. Even with the subtle spiciness of the coriander, this wheat beer brings champagne-like joy to the drinker.

Pate with Cumberland sauce

This starter has been chosen to represent the “cold” course, which buys you precious time on the day to focus on the other courses (also it’s Christmas for the Chef as well).

Verdict: Crafty Dan’s Big Ben, which evokes bright red fruits and picks up on the cumberland sauce. It has slight notes on the aroma with nutty flavours, but the fruits with a light spicing making this an excellent pairing (especially with the bread on the table).

Main Course

Roast Turkey, all the trimmings etc

As we eat an usual array of food during one sitting, an easy bet would be an ale (especially a strong ale if you want to indulge) from the land of pie and mash. However, there’s a complete overload of flavours on the table from the roast turkey and ham to other meats (or vegetable roasts), the herbs and spices that permeate both the stuffing and the side dishes, the cranberry sauce and other condiments. Also in keeping with a little bit of luxury that is Christmas dinner, the bottle is also important. For this the large sharing bottles are required because they capture the conviviality of the meal itself. A Bière de Garde such as 3 Monts, pick up on the herbaceaous aspects of the meal as well as bring a welcome refreshment with each sip.

Verdict: Chimay Première (Red) is ideal. It is not as full bodied as the Grand Reserve but it interesting and would match the roast flavours, including the slight caramel sweetness that occurs. The fact that it’s a Trappist offering, it lends a certain reverential awe to the day itself. Belgian Dubbels and Tripels ideally match large and hearty meals.

Desert

Christmas Pudding/Chocolate/rich desert

After gorging on 3 courses, the pace starts to slow and conscious that the board games might make an appearance, it’s time to pair the desert and coffee course with what better than a strong stout that exudes coffee and chocolate notes that perfectly complement this course. Of course, if it was just the Christmas Pudding or cake, a barley wine like Louder from the Porterhouse or Belgian Quad would work here equally.

Verdict: Eight Degrees’ Russian Imperial Stout because it’s good to celebrate all the good things in life and what’s better than to toast another remarkable year for Irish brewing than an excellent strong stout. Forget the espresso, the kitchen’s now closed.

Post-meal simply enjoying Christmas night

This is for when people decamp to couches and the Christmas present DVD box-sets come out or a movie on the TV. This is time for a sipping beer that will also pair along with the moment that when you think you couldn’t eat any more, one feels the need to make a sandwich with the leftovers. For me, I’ve always been partial to Delirium Tremens because there’s a fair bit of pleasant complexity going on. This could the time to open the O’Hara’s Double IPA or if you have some relatively strong beer in stock.

Verdict: Brooklyn Local No.2 because I want to keep in with the dark Belgian strong ales. This is luxuriant in its spiciness with sweetness coming from of honey which compliments the dark fruit and chocolate flavours.