Aug 17 2012
Now Olympic fever is upon us all, what do you think of when you hear the words red, white and blue? Certain national flags? How about bottle tops – would you be thinking of those at all? Did you know that years ago, when very, very few people could read or write, Belgian Trappist monks used those colours on their bottle tops to identify how strong their beers were? Red used to mean the least strong of the beers, while white indicated something stronger and blue would have meant “handle with care!”
And talking of people who couldn’t read or write, while we’re on the subject of beer, we probably know that the Bass trademark of a red triangle was the first trademark registered anywhere in the world. And at some point, we’re going to meet someone who’ll tell us that the first representation of a trademark in an oil painting was in Manet’s “The Bar at the Folies Bergres”, where there’s a bottle of Bass beer on the counter. You see – product placement existed even then! However, that’s not the first time a bottle of Bass appeared in a painting: six years before Manet started sketching, John Robertson Reid included that famous triangle in his depiction of the shenanigans going on at “A Country Cricket Match” in 1876.
And that’s the end of today’s art history lesson. Now, returning to red, white and blue: these are the colours used by the brewery at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont to signify the strength of the Chimay beers they produce, but nowadays it’s the colour of the labels that tell us. Three different strengths… three colours… and three different styles of beer – there’s at least one Trinity in there somewhere. That’s not surprising, really, considering who’s doing the brewing. In the days when beer recipes were handed down verbally, the three most popular styles of Trappist beer were referred to as Enkel, meaning “single… Dubbel meaning “double… and you ought to be able to figure out what their third, Tripel, meant.
Enkel was the basic recipe for any Trappist beer and which, coincidentally, happened to be the weakest of the beers produced in the monastery. In many classes, that was the only beer monks there were allowed to drink – but only on high days, holidays and festive occasions. Dubbel was a variation on the original name recipe, where the monks added double the amount of ingredients to the brew. And again, as far as what Tripel meant, no prizes for guessing, there.
And for those who like their beer on the strong side, there’s always Quadrupel, which is almost as alcoholic as wine. But then again, we’re talking about Belgian Trappist breweries here, so however tempting it may be to include Quadrupel, we can’t – at least not for the time being. That’s because it’s produced in the only Trappist brewery outside Belgium… in the Netherlands.
Good food does not always have to be complicated. Belgique’s Continental Cafes exemplify that belief, serving gourmet Belgian cuisine in a warm and welcoming environment. Belgique online delivers this experience, plus Chimay Blue and much more for you to enjoy in your own home.