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Friday, April 6, 2007

The Session: Dubbel, a Holy Beer

It's Good Friday. And it's The Session (a first-Friday joint blog by a bunch of beer-loving-bloggers). Time to blog about dubbels.

I'm a cantor at my church, St. Andrew's in Newtown, PA. As a cantor, this is Holy Week, but it's also hell week: I sang Palm Sunday, had long rehearsals Tuesday and Wednesday nights, sang Holy Thursday services last night (I'd like to do the 11:00 PM prayer next year), and in about three hours, I'll be in my choir robe, singing the poignantly piercing music of Good Friday, one of the heaviest services of the year. Follow that with the intense two hours of Easter Vigil mass (in which I'm carrying the big candle into the church again: big guys get the duty), and then back up for a massively musical Easter morning mass, and by 1:00 Easter afternoon, I'll be truly ready to break my Lenten fast...and maybe take a nap after a couple beers.

But today... Good Friday is a fast day, on top of being meatless in Lent. I got into the spirit of sacrifice early, and drove down to the Red Cross donor center in northeast Philly to do apheresis, 90 minutes hooked up to a machine that strips a pint of platelets out of my blood while I listen to my MP3 player (my "MePod") and read Red, White, and Drunk All Over, Natalie MacLean's extremely well-written wine book that I am enjoying immensely.

Back home, grab the laptop, pet the dog, say hi to Cathy and the kids, and I'm back out the door, running on two cups of coffee and a piece of bread with peanut butter at 7:00 AM. Fast day.

So with all the Catholic freight of the day, with all the meaning this day has for me -- it's not just singing: I'm a faithful Catholic, and Good Friday rings me like a gong -- I decided that for my dubbel drinking for The Session, it had to be aTrappist dubbel. I went to Isaac Newton's, here in town, and got a Rochefort 8.

The pour was a bit turbid, unfortunately, but the yeasty, spicy, fruity aromas make me feel better about it. There's a solid cap of mousse on the top, with a little rip of brown where some yeast clouded through. It's a mix of tiny, tiny bubbles and bigger ones that are still not the chunky spheres you'd see in a coarser beer.

"Coarser beer?" Judgmental? You bet. Because when I take a sip of the stuff, and get that bountiful flavor, so much that it takes me a while to sort it out (which isn't helped by the pungent cigarette smoke in the bar): light fruity notes, like a just-ripe pear or a white nectarine, a lift of surprising dryness in the back of the mouth, and a wonderful, eerily refreshing character for a 9% beer...when I take a sip of Rochefort 8, a whole lot of other beers pale in comparison, and I ain't talking Lovibond. And I realize that the fasting is perfect. My tastebuds and palate are hungry and quivering, the beer tastes alive on them.

This beer (and the food...always the food) is one of the main reasons I have to go to Belgium (that's right, folks: Lew's never been to Belgium. Never been to the UK, either). Because I want to emulate a mentor, John Hansell, and sit in a cafe all afternoon and drink my fill of it (John did that with Westvleteren, but the emotion's the same). I could do that here, but the cost is prohibitive.

Ha! So instead, I'm going to buy an airline ticket, stay in a hotel, rent a, the madness great beer can inspire, and the cheerfulness with which we accept it. Another dubbel will wreck me, with nothing in my belly but the memory of wheat bread and chunky-style...but I want one. Oh, dear. Because it does drink so nice.

Is beer holy? Is Trappist beer holy? Is anything holy? My patron, my chosen saintly guide, is St. Augustine, who I chose because what attracted me to the Church originally was the rigor and depth of its theology, of the time and brilliance brought to bear on understanding the mysteries of Christ. But I can claim no such theological weight for myself. I know more than most about Church history because of college studies, but holiness? It's beyond me.

Goodness and rectitude are more my speed. I can attest to the goodness of the Rochefort. Its depth continues to intrigue me, and it is a wonder how this beer can be 9%, rich and chocolatey and complex in flavor, and yet drink like a session pale ale.

I'll go with tradition: these beers are fast-evaders, monks' cheats for holy days. I'll order another. But I'm just going to enjoy it by myself. A private prayer, if you will. And then I'll go home, get a hot shower to open up my throat, and robe up to praise the sacrifice that makes me, even me, a holy child of God. Which is why today, Good's dubbel or nothing.


Stonch said...

Great post Lew! Really enjoyed it.

You need to do a trip over here soon.

Remember, the UK and Belgium are really well connected by Eurostar (you can get to Brussels in just over a couple of hours)...



okbrewer said...

Great minds think alike! ALife in the FAST lane! I too had Rochefort, but the 8 and 10, which were preceded by a Westmalle! St. Bernardus' Triple was on deck, but I didn't get to that! Lemme know when we're going to Belgium!

Bob R in OKC

Lew Bryson said...

Jeez...guess I better get to Belgium. AND the UK!

Ed said...

I'm new to your blog - great post. I'm also a faithful Catholic, and this is the first time it has occurred to me to set aside a Trappist beer during Holy Week. I'll be doing that. (Five years later).