SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - Luc "Bobo" Van Mechelen is the face of Chimay, the celebrated Belgian Trappist beer. He walks, talks and lives Chimay an ambassador in every sense of the word.
Belgian by birth Van Mechelen, is the U.S. brand ambassador of Chimay, the best known of eleven breweries worldwide that produce Trappist beers. Chimay's beers are produced by the Cistercian Trappist monks at Chimay, a monastery also known as Notre-Dame de Scourmont near the French border in Belgium's Ardennes region. Chimay was the first of the Trappists to brew commercially, according to the late Michael Jackson, a British beer writer and author of "The Great Beers of Belgium."
Van Mechelen's official title is president of Manneken-Brussels Imports, the Austin, Texas-based U.S. importer of Chimay.
Born in Leuven, some 20 miles east of Brussels, it seems, he says, he was born to beer. Leuven is Belgium's uncontested beer capital. Its first breweries were established in the 15th Century, about the same time as the city's Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, home to Belgium's well-known brewing school. "If you wanted to be a brewer you went to Leuven," says Van Mechelen. The city also is the world headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer company.
Van Mechelen ties to beer are strong. His family owned a pub on the city's main street for more than a century. Before coming to the U.S. in 1979, he worked for his grandfather at the bar and also sold Lindt chocolates to pastry makers and bakeries.
As a younger man in Leuven, he got to know two American students who studied in Brussels and partied in Leuven: Jim Houchins and Paul Sher. After their return to the U.S. in 1978, the two Americans established a company to import Chimay, Manneken-Brussels.
It was 1979 when Van Mechelen decided to seek his fortune in the U.S. He looked up his old friends in Austin and decided to stay. He opened a Belgian-style café and bistro called Gambrinus, which he operated until 1990, when he started working with Belgian brewer Pierre Celis (of Hoegaarden fame) on a microbrewery project in Austin. In 2000, Miller Brewing bought Celis Brewing, closed the Austin brewery and sold the brand to a Michigan brewer. Subsequently, Van Mechelen joined his friends at Manneken-Brussels and in 2005, when a new owner took complete ownership of the company he was asked to stay on.
As brand ambassador for Chimay, Van Mechelen's life is spent largely on the road and on his feet. On average, he says he spends three weeks a month traveling on behalf of the importer. He does, however, take four or five weeks off a year, occasionally returning to Belgium.
Van Mechelen's efforts to promote Belgian beer have resulted in his being knighted by the Chevalerie du Forquet des Brasseurs, the Belgian Brewers Union. The recognition seems well earned. We met recently over a CHIMAY of two and talked about his journey and why these Trappist brews a combo of water and yeast are ranked the best in the world . You can find Chimay's brews at bars all around the Bay Area. See the tasting notes on the Chimay triple below.
Enjoy my chat with Bobo, Chimay ambassador and a guy whose company I enjoyed as much as his brews.
- ALCOHOL LEVEL: (Vol.) 8 %
- COLOUR: Amber blonde
- AROMA(S): Hints of fresh hops and yeast
- FLAVOUR: Fruity note of muscat and raisins from the hops.
- TASTE: The subtle combination of fresh hops and yeast brings out a slight bitter touch
- HEAD: A ne, snow-like layer
- FORMAT: 33 cl, 75 cl and 20 L (11.2 FL.OZ. - 25.4 FL.OZ. - 5.29 gal)
- STORAGE ADVICE: Best consumed within one year
- TASTING ADVICE: Serve bottles at a temperature of 42 to 46°F (6 à 8 °C) and keg at 39 to 43°F (4 à 6°C)
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