January 13, 2006

The holiest of beers

Probably my favourite beers in the world are the Trappist beers (and my Dad's homebrew). These beers are unique in the beer world in that they're brewed by real monks in Cistercian monasteries, as part of their daily ritual. The care that goes into them is astounding, and they are truly amazing to drink, in a completely different league to your regular commercial lager. The complexity of their flavours makes drinking one of these a pleasure in itself.

I've been working on a few Belgian beer articles for Wikipedia, and to find out a bit more, I decided to email Brother Armand, the head monk of the Scourmont abbey which brews Chimay, one of the seven Trappist breweries. He graciously replied and gave plenty of interesting insights into the Trappist order and their beers. I also mentioned my support of free knowledge and software (ie Wikipedia and the Free Software movement) and he was very supportive of this. Here are some of what he had to say:

[...] since monks don't live out of charity, they also work in order to earn their life and to have something to help the poor. According to local circumstances, it can be through farming or through any type of small industry.
The Chimay brewery was developed mostly to give work to a large number of workers in a region that is the poorest of Belgium. The brewery is now owned by a non profit organization, and ALL the royalties are distributed in alms in Belgium and mostly in the Third World countries.

Based on this, I can safely say that by sipping on a Trappist beer, I'm doing my part for charity! :) With regard to the monks drinking beer themselves:

Contrary to Islam and some other religions, that has never been any rule concerning total abstinence of alcoholic beverage in Christianity.
At Scourmont, as in other monasteries of Belgium, at daily meals, monks drink either water or some very light beer (which is not even in the market), not the strong beer that is on the market.

I happen to come across an unusual Chimay beer at a local shop, which is not mentioned anywhere else online, and suspected that this was the beer mentioned above. In a reply, I asked about this.

Yes, the light beer I was talking about is the Dorée. Officially it is not sold except at the small Auberge [inn] near the Abbey. (That restaurant is also owned and managed by the Foundation). We are aware that there is a small unofficial, unapproved market for that beer. The fact is that all the workers receive gratis a certain quantity of that beer every week or month. It seems that some workers don't use it and sell it... In any case it is certainly a rather small market, because a very limited amount of that 'bière de ménage' is brewed.

Seems then that this is a grey market beer. I spoke to the owner of another beer shop in Utrecht and he didn't really know of the beer, so it must be a very special one indeed! I drank it a while back, not thinking too much of it, but the one I have now is waiting to be popped open and tried again.

Today I grabbed six more Trappist beers (including Achel) and a couple of Trappist beer glasses, and can't wait to try those. With the goals and dedication that monks put into creating such astounding beers, let's just hope that there are enough new monks joining the ranks to keep producing these for centuries to come. Cheers to the Trappists!

Posted by Ben at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2006

Solving coffee shortages

In Venezuela, they apparently love their coffee so much that even the National Guard is called to make raids to resolve the shortage.

Yes that's right...I thought the Dutch were a people who'd go mad when they couldnt get coffee, but the Venezuelans take it to the extreme. If they have to get the military to raid coffee warehouses so that they can appease the shortage, then that's probably a sign of addiction.

I hope the military got the the supplies on time. If not, an entire country could have fallen asleep mid-raid.

Posted by Ben at 09:53 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2006

Yes, Paypal sucks

I've just found out how truly crappy Paypal are. In mid December, I sold something to a guy in the US for about 400 quid, he paid with Paypal and I shipped a couple of days later. The deal was done and complete, as far as I was concerned. On December 27, I got an email notification from Paypal saying they'd frozen that money from my PP account as the buyer made a complain that he never received the item. Never mind that it was Christmas time and the post would be slower, the fucker lodged a complaint without keeping this in mind.

So I went to the PP site to see what the problem was, and where I could submit a scan of the postal receipt and indicate that I'd start an investigation with the post office. But nooo...that was just too much for them. All they gave me for options was a dropdown box and "Enter tracking number". Nothing else. So I put it in, expecting them to come back to me and want to follow a post office investigation.

Nope, too hard for them. Today I get notification that they've refunded the buyer without looking any more into it. 400 fucking quid down the tube without any option to appeal except a dropdown box and a number. What a bloody rort. They did say that I could appeal the decision, which I though was decent. so I login and click on the "appeal" button and what do I get? Another fucking dropdown box and a number box. AAARGHG!

Hello?? Christmas time! Package to America?? Takes a lot longer than this impatient swine expected. Two weeks after paying and he's already submitted a complaint??? The only little piece of goodness I get from this is that the guy gave me a positive feedback right after paying, so I've returned the favour by donating a free negative feedback, tarnishing his previous 350/100%, just for his insolence.

I've filed an official complaint against the greedy sods and as unless they really prove that they can actually do fair dispute resolution here, I'll close all my accounts with them and forever declare them evil.

I feel so cheated and ripped off, and this had really made me hate them, because they have absolutely no respect for their own customers whove loyally used them for years. All because they're too lazy to allow appeals that are any more than a fucking dropdown box.

Posted by Ben at 12:31 PM | Comments (4)

January 01, 2006

Happy new year!

Just set off my arsenal tonight and had some pretty impressive displays covering the entire city (and indeed country). Just checked to see what CNN was reporting and found this gem which someone must have done to take the piss out of france (emphasis mine):

Tens of thousands of London partygoers faced a struggle to get across town on Saturday due to a New Year's Eve subway strike, while in France authorities feared a youthful tradition of car burning could get out of hand.

Aaah France seems to have a new tradition thanks to recent Parisian evens.

Posted by Ben at 01:10 AM | Comments (0)