Over 140 years ago, the Trappist monks of Belgium’s Abbey of Notre Dame de Scourmont began brewing Chimay, an ale the good Fathers named after the region where the Abbey is located. Twenty-five years ago, Jim Houchins, a young student from Austin, Texas, was completing a course of studies in Belgium. His love of the country’s beers and their unavailability in the U.S. became a source of great concern to him as his departure for home grew close. To fix the problem, he arranged to import them to the United States. Thus, Manneken Brussel Imports (MBI) was born and Chimay shortly thereafter became available to beer lovers in the New World. “We began importing the first bottles of Chimay in the fall of 1983,” said Bob Leggett, President of MBI, the company responsible for Chimay sales in most states west of the Mississippi. “Jim Houchins founded the company to import the beers he loved-and for twenty years we’ve been introducing Americans to Chimay. When we first began the business, Belgian beers were a rarity here in the states and most beer drinkers were used to the tastes and textures of American-brewed pilsner products. People thought we were crazy … that the market wouldn’t appreciate, let alone purchase, the Chimay product.”
After 20 years, Chimay is being consumed by a growing number of Americans. All of this has been accomplished with little fanfare and even less recognition of the fact that the Trappist Fathers, who still oversee the brewing, bottling and marketing of the beer, use most of the profits for good and charitable work. “Over 2,000,000 bottles of Chimay beer are imported to the U.S. each year,” said MBI’s Leggett. “Chimay’s line of beers includes Chimay Premiere, which is the original recipe first brewed by the Trappist monks 140 years ago; Chimay Grande Reserve (originally brewed only at Christmas) and a triple called Cinq Cents, a golden ale. Unlike the Premiere and Grande Reserve ales, the triple is also available on draught. To celebrate Chimay’s 20 years in the U.S., Manneken Brussel Imports has planned a year’s worth of events to thank their long-time customers and to introduce others to Chimay’s three ales. In addition to a series of Chimay parties to be held in various cities, MBI will host a series of “cuisine a la biere’s” – dinner parties where some of the most notable chefs in the country will break bread, talk shop and, of course, drink Chimay. “You can bet that we’ll be raising a glass or two to Jim Houchins,” laughs Leggett.