Tag Archives: Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen

Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen: The face of Chimay in the United States

Chimay brand ambassador Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen at New York City’s the Beer Authority

For many beer-loving Americans, Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen is the face of Chimay, the celebrated Belgian Trappist beer.

It’s a cheery face, covered by a full, largely gray beard and accented by tortoise-shell eyeglasses over twinkling eyes.

Belgian by birth and wide of girth, Van Mechelen, is the U.S. brand ambassador for Chimay, the best known of seven 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 special projects and regional sales manager of Manneken-Brussels Imports, the Austin, Texas-based U.S. importer of Chimay his job is to promote the brand through his travels around the U.S. Recently, he stopped by the Beer Authority in New York City to mark the brewers’ 150th anniversary.

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:  Bob Leggett and Lanny Hoff. 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 Chimay 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 four days a week traveling on behalf of the importer.  He does, however, take four or five weeks off a year, occasionally returning to Belgium.

He carries a pedometer.  New York “is a hard city,” he says.  “Yesterday I walked 7½ miles. Today, I walked 6½ miles.” He complains climbing the stairs at the Beer Authority that all the walking has taken a toll on his knees, but he confesses that the problem is due to his weight.

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. Chimay has never had a down year in the U.S., even during the economic crisis of 2008-2009, Van Mechelen says.  Last year, he said, sales rose 11 percent. “We only sell 380,000 cases of Chimay in the U.S. Not bad for a monastery,” he says, noting that the figure represents a third of the brewery’s annual production.

And selling Chimay, he says, keeps him happy – and alive. “I’ve always been a salesman. Put me in an office and I’ll be dead in a week.”

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Limited quantities of Chimay 150th anniversary ale to arrive in September

New Chimay beer is called Speciale Cent Cinquante

A special bottling of Chimay ale, marking the 150th anniversary of the Trappist brewery’s founding, is expected to hit U.S. markets in September, but availability will be limited, according to brand ambassador Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen of Manneken-Brussels Imports, the Austin,Texas-based importer.

The beer, called Chimay Spéciale Cent Cinquante, the first new brew from Chimay in a little more than a decade, will be a blonde ale of 10 percent abv.

Only 2,500 cases are being sent to the U.S., Van Mechelen said, with distribution starting on the East Coast.  The shipment is expected to reach the U.S. shore in August

“I asked for 10,000 cases,” Van Mechelen told CorksCapsandTaps.com during a July 26 interview at New York City’s Beer Authority bar. “Twenty-five hundred cases are enough to piss people off.”  He said some key markets, such as Philadelphia and Texas, would see none of the beer.

Restaurants and beer merchants who want the beer will have to request it, and it will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis, Van Mechelen said.

Union Beer Distributors, the Brooklyn-based distributor for New York City, will receive just 165 cases, each 12 bottles. RED Dacquel, Chimay brand manager for Union Beer, said his customers have already ordered150 cases, leaving him with just 15.

Here’s how Chimay describes the beer on its web site:

“This special edition is a full bodied and distinctive strong beer developed within the abbey to celebrate and honour the 150th anniversary of the brewery. Produced with 100% natural ingredients, its pale golden robe and champagne sparkle is topped by a rich white head of foam. The distinctive bouquet evokes the rich fruity and complex notes of the Chimay yeast in harmony with a delicate spicy note and the fragrance of fresh noble hops. At 10% alcohol, the flavour is full bodied and complex with a slight but refreshing tang note and a crisp hop finish that will delight the palate.”

Espace Chimay,  a Belgian blog about Chimay, showed a photo of beer with a wooden box. It reported the package would sell for 15 Euros (US $15.50).

Chimay currently produces just four brews, three of them bottled.

● Chimay Red Cap or Première, which was the first beer brewed at the Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey by the Trappist fathers in 1862.

● Chimay Blue Cap, also known as Grande Reserve, is a dark Trappist beer first brewed as a Christmas beer in 1948 and renamed in in 1982.

● Chimay Tripel, labeled Cinq Cents, is the newest of the Abbey beers. It was created in 1986. A draft version was introduced in 2001.

Chimay beers have been made since 1862 by the Cistercian Trappist monks to support their monastery, the Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey. The monks also produce a range of Trappist cheeses. Chimay is one of the six Belgian beers that can carry the logo, “Authentic Trappist Product,” of the International Trappist Association. That means that it is brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the control and responsibility of the community of monks, and whose revenue is devoted to social service.

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