Having just wrapped up the American Independence Day, I am looking ahead to Belgium's Independence Day on July 21. Like the US story, the choice of date for Belgium's Independence seems a bit arbitrary, if I may summarize from the Wikipedia article.
Seems the 1815 Congress of Vienna drew the borders for a united Kingdom of The Netherlands. under William I. This pleased the north part of country, the bourgeoise and the Protestants, but not the southern region, made up of French-speaking Walloons and Belgian-speaking Flemish. So in 1830, they staged a rebellion that drove the Dutch out of the area by September. The Belgians then wrote up a constitutional monarchy, inviting the German prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha to be their king. Leopold I first swore allegiance to the constitution on July 21, 1831, which later lawmakers set as Belgian National Day.
This is the hook, anyway, upon which I hang this survey of Belgian Trappist beers from Chimay.
Chimay Belgian Ales are produced at the Scourmont Abbey, which was founded in 1850 in the town of Chimay, Belgium. It's one of 11 certified Trappist breweries, meaning the beer is made within the premises of a Trappist monastery, and the business turns profits to the upkeep of the monastic order and their social work. The Trappist certification is available for other products made by the monks—and Cistercian Order nuns—including wines, breads, chocolates and honey. Chimay also makes Trappist labeled cheeses which, of course, pair with their beer.
For some years, we in the States have been able to drink Chimay's three beers, known mainly as "Red," "White," and "Blue." They've also been sold in various gift packs, often packaged with a Trappist style beer chalice. For the 2016 Christmas season, Chimay—or their US importer—put out new package with four beers and two glasses. This is what their PR folks have sent me for sampling.
Chimay Dorée/Gold. Their "table" beer, brewed for the monks' private consumption since 1862. It was available on tap starting in 2007 at Poteaupré Inn, the monastery retail space in Chimay. The Gold was finally packaged in bottles in 2015. The beer pours hazy, thanks to being unfiltered, and thanks to the yeast added to the bottle at packaging. Like a good Belgian beer, it has a puffy, parfait-like head with tight bubbles. The nose is mostly malty, slightly aromatic. The taste is very easy on the palate, malty again. At 4.8% alcohol it does fit in as a table beer, a little more hearty than a "lawnmower beer." The package I got had a flier talking about both the beer and the cheese made by the Scourmont monks, and I'm thinking this is the best of their beers for their cheese.
Chimay Premiere/Red Dubbel: Their first commercially made beer, from 1862. This one shows a slightly spongy head over a deep reddish brown beer. The smell has some slight spiciness to it, and aromatics. The taste is complex, with brown malts and that spicy note that comes entirely from the malt roast and the nature of a yeast strain that's been cultivated by the monks for a century. Notes of coriander and just a touch of fruity ester, then a slight cola note. There is clearly some complexity to this one, and it should only increase with a bit of cellaring. Another good match with cheese and charcuterie. Has a pretty light aftertaste that suits it as a summer beer.
Chimay White/Cinq Cents Tripel: After the relative darkness of the Dubbel style, the Tripel buncks the trens by pouring a bright gold, looking like a golden lager, except for the usual puffy head. Chimay's version is a bit darker than the standard tripel, and again hazy from added yeast. The smell is malty again, but a bit more sweet. The taste is similarly a bit sweet, with Belgian pilsener type malt, a bit of a bready flavor and a slight spice of grains of paradise. This is a relatively fresh bottle, and if allowed to cellar for a few months, there would be more complexity as the added yeast does its stuff.
Chimay Grande Reserve/Blue: At 9% abv, it's the strongest of the regular Chimay lineup. It pours a little darker than the Red. Brown to nearly black. There's a little banana ester in the nose. Some brown sugar in the first sip, and a bit of savory umami, like with an Orval. I did not notice much alcohol as I sampled this one. But its effect could be felt later in the evening.
It's worth noting that the Trappist glasses, also called "chalices", for obvious reasons, or "goblets," come with a small Chimay logo etched into the bottom of the bowl, to provide nucleation sites that aid in the production of bubbles.
I admit, it was fun to go through all four beers in a short space of time. But I couldn't compare them together; that would be taking on too much beer at once, even in the name of research.
I took my notes on the beers while taping (encoding?) two episodes of my "One-Take Beer Review" podcast. Here they are in living color."