Chimay Blue, Chimay Grande Reserve

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Brewery: Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Scourmont
Origin:
Chimay, Belgium
Style: Trappist Ale
ABV: 9%
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Chimay Blue, Chimay Grande Reserve: Review
by andaryl | Jun 19 '01 (Updated Jun 23 '01)

The Bottom Line Trappist ale, that is the excellent work of celibate Belgian monks. One of the best and most complex beers in the world. 4.5 Stars: Not as good as Orval

Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Belgian Trappist Ale

Chimay is a Belgian Trappist ale with a number of varietals. They are brewed at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Scourmont, which was founded in 1850 and is located in Belgium near the French border. The abbey was the first to sell its beer to the general public and label it Trappist.

To avoid any confusion these are the various Chimay ales:
The original is Chimay Red (Capsule Rouge), at 7% ABV. This is labeled ďPremiereĒ in the large bottle.
The middle beer is Chimay White (Capsule Blanche), at 8% ABV. This is labeled ďCinq CentsĒ in the larger bottle to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the town of Chimay.
The strongest is Chimay Blue (Capsule Bleue), at 9% ABV. This is labeled ďGrande ReserveĒ in the larger bottle.

All of these are available in 33cl and 75cl bottles, while the Grande Reserve is also available in a Magnum (roughly 1.5 litres).

This review is of the Chimay Grande Reserve (75cl), which was chosen somewhat at random, and based only on my knowledge of the Chimay name. From subsequent reading many people speak highly of the Red, which may make something of a better starting point. I hope to taste them all some time soon. It should also be noted that not only will the size of the bottle result in differing characteristics, each of these beers is bottle conditioned (explained below), so every bottle will have slight differences.

Trappist Ales
Trappist or abbaye ales are top fermenting and bottle-conditioned. They are made by only six breweries, all run by Cistercian Trappist monks, and are considered by critics everywhere to be the finest and most unique ales in the world. The others are Orval and Westvleteren (both listed on epinions), Rochefort, La Trappe, and Westmalle. Other beers brewed in the same style are called Abbey beers.

Bottle Conditioned
This is a brewing method whereby yeast is added to the beer right before bottling. The yeast causes a further fermentation and carbonation to develop naturally in the bottle. This adds a further uniqueness to ales, as each bottle will be at varying stages of fermentation. You can spot a bottle-conditioned ale by the yeast sediment sitting at the bottom. If you donít like the idea of sediment in your beer pour slowly. I tend to be careful in the initial pour but will mix it up and get the sediment later. The yeast contains B-vitamins that help fight off those hangovers.

Get the right Glass
The label clearly illustrates this with an Xíd pint glass next to a goblet. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the wide rim allows the beer to open up and breathe as well as offering a better appreciation of the rich aromas. Thereís also a lively foam to these Belgian ales, and the wider glass allows this to spread out a little more so you donít have to wait 10 minutes before getting a sip. Iíve been looking for a Belgian ale glass without success for some time, so instead I used a deep margarita glass, which does the job. Just bear in mind that this beer cost $6.50, so itís worth spending a little extra on a decent glass.

Beware Cold Beer
You should beware when you buy this beer in a bar or grocery store. Many establishments pride themselves on having the coldest beer. Many grocery stores, through lack of space will store all beers in a cooler. Firstly if the beer is stored in a refrigerator this reduces the characteristic benefits of bottle conditioning, once refrigerated there will be no further fermentation. Secondly if served too cold you will also lose a lot of the beerís character. You should minimize the amount of time the beer spends refrigerated as well as serving it at the right temperature.

Chimay Blue should be drunk at around 50-55įF for maximum character, although the brewers recommend 46.4įF as acceptable and refreshing. If you live in a warm climate like myself, where the A/C rarely shuts off these temperatures are unachievable without refrigeration, so you should remove your bottle about 30-45 minutes before drinking.

I hear you, enough talk letís get down to the beer
As with most Belgian ales, the Chimay was a true experience. It comes in a champagne style bottle; you have to remove the metal casing before getting a napkin and slowly removing the cork. I was prepared for a lively foam eruption with my glass at close hand (Iím a server and I have learned from my accidents). Fortunately, although I should add disappointingly, the eruption did not happen, just a little life that ended before the foam reached the opening.

A promising initial sign is on the cork itself. Itís imprinted with the Chimay logo as well as the numbers ď10/00Ē. This refers to the bottled date, which I should add also meant that I was probably drinking mine a little early with at least a year of storage being the recommendation.

The pour was not as lively as I had hoped. Thereís a good strong thick foam, but nothing to be too cautious about. The body is much darker than I would have expected, something of a dark brown or mahogany, and pretty thick with some cloudiness caused by the yeast. The carbonation is lively, rushing up towards a beige creamy foam. Overall the appearance is something of a cross between an oatmeal stout and a brown ale.

I should add here that it took me close to two hours to drink this bottle, meaning that I was getting a various different notes in the taste and the aroma. Much as I tried the notes are not organized in this way and more an aggregation of the overall experience.

The nose gives instant evidence of this aleís unique complexity. The initial aroma was yeasty, as youíd expect, a little woody and earthy. Later a smokiness became very noticeable, while thereís also some spiciness, chestnut, and a subdued fruitiness which was something of a mix between apples and pears.

The carbonation results in a fairly fizzy palate with a slightly heavy mouthfeel. Again in the flavor thereís the yeast, a cedar woodiness, smokiness, peppery spice and a subtle green apple, as well as a brief perfumey mustiness. There are also instant signs of the alcoholic strength, which makes for a little bracing sharpness. There are notes reminiscent of a port in the finish, along with a little tang and dryness. The dryness doesnít linger, instead it mellows out to something smooth, clean and fruity.

Not for the timid
This beer is excellent in its complexity, and difficult to compare due to its uniqueness. It makes for a fascinating drinking experience for any fan of real ale. At the same time itís certainly not for novices, the unadventurous or narrow-minded. Just so I donít get into trouble Iím referring to the novice when I quote my wifeís ďhorrible, worst beer youíve made me tasteĒ reaction.

Itís definitely a world-class ale. Within the same category, I have to say I preferred the Orval Trappist Ale, although the two beers do have many similarities as well as many differences. Itís recommended that you save these for something between 2 and 20 years. For that reason, it may be a while before I try it again, but anyway itís not the kind of beer youíd drink on a regular basis. I have a couple more Chimayís as well as offerings from 4 other monasteries to sample before I get back to this one again.

Many Belgian ales draw comparisons to wines, and I have to say that this really reminded me of St. Francis Zinfandel, itself a demanding wine, but of very fine quality.

Serving Suggestions
I hate to drink a fine ale with a meal, especially when Iím trying it for the first time, as Iím scared that I might miss out on a certain aspect of the flavor. I had mine with a few pieces of Kasseri, a strong Greek cheese, and this complemented the beer very well. Not only did it milden down the flavor, it also sweetened the ale a little drawing emphasis on the green apple undertones.

The monastery is also well known for its cheese, and has produced one containing Grande Reserve. Itís with complete jealousy that I read Michael Jacksonís comments on his visit to the brewery and enjoying the beer and cheese side by side. Incidentally he recommends Roquefort or Stilton.

Recommended: Yes
Rating: 4.5 Stars

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