If you’ve had only one Trappist beer, it was probably a Chimay. As the largest Belgian Trappist brewery*, Chimay’s offerings are fairly ubiquitous. You can get their beers in most high-end package stores, grocery stores, and restaurants.
*Koningshoeven, or La Trappe, is actually a bit larger, but it’s located in the Netherlands.
The 150-year old brewery produces three brews commercially, with a fourth beer, the lower-strength Golden or Dorée, served only in or near the abbey as a patersbier.*
*Most Trappist breweries make a patersbier, or father’s beer. These brews, which are created to be consumed by the monks themselves, are generally much lower in ABV then the rest of the brewery’s offerings. This just proves what the Jesuits have been saying for years: Trappists are pussies.
The three brews you can buy stateside include the Red (a dubbel), the White (a tripel), and the Blue (a Belgian Dark Strong Ale). I purchased them in a three-pack and drank them from weakest to strongest so as to write a triple-tasting note for your bemusement. The beers I drank were young, but they can all be cellared for a number of years to improve their flavor profile…
Although, even an improvement on the Chimay Red would probably still suck. This is actually a highly controversial statement in the realm of the Aleheads…since all of Chimay’s offerings are pretty much revered. But the truth is, I really don’t like the Red. At all. I generally stick to the Blue…usually the easiest of the three to find…and it had been years since I tucked into a Red. It’s a Dubbel, which is one of my favorite styles, so I was expecting something exquisite. Instead, I found an off-balance, medicine-flavored pile of donkey poop. OK…it wasn’t quite that awful, but lord it wasn’t good.
The Red pours a cloudy, orange-brown color with a big, frothy, tan head that is slow to fade, but leaves little lacing. The nose is a little funky…sweet and subtle, with some spices (clove and cinammon), but too much yeast, and a strong scent of grass clippings and clover. The taste is shockingly disappointing. I swear, this used to be a good beer! Well, not anymore. It’s watery and sweet, with a touch of bitter, medicinal phenols in the middle and no finish. It tastes like someone mixed “beer syrup” with seltzer water, but the two didn’t coalesce. It’s probably a medium-bodied brew, but the high carbonation makes it drink more like a diet soda. Drinkability is minimal…it’s just not interesting enough to have more than one of. An unpleasant experience that I don’t wish to repeat…2 Hops from me, and even that’s generous. Out of respect for the Chimay name, I won’t go any lower than that.
The White picks things up a little bit and at least cleanses my palate of the Red’s fail-sauce. Although it’s also not as good as I remember (either my memory is faulty, or Chimay is slipping), it’s still quite drinkable. The White pours a turbid, glowing orange with a nice, long-lasting head and strong lacing. The nose is sour, strongly citric, and has a classic, farmhouse mustiness. The taste has a decent amount of sweet, pale malt and a faint touch of hard-to-distinguish spice. It’s all cut through by citric acid and a stronger-than-it-should-be ABV burn. Like the Red, the White isn’t balanced very well, but unlike the Red, at least the unbalanced flavors are interesting. The mouthfeel is similar to the Red…probably medium-bodied, but so heavily carbonated that it feels light on the tongue. Drinkability is OK…there are much better Tripels out there, but this is a decent representative of the style. 3 Hops…again, maybe a touch too high, but it’s hard to get past that name on the bottle. I’m not made of stone, dammit!
Finally, after a disappointing start and an uninspired middle, the Blue picks up the slack and reminds me why I have so many fond memories of Chimay. The Red and the White had threatened to derail the legend in my mind, but the Blue was there to say, “Hey Buddy, I know my two brothers aren’t holding up their end of the bargain…but here comes ol’ Blue…you never have to worry about ME letting you down.” Thanks, friend. You’re my boy, Blue!
Ol’ Blue pours a deep, chestnut brown with a thick, tightly knit, long-lasting, off-white head. The lacing is excellent and clings high on the glass. The nose is rich and sweet with dark, caramelized malt, redolent spicing, and a well-rounded, fruity, yeast aroma reminiscent of prunes and raisins. The taste is sweet and spicy…the fruit from the nose comes through boldly, but it isn’t overpowering, and the finish has a wonderful touch of alcohol-infused warmth. As the beer warms in your hand, the taste becomes even more complex. I’m sure the Blue is the kind of beer that could sit in the cellar for a decade and improve year after year. It’s a full-bodied brew…not as heavily carbonated as its brethren, but with enough to keep it from being cloying. Drinkability is high for the style…three or four with a nice, hearty dinner would be very welcome. A 4 Hop beer…and I’m very happy to write that.
So maybe Chimay isn’t quite the world-beater it used to be. There are better Trappists out there…much better Dubbels…better Tripels. But despite that, the legendary Blue still stands tall and proud. It’s a proven winner and it certainly shows that those monks in Scourmont Abbey still know a thing or two about the making beer.