The word “beer” doesn’t normally elicit thoughts of monks and monasteries, but in the case of Chimay Ale it absolutely should. Chimay comes exclusively from a brewery operated by Trappist monks in a monastery in southern Belgium, one of only seven breweries in the world – six in Belgium, one in the Netherlands – that brew authentic Trappist beer.
These breweries also produce wine and cheese in addition to specialty ales – the profits of which all go to the maintenance of the monastery and facilities as well as community causes. Don’t worry, the monks aren’t getting the raw deal here: each of these monasteries also produces a special beer called a “patersbier” that is available only to the monks, so at least they are enjoying taste of the fermented fruits of their labor.
Since Chimay is akin to the mother of all Belgian micro brews, it goes without saying that it falls on the pricey side. Depending on the liquor store, a 24 fluid ounce bottle can run anywhere from $10 to $16, but it is absolutely worth the splurge if it’s in stock. Chimay Blue is the signature brew and the most widely available, but Chimay Triple and Chimay Red are also on the market. Chimay is best enjoyed in its specially designed beer glass; this super-specialty brew is just as fancy as it sounds, and twice as delicious.
Popping open a bottle of Chimay Blue releases the tantalizing aroma of dark ale with hints of smoky vanilla, almost like toffee but with a definite malted edge. Poured into a glass, it appears to have no head to it but a swirl or a sip leaves traces of thick white lacing atop this dark reddish-brown ale. The first sip lingers on the tongue for a while like a strong cup of coffee, rich and tart with notes of caramel. A slightly bitter finish is complemented well by the definite taste of dark fruits and strong malt – a popular combination in Belgian beers that is deliciously executed in Chimay Blue. This is the kind of beer that is too flavorful on its own to be able to complement a meal well, except for maybe some fine cheeses. Chimay is a three-course dessert all on its own and should be treated with reverence for the painstakingly well-crafted masterpiece that it is.
While Chimay is a delight to the senses, it is definitely a stronger beer than most. At 9 percent alcohol by volume, this is definitely not a beer for chugging, but more for sipping comfortably to enjoy the flavor. The taste is noticeably stronger than that of most dark ales, with a bitter bite underneath the sweet rush of malt and yeast. My experience with the typical light and crisp Belgian beers was flimsy preparation for the assault Chimay unleashed on my taste buds. Originally brewed as a Christmas beer, it certainly packs a punch, full of the enticing nuances of European micro brews and the sumptuous secret ingredients those monks must use when they concoct this delicious potion.
While Chimay might be expensive, any of its available brews are worth the price. You are paying for a delicious, hand-crafted ale that was brewed to the purest standards of an ancient order of monks wholly dedicated to sharing Trappist authenticity. Not only is this a great brew, but it also has a nifty beer history lesson attached to it as well. If you’re resourceful enough to hunt down a bottle, just think how sophisticated you will seem as you recount the history of Trappist beer to all your friends.
Emily Brightman can be reached at [email protected]