Posted by: Michael | 12 November 2008

Brew Review #3 – Chimay Ale (Tripel)

Tonight’s Brew Review is of a beer hailing from Belgium, made by the Trappist monks at the Scourmont Abbey. The good péres Trappístes also make fine cheese, as announced on their website:

“Welcome to the source of the Trappist beers and cheeses of Chimay…Here, in this heaven of peace and silence where since 1850 Trappist monks have dedicated their life to God, products are made which, in themselves, gladden the heart of man.”

Indeed! The monks have been making their beer at Scourmont since 1862, and Chimay is “always made onsite at the abbey, which guarantees its authenticity and quality. It is bottled at Baileux, a few kilometers from the Abbey.” For a more in-depth look at the history of the Trappists and Scourmount, check out that section of their site here. They’ve also got great sections about brewing, bottling, and tasting on their site, and I highly encourage you to go and check it out.

Of the four beers brewed by the Trappists at Scourmont, only three are technically available for consumer purchase (the fourth, Chimay Dorée, is drunk only by the monks themselves or at a nearby inn. It is not available on the regular market). Tonight we are having a look at the Tripel (oddly enough, this translates to Triple), described on Wikipedia as having “a light orange colour and a very bitter taste, and is the most hopped and dryest of the three.”

I apologize in advance for the rather dismal quality of these photos – I am without my usual camera and have been forced to the standby. I’ve had to artificially increase the light in each of them to make them visible at all, but I tried to make those changes to reflect the most accurate picture of the beer.

First off, the bottle itself:

Chimay Tripel Ale, 11.20 fl. oz. bottle

Chimay Tripel Ale, 11.20 fl. oz. bottle

The label, up close:

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It’s a nice yellowish-white label, with the Chimay logo in the middle with “Triple” and “Tripel” on each side of it. It’s fairly easy to read most of it from here: Chimay Ale, Péres Trappístes. The small print across the bottle is “Brewed at Scourmont Abbey and bottled by S. A. Bieres de Chimay, Belgium / Net Contents 11.20 fl. oz 33 CL Alcohol 8% by volume.” The label is surmounted by the words “Abbaye de Scourmont” on the bottle itself, with a circular logo bearing the letters ADS on the neck of the bottle.

The back side of the bottle presents us with:

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This is a rather informative label, reading “The registered trademark ‘TRAPPIST’ certifies that this ale was brewed within the walls of an existing trappist monastery under the control of the trappist community. A major part of the sales revenue is used by the monks to support charitable works. The exceptional yeast isolated by Father Theodore, combined with the purity of the highly protected water of the abbey’s wells, gives Chimay its unique richness. Since 1862, Chimay’s secondary fermented ales have neither been pasteurized nor filtered and only natural ingredients are used. To fully appreciate the agreeable combination of fresh hops and yeast of the Chimay Triple, serve chilled, in a wide-mouthed glass.” Nice!

I really like this next little bit on the back label:

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This way, one knows precisely how to store and drink the beer, AND we know this is a real Trappist product. This illustration leads nicely to my choice of glassware for this beer:

Proper Chimay 10 ounce goblet

Proper Chimay 10 ounce goblet

This is what Chimay is intended to be drunk from – a 10 ounce goblet. It’s something of a change for me, even after having acclimated myself to the (appropriate) way of drinking beer out of a glass. It feels nice in the hand and should be held by the stem.

Now then – enough with the introductory information. Let’s get to the beer. Here’s the first pour:

First pour. Nice, 2 inch head, but a bit lopsided due to the fact that I poured it incorrectly

First pour. Nice, 2 inch head, but a bit lopsided due to the fact that I poured it incorrectly

This is what it looks like right out of the bottle. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to pour directly into the center of the goblet, which I (later) found out is incorrect. This should be poured very similarly to many other beers, with the goblet tilted at a 45 degree angle. You’ll see what a good pour looks like here in a minute.

I tried to lighten the colour up a bit, but it still isn’t as light as the beer is in real life. It’s got a nice dark straw look to it, and the beer is still bubbling at this point. And look at that beautiful head of foam! The nose of this beer comes out of the bottle swinging – at a distance of about two feet, I could smell it clearly. The nose is very hoppy, very bitter, but not unpleasant. The head settled down to about an inch after sitting for a minute or two, and then I had the first sip.

I immediately noticed the feel of this beer – even with plenty of non-foam intake, it’s got an incredibly foamy mouthfeel. I’m undecided whether that’s pleasant or not at this point. There is a tiny – tiny – tinge of sweetness, with the overall taste being hoppy bitterness. The aftertaste is even more bitter than the mouth, and a bit astringent (I was reminded of some drier wines). After the pour, the head settled down to about a half inch:

After the first sip

After the first sip

With the second tasting, that foamy mouthfeel was still there (and a little hint – it doesn’t go away throughout the entire experience). I noticed some sort of rusty/smoky taste here, and the third sip was even more “vegetably” (yes I know that’s not a word). The head continued to shrink as I got on with the beer, but I noticed some great lacing:

Check out the webby lacing

Check out the lacing

Now here’s the great part. The bottle reviewed here was only 11.2 ounces, and the goblet is 10. However, due to the big head on this beer, several refills in order (I ended up with three full goblets). Here’s what the first refill looked like, this time properly poured:

That's a bit better

That's a bit better

Going through this goblet, I noticed some definitely yeasty undertones, and I have to admit that the 8% ABV comes through pretty loud on this beer. It has a bit of a bite to it (especially if you are used to lower ABV beers and “softer” forms of drink). As I said above, finishing the bottle required this goblet and one more.

This beer was definitely something new to me, the guy who thought Guinness was bitter. That’s pure milk chocolate compared to Chimay Tripel. I can see myself enjoying this beer with a few more tastings, but for the moment I’m going to give it a B on account of the mouthfeel. I don’t mind the foamy feeling at first, and even like it on the first few sips, but I think it’s a bit much here.

On an interesting note, the monks have posted an entire section of their Chimay website dedicated to cooking with the beer. Check it out here!

Thanks for joining me on this review! If you’re considering trying it for yourself, check your local fine beer and spirits retailer. I found Chimay Tripel at Big Red Liquors at the price of $4.94 per bottle.

Don’t forget – alcohol is meant to be enjoyed, but it can hurt you and those around you. Drink responsibly – buzzed driving is drunk driving, too. Enjoy your fine brews in moderation, and don’t be afraid to know when it’s time to stop. As they say over at Beer Advocate – Respect Beer!

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Responses

  1. Hmm… sounds like a beer I may have to try.

    Maybe after a Depot day.

    … or maybe before.

    Either way, that’s one new reader you’ve picked up.

    -JH-

  2. […] The Brew Review […]


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