Chimay: a Classic, Full of Surprises

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about “Women & Beer”, following a tasting event in Bruges, organized by the Belgian Beer & Food magazine, where I enjoyed tasting several interesting brews and learned a lot about beer. Nevertheless, I was slightly disapointed by what I felt was a reinforcement of the stereotype around women and beer. With such an inititial impression, I couldn’t hide my enthusiasm when I was invited to another “Women & Beer”-themed tasting, this time focused on the famous Chimay. I couldn’t pass on an opportunity to taste their three flagship brews in combination with the cheese produced by the same abbey. Nom nom nom !

Living in the province of Hainaut and having been part of a Universtiy fraternity, I am, of course, familiar with the name as well as with the beer itself. AlthoughI know I like it as a beer, I never payed much attention to its taste. Chimay is one of those beers I drink every now and then but don’t actually know well enough to associate with a flavour. It was, therefore, interesting to have the chance to be more attentive to that and to compare the Red, Blue and White caps. The beer and cheese pairing made much sense. Red beer with red cheese, blue beer with blue cheese and white beer with… the “Grand classique” cheese.

A 165-years-old tradition
Before plunging into the glasses, a small piece of history. I was surprised to hear that the abbey of Chimay was actually founded by a group of monks from… Westvleteren, a Flemish city where they make another very famous trappist product, repeatedly awarded “world’s best beer”. They established themselves on the high Scourmont plateau in 1850, on land given to them by the prince of Chimay. The soil was rather poor at that time and they worked hard to make it fertile. In 1862, they brewed their first beer, known as “Chimay red” today. The blue version only came about a century after the foundation of the abbey, on Christmas 1948. The “Chimay blue” was therefore first known as the Christmas beer. 18 years later came the White cap, also known as Chimay Triple.

A little introduction to the history of Chimay.
A little introduction to the history of Chimay.

So these three constitute the basis of the abbey’s offering. There is also a fourth brew, called Chimay Gold, which is much less known. The monks started brewing it before the construction of the abbey and it was never supposed to be commercialised. Light in alcohol, with only 4.8%, this easily digestible beer was intended for the consumption of the monks only. However, as visitors to the abbey got the opportunity to try it, the demand for it outside the abbey started growing. But because the monks were reluctant to start commercialisation of the brew on a large scale, they opted for a partial solution and made it available in a few select venues.

The production of the Chimay cheese, on the other hand, started in 1876. There are 7 varieties and they are, it goes without saying, at their best if served with a Chimay beer. They are made with milk from the region, which is never produced further than 30 kilometers away from the abbey.

Things you thought you knew about beer… which are false
It is funny how you can still be surprised by a beer that you have already tasted several times – though not on a regular basis. Somehow, I was expecting a much stronger taste for the Red and the Blue caps. In spite of their relatively high alcohol content – 7% and 9%, respectively – they flow very easily down the throat. I always have the same feeling when drinking Guinness. Again and again, I am amazed about the fact that I actually like the taste of that beer, which I imagine as being much heavier than it actually is. For some reason, I never expect it to be as cold as it is either. Maybe because the pitch black colour and the creamy foam remind me of coffee more than anything else? But I am getting off the track, wandering through the Irish valleys again, when I should be in the Belgian dales with all my senses.

Once the three beers had been served, I had the chance to observe the now very clear difference in colour. Copper for the Red cap, gold for the White cap and dark, almost black, for the Blue cap. They were served in an ascending order of alcohol content. With 8%, the triple therefore sat nicely in between the Red and the Blue. Another myth that was debunked that night: I thought the triple would have the highest alcohol percentage but that was the blue.

And speaking about misconceptions: although it is not the one with the highest alcohol content, the triple is the most bitter of the three, as well as the strongest in taste… and nevertheless, the one the female guests that evening liked the most. According to stereotypes, women will generally go for a fruitier brew, so I was glad that we proved this belief to be wrong. And so was the lady who conducted the survey among the tasters. Marjorie Elich is the representative of “La Bière des Femmes”, a label which is given to some beers that have been tasted and approved by women. The initiative is meant to draw more women back to the essence of beer and away from what marketers think the more elegant gender would like: lighter and fruitier beer or a glamourous label. Yay for this noble enterprise.

To exhaust the subject of misconceptions, I also learned that the Chimay Blue Cap could be conserved in a cellar for up to… 10 years! And I thought all along that beer wasn’t to be kept for longer than a year, which is true for the Red and White caps, though. If you open the bottles you bought yesterday in 2025, you might, at best, be very disapointed.

Beer and cheese & cheese and beer
Beer and cheese & cheese and beer

The one thing you ignored about trappist beer

As far as the combination with the cheese goes, as stated previously, it made sense to combine the Chimay Red beer with the Chimay Red cheese, as the latter is washed with the brew of the same colour. The same logic applies to the blue, the blue cheese being slightly creamier than the red version, in order to compensate for a somewhat more bitter beer. The White Cap was therefore combined with an even creamier cheese. For me, this was definitely the winning combination.

But when it comes to promoting Chimay beer when I am abroad, I am colour blind. And the same goes with any other Belgian trappist beer. From the eleven brands that are allowed to carry the official trappist designation, six are Belgian. Definitely something to be proud of. Did you know that one of the four requirements to be authorized a “trappist” label is that these brews have to be sold by non-profit organisations? The proceeds from the sales cover the living expenses of the monks in those abbeys, as well as the maintenance of their buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help those in need. The monks are not supposed to promote this fact either but, if you’re about to drink a beer anyway, you might as well spend a few euros on a good cause, on top of an excellent regional product. You don’t like beer and still want to participate? Rejoyce, the rule also applies to the cheese.

Tasting with the expert comments of "Délices & Caprices".
Tasting with the expert comments of “Délices & Caprices”.

 

 

 

 

 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Mahalia De Smedt says:

    Ma douce, tu me fais sourire avec la bière de Chimay 😉 je connais si bien la communauté de l’intérieur et ça me reporte auprès d’eux en un instant!! Plein de câlins et une belle journée à toi!!Ps: J’organise l’Italie pour te trouver le top logement à un prix au plus bas aujourd’hui!! Kiss

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