Reviewed: Chimay Red
Official description: The Chimay Red is the oldest of the Chimays. Its coppery color and sweet, fruity taste make it a particularly tasty dark ale.
Brasserie de Chimay (Abbaye de Scourmont) – Chimay Première (Red Label) – 12oz bottle served in Rastal Harmony glass – 7% ABV
It’s been possibly twelve years since I’ve indulged myself with a Chimay Red. Chimay is one of only six Trappist breweries in Belgium, the others being Achel, La Trappe, Orval, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Apart from Westvleteren, Belgian Trappist ales are widely distributed across the U.S. with Chimay arguably the most prominent. The Trappist monks of Scourmont Abbey brew four core beers, a gold label patersbier at 4.8% (previously only available at the monastery), a red label Abbey Dubbel at 7%, a white label Abbey Tripel at 8%, and a blue label Abbey Quadrupel at 9%. Barrel-aged editions of the blue label are also bottled from time to time.
I’m sampling Chimay Red from a 12oz bottle that I picked up for a whopping $6.35 plus tax. The glass bottle itself has “Abbaye de Scourmont” in beautiful raised lettering on the neck. On the paper label, there’s nothing that resembles a bottling date or even best before date. For this beer, all you really need to know is the vintage, since this beer can be cellared for an indefinite period. But there’s not even a year on the bottle, just a code “L17 – 7 99.” Searching around, there’s no definitive guide on how to interpret these.
Prying off the cap, there’s a moderate hiss and then the bubbles begin to slowly rise up through the neck without any coaxing – a slow gusher. Quickly transferring into my glass, Chimay Red is clear, deep red in color with amber to brown hues depending on the lighting. Giant, tan bubbles build up for one colossal head of foam. At the bottom of the bottle is a thin layer of yeast sediment that I opted to omit.
Cherry cola, red licorice, fruit cake, and Concord grapes round off the top notes on this beer. It’s mildly yeasty and fairly tight in the aroma – barely changing as the beer warms up to room temperature. Digging in, Chimay Red is heavy on the dark fruits with black cherry, cola, prunes, and brown sugar flavors. There’s intense minerality to the mouthfeel, which gives it a red wine character. Overall bitterness is extremely low, which usually opens the door for such a high-gravity, sweet beer to become cloying and sticky. Instead, Chimay Red finds balance through the aforementioned mineral flavors as well as extremely high carbonation and mild roastiness. The sparking, effervescent effect in the mouth keeps it from tasting like cough syrup. High minerality and high carbonation work in tandem to also mask the red label’s 7% remarkably well. It even gains a touch of savoriness as it warms as stewed prune flavors in conjunction with roasted grain hint at soy sauce.
Perceived Specs for Chimay Red
Chimay Red is a world-classic that is a must-try for anyone learning about craft beer. In terms of Abbey Dubbels, it’s a masterpiece of a recipe that I adore for its ability to find balance through high carbonation, high minerality, and mild roastiness. I would like to sample it head-to-head, though, with the other Trappist competition out there, as my current reigning favorite is Chimay Red’s archrival Westmalle Dubbel.
Westmalle Dubbel, La Trappe Dubbel, St. Bernardus Prior 8, Ommegang Abbey Ale, New Belgium Abbey.
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