Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Trappist Breweries: The grand daddy of them all
Here's to the Anheuser Busch of Trappist Breweries, Chimay. In fact, the name Chimay is almost synonymous with "Trappist". I've been surprised that in the last two or three years Chimay has made its way from small specialty beer bars (and stores) to your grocer's beer aisle all over the country. What's Chimay's story? Here goes:
The brewery was founded at Scourmont Abbey, in the Belgian municipality of Chimay in 1862. In order to meet their needs and to sustain employment in the region, since 1862 the Trappist monks of Chimay have produced beers and cheeses.
The brewery produces three commercially distributed ales and a beer exclusively for the monks. The brewery was updated in 1988, and currently produces 120,000 hectolitres annually. Since 1876 the monastery has also made cheese, and currently offers four cheeses.
As with all Trappist breweries, the beer is sold only for financial support of the monastery and other good causes. All of the profit from the sale of the beer is distributed to charities and for community development around the region. The water for the beers is drawn from a well located on the monastery premises. The filtered solids from the beer mash are recycled into livestock feed which is given to the same cows that produce the milk for Chimay cheeses. That's the monks way of keeping it Green!, no doubt.
Once brewed, the beer is transported from the monastery to the bottling plant 12 km away. The beer is then refermented in the bottle for three weeks before being shipped around the world. 20% of Chimay beer production is sold on the export markets.
The brewing ingredients have been the subject of interest by many brewers world-wide, all the beers are made from water, malted barley, wheat starch, sugar, hop extract and yeast; malt extract is used in the Rouge and Bleu for coloring.
* Chimay Rouge (Red), 7% abv. It is known as Première. It is a dark brown color and has a sweet, fruity aroma. The malt in this beer has a nutty character that goes well with the hints of pepper from the house yeast.
* Chimay Bleue (Blue), 9% abv darker ale. It is known as Grande Réserve. This copper-brown beer has a creamy head and a slightly bitter taste. Considered to be the "classic" Chimay ale, it exhibits a considerable depth of fruity, peppery character.
* Chimay Blanche (White), or Chimay Triple, 8% abv golden tripel. It is known as Cinq Cents. This crisp beer bears a light orange color and a very bitter taste, and is the most hopped and dryest of the three.
* Chimay Dorée, 4.8% abv ale, brewed from very similar ingredients as the Red, but paler and spiced differently. It is intended only to be drunk at the abbey or at the nearby inn Auberge de Poteaupré which is associated with the abbey. The monks themselves drink this variety rather than the stronger three. The Dorée is not sold commercially and the rare bottles which make their way out are through unofficial sources. Even the brewery's own web site makes no mention of this variety.
* Chimay with Beer, whose rind is soaked in Chimay beer.
* Chimay Grand Classic, a semi-hard pressed cheese.
* Chimay Grand Cru, made from pasteurized milk and matured for six weeks.
* Old Chimay, a hard cheese matured for at least six months.
Well that's Chimay in a nutshell. Pick some up next time your at the store, if you are extremely patient save a bottle or two and age it for a year or two.