Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chimay Grande Reserve review

Chimay Grande ReserveI've been saving this beer for a few weeks now and decided that last night was to be the right time to open this up. This beer was recommended to me by a fellow beer geek at one of the local breweries last month. Seeing how I've been on a bit of a Belgian streak lately, this beer fit the bill. I'm talking about a Belgian Dark Strong Ale from the trappist monks of Chimay in Baileux, Belgium and their Chimay (Blue) Grande Reserve. This beer has a following and therefore comes with a lot of build up. I've had this beer on the shelf for weeks but I could not wait any longer.

I wanted the conditions to be just right to sample this. I waited until after dinner and during a quiet moment to open this up. This beer is packaged like a fine wine with a twisted wire cork guard, a metal cork cap and of course the cork itself. This beer should be best served in a Trappist grail cup, but seeing how I've yet to buy one I had to settle for a tulip glass.

I had heard that this beer is highly carbonated and was worried that there would be a lot of pressure in this bottle. I didn't want to have a repeat of the beer explosion I had when opening up a bottle of La Folie months ago. I took the bottle into the bathroom and opened it slowly over the sink. I slowly twisted off the wire and grabbed the cork and turned it until I heard a very loud POP! Luckily, no beer shot out of the opening. I've also heard that you want this beer to breathe before sampling and that a wide mouth glass would help bring out all of the flavors.

I poured the beer slowly into the glass and was amazed at how much carbonation was in this bottle. A nice tall head rose from the glass and nearly filled half the glass at first. The head retention on this beer is unreal. I waited nearly 5 minutes for the head to go down a bit before I could fill the rest of the glass. There is an amazing amount of bubble action going on here and the small head and bead remained for nearly the entire sampling.

The beer itself was a cloudy brown. I could not see through this beer except for around the sides and bottom of the glass which had a reddish overtone to it. This was certainly dark but not as dark as a stout, more like a cloudy porter. With all of the carbonation going on, I knew that this was going to be something different.

After about 5 minutes to let the head subside a bit, I took my first whiff of this beer. It reminded me somehow of apples with a mix of Belgian yeast. It was pleasantly sweet smelling and not the least bit bitter or hoppy. This smelled delicious. This beer was still cold from the fridge and I really wanted it to warm up a bit. I had 25 ounces of this to go through so I knew it would probably improve as it went along.

The first sip was dominated by the carbonation. It was slightly sweet tasting with that familiar Belgian overtones that I've seen in New Belgium beers. It drank quite smooth and went down with no bitterness. Mmm wow, this was good beer! I got a bit of a floral effect in my mouth that's hard to describe. I could taste the malt and the yeast and it mixed well with the bubbles in my mouth. It's almost like a champagne effect but not nearly so. I wondered how the high alcohol content was going to affect the taste (9% ABV) but was amazed that I got no alcohol bite with this beer.

I drank this beer and relaxed in my recliner and watched the late NCAA basketball game with it. This is far from being a session beer. It's unique flavor is something that I've never had before. I didn't feel like drinking a lot of this as it was a bit on the sweet side. After the first glass of this, I decided to slow down a bit. The alcohol didn't really hit me at once. It slowly crept up on me much later. While this was an extremely tasty beer, I found myself not wanting much more than a glass and a half. I didn't want to waste any of this beer and slowly drank it over the course of an hour. The entire bottle was simply too much flavor and intensity for one sitting. I'd recommend sharing one of these 25.4 oz bottles with one or two friends.

The Chimay Blue is certainly worth seeking out if you've never tried a trappist beer before. Being a darker beer was just a plus for me. The beer rating sites all loved this beer and I can see why. Beeradvocate gave this a high "A-". Ratebeer put this in the 99th percentile and a 4.02/5 rating. It was interesting going through the comments on the ranking sites while I sipped on this brew. Some thought it was the best in the world, while others simply didn't get it. Everyone seems to experience beer in their own way.

I really did enjoy this beer. Thanks to Arkansas Jake for recommending this to me. It certainly lived up to the hype although I must admit that one glass was simply enough for me to thoroughly enjoy it. I'll give this beer a 4.0 out of 5 ranking as it is certainly one unique experience. At $10 a bottle, it was well worth it. I'd probably only buy this beer for a special occasion but not for just anytime. I can't afford to drink this well all the time.

Related articles:
- Chimay Premiere (red) Ale review.
- Gulden Draak Ale review.
- Duvel Belgian Golden Ale review.
- Oud Beersel Kriek review.
- Return to Choice City (St. Bernardus).

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