Beer Review 0416: Chimay Red Cap Dubbel Trappist Ale

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Bières de Chimay is a brewery located in Hainaut, Belgium, and is one of eight breweries that produce Trappist beer. Trappist ales are beers made within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by monks themselves or under their direct supervision. As part of the rules to carry the authentic Trappist logo, the beer cannot be produced for profit, only to sustain the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Any leftover profit is donated to charity.

Chimay was the first such Trappist brewery to open; founded inside Scourmont Abbey in 1862, the water used to make the beer is drawn from wells inside the monastery walls. Chimay produces four beers — Red (a Dubbel), White (a Tripel), Blue (a Quadrupel), and a Golden, which is a lower alcohol content beer made just for the drinking pleasure of the monks. Once a batch is brewed, it is transported to a nearby bottling facility; each beer is refermented inside the bottle, or dosed with yeast, producing natural carbonation.

Chimay can produce around 3,200,000 US gallons of beer each year, thanks to a 1988 expansion, and yearly sales exceed $50 million. Perhaps the most common of the Trappist beer brands, Chimay can not only be found in dedicated beer bottle shops, but also in most higher-end chain supermarkets.

Chimay Red Cap is a Dubbel that comes in at 7% ABV (alcohol by volume). Known in the 750 ml corked & caged bottles as Première, it is the oldest of the Chimay beers and the current recipe was crafted by Father Théodore near the end of World War II.

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The pour delivered a truly beautiful beer, issuing up a large collar of foamy head that transitioned into a creamy cover over a couple minutes time. This head was long-lasting, and stuck around in some form all throughout drinking. The beer itself was orange-amber-brown, all depending on how you looked at it in bright light. The body was cloudy and got even more so when the yeast dregs were added; it’s like there was a swirl of particles and sediment floating around. Lacing was fair but seemed to drop off the longer the beer was allowed to sit in the glass.

On the nose, there’s sweet bread, lots of caramel and dark fruit, especially raisin and prune. This plays off a nice, spicy yeast very well, and the yeast adds another layer of complexity to the bread, contributing some doughy notes. The peppery spice finds a friend with some candied orange peel, and a smidgen of alcohol rounds things out. As Chimay Red warms, the dark fruit and bread aromas become more pronounced and punchy.

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The best way I can describe the taste is simply a very well made light Trappist beer. This starts out with deep flavors of sugar, bread, and the dark fruits, buttressed with a peppery, rye-like spice. And this is where things start to fall apart a little: a mild hit of alcohol brings on the finish, which doesn’t have nearly the intensity that it started with — there’s more notes of bread, along with a sweet, sugary caramel, and a very mild hop bitterness that serves to make the sweetness clean. This dubbel is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel that has a ton of carbonation; you can see the bubbles rising to the top, even long after its been poured.

Presenting nice flavors until the end where it seems to peter out a bit, Chimay Red is a tasty beer that you might enjoy when looking for something a little on the light end in the Trappist offerings. Outstanding given the history, and one I’d actively seek out again when drinking this style of beer.

Chimay Red Cap Dubbel Trappist Ale, 91 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 11.2 oz. bottle.

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