Chimay White: Beer by God
For my money and taste buds, Belgium makes the best beer in the world. If I made a list of, say, 10 of my all-time favorite beers -- which I'm far too lazy to do in actual fact -- more than half would be Belgian. Somewhere in that list would be at least one Chimay. God has apparently passed on the recipe from the beer they drink in heaven to a bunch of Trappist monks at the Abbaye de Scourmont in Chimay. These guys crank out three varieties of beer -- a red, a white and a blue. That's the color of the bottlecaps, not the beers. Of these, the white is best by a nose.
Chimay White is a Tripel-style Begian ale that is strong (at 8% alcohol), complex and dangerously drinkable. Many tripels tend to be on the overpowering side; jammed with as much flavor and/or alcohol as the brewer could stuff in, just because they can. Those beers become almost a chore to drink. Not Chimay. It is complex, and the alcohol is noticeable, but it remains, first and foremost, a great drinking beer. A perfect introduction to tripels, if not the perfect tripel.
This beer has yeast in the bottle and continues to ferment, so if you are squeamish about sediment, pour carefully. You'll need to anyway. Chimay is highly carbonated and will practically explode into a dense, white cloud of a head. The beer is amber colored, almost an orange, and is hazy from the yeast. The aroma is dominated by fruitiness, mainly citrus, but there are some spices lurking underneath. Let it calm down a while. It'll soften and become more complex as it warms a bit.
The initial flavor of Chimay White is all malty sweetness. There is just a brief hint of the bubble gum-type flavor that almost always puts me off a beer. It works fine here. A nod of some indecipherable spice wafts through just briefly. Then, as the swallow begins, the hops kick in and give the whole thing a crisp, dry, refreshing finish. This beer is very near perfection. A beer that many other brewers try to copy. Usually unsuccessfully. All the flavors that are muddled and wrong in so many other attempts ring out in harmony in this Chimay.
As far as tripels go, Chimay is just a notch lighter and thinner than most. This is no knock; it retains plenty of flavor and kick. It means it can be paired with food a little better. It's still not going to match up perfectly with much, but it won't detract from anything on the menu. This is a beer meant to be enjoyed on its own, though. Have a little snack at the bar if you're feeling especially hungry, but don't let food distract you from the flavor of this beer. After a few, the meal won't be remembered anyway.
Of the three Chimay beers, the white is probably easiest to find. It's also going to be much more available than any other Trappist beers. Chimay earmarks 20% of production for export. Given the choice of any beer, I still tend to opt for two or three others over the Chimay Tripel. That's just personal preference, though, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this beer. Tripels just aren't my usual tipple of choice. I assume I'll get my fill of the stuff once the mortal coil is shed. For now, I'll just keep having the occasional sip to remind me of what awaits.