In Belgium, near the French border at the source of the Oise River, lies a town called Chimay. In 1850, it saw the founding of a priory for Trappist monks by a priest and the Prince of Chimay. In 1862, the monastery founded a brewery that they would use to fund the abbey and other charitable causes.

In 1988, they updated their brewery to increase production, and they began exporting their beers (and cheeses) around the world. Today, Chimay produces five ales, one of which was originally available only at the abbey for the monks, their patersbier—literally “father’s beer,” a light ale that has only recently been shipped in limited quantities as Chimay Doreé. There’s also a beer originally brewed for their 150th anniversary, as well as their Chimay Blue, Chimay Red and Chimay Cinq Cents (the white label). I had a Blue recently—and marveled at how good it is, prompting me to make Chimay beer this month’s focus. Chimay beer can now be found nearly everywhere, but that does not mean these beers should be taken for granted.

I first came across bottles of Chimay beer at the Vons in La Quinta. At the time—somewhere around 1993—the store had an excellent “Beers of the World” section, and it did much to introduce me to different beer styles, helping shape my tastes. I don’t recall which Chimay beer I had first, but I eventually cycled my way through the three that were available, and have done so many times since, including a magnum of Chimay Blue on one New Year’s Eve with friends.

What struck me was how light the beer was on the palate, while being higher in alcohol content (especially back then, before the 8-10% alcohol-by-volume mark was routinely topped). The Belgian abbey tradition is to make incredibly flavorful ales that can deceive you into thinking they are session beers, but they are meant for celebration—at least to the monks that brew them, anyway.

I’ll begin with the beer that motivated this column, Chimay Grande Réserve, aka Chimay Blue. It had apparently been long enough since my last one to take me aback a bit and get me to recall just how wonderful of an experience it is. It took several sips for me to grasp everything that I was experiencing, and I probably still missed some things that are going on in the beer. Rich, luxurious malt flavors abound, with notes of caramel, prune, chocolate and even marzipan. The finish sees flavors of baking spice with fruit. All of this is rounded out by the crispness and dryness of the 9% ABV ale that adds the period to the end of the sentence—or should I say comma, because your brain will likely be saying, “Again!” not long afterward. Beers like this are a favorite of mine with Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, because they complement so many of those flavors, and brilliantly contrast with others, all while cleansing the palate before the next bite. Try it at your next feast, and thank me later.

Let’s move down the line to Chimay Cinq Cents, or Chimay White/Triple. “Cinq Cents” (literally “500” in French) refers to being brewed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the principality of Chimay and is a Belgian tripel. A thick white head with tight bubbles tops this golden-colored ale. The White is the hoppiest of the whole lineup—but don’t think of American beers when I say hoppy. The hops here, usually German “Noble” hops, add a floral, almost-minty character. What really gets to shine here is the yeast character, with citrus and pome fruit esters. It’s dry as a bone at 8% alcohol. The monks accomplish this by adding candy sugar and even white sugar to add fuel (and some flavor, in the former case) for yeast to convert into alcohol without adding proteins that contribute to the body of a beer. This allows for high alcohol levels and, with refermentation in the bottle similar to champagne, light bodies. If asked for a food recommendation, I’d direct you to rich, aged cheeses. You can do this at home right now with a simple visit to a nicer grocery store.

Last but certainly not least is Chimay Première, or Chimay Red. It was the first beer brewed by the abbey 161 years ago. Its style is referred to as a dubbel, and it sees the return of malt as the centerpiece of the beer. At a relatively light 7%, the malt character jumps out with dried fruits like peach and apricot, before rounding into a rich, biscuity flavor and a slight floral hop finish. Again, despite all of this depth of flavor, the finish is dry. Part of the finish is almost wine-like. (I would probably be able to pinpoint which kind of red wine I was getting if I drank wine at all; I probably should have asked Katie Finn, my fellow columnist.) Try this with a slice of peach pie, and see what that does for you.

Beers like this are a favorite of mine with Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, because they complement so many of those flavors, and brilliantly contrast with others.

I could go on and on—about the history of the beers and of their styles, about more food pairings, about how they are brewed, Trappist beers in general, etc.—but I wanted to simply share my love of Chimay and its products. Even though the brewery has ramped up production to the point where the beer can be found almost everywhere, the product remains true to its heritage and is just as good as it ever was to me and my much-younger self.

Buy a bottle of each; buy some Chimay cheese if you can find it; sit down with some friends; and enjoy these absolute classics.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He can be reached at

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