Chimay: Belgium's favorite brewery

Photo by Marc Venema
Photo by Marc Venema

Chimay: Belgium's favorite brewery

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

What’s all the buzz about Trappist beer? Trappist is a term used to describe a specific order of monasteries which branched off from other Cisterian congregations in 1664 in La Trappe, France. While some of the strict rules put into place by the monastery’s head abbot way back then have since been relaxed, one of the most important tenets of Trappist belief, that all such monasteries be self-sufficient, remains in place.  

True Trappist beers are defined as those brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, under the control and responsibility of a community of monks who are involved throughout all steps of the brewing process and the marketing of the finished product. A large portion of the income generated by this activity is devoted to the needs of the community and social work.

In 1998, eight Trappist abbeys founded the International Trappist Association to protect the Trappist name from misuse by commercial enterprises and establish specific criteria for the beer bearing its trademark and logo. Other products produced by monasteries such as jams, cheese, yeast and other goods can bear this logo as well. At present, the ITA unites 19 Trappist abbeys within Europe, along with one in Spencer, Massachusetts.

Chimay beer is brewed in the Scourmont Abbey, which was established by a small group of monks near the town of Chimay, Belgium back in 1850. A farm, a brewery, and cheese-making operation soon followed. The abbey carries out much the same economic activities now as it did then, all the while respecting ethical values: the use of only natural and protected ingredients, respect for its workers, and using income from sales generated toward social aid.

Chimay’s range of beers is not extensive. The Red is fruity, coppery and slightly sweet; the Blue a dark ale with a strong aroma; the Triple, a brew that walks the balance between sweet and bitter; and the Gold, with its hoppy aroma and spices. The latest addition to the Chimay family is the Grand Réserve barrel-aged, which gains its nuances by fermentation in wooden barrels.

It’s possible to experience the winning combination of Chimay beers and cheese. A four-step tasting process and ideal beer-cheese pairings are shared on the Chimay website.

Photo by Rie Ono - Patron enjoys a pint of Chimay Beer

Although the brewing facilities aren’t accessible to the public, visitors are welcome to the Espace Chimay, a permanent exhibition revealing the secrets of the production of Chimay Trappist beers and cheeses. The display includes an animated model of the abbey, a peek into the brewer’s cupboard, and a walk through the Abbey’s garden, church and cemetery. A visit concludes with a tasting of a 25 cl Chimay on tap at the nearby Poteaupré Inn, a guest house which has been welcoming visitors for more than a hundred years. In a lively atmosphere reminiscent of an English pub, gourmet dishes are served, several of which feature the Chimay ingredients themselves and all of which pair nicely with the beers on tap. Don’t miss “Chimay Gold,” a pure malt beer available only on tap until fairly recently, or another house specialty, Poteaupré cheese. The inn also offers seven traditionally appointed rooms for overnight guests.

Espace Chimay is located at Rue de Poteaupré 5, B-6464 Bourlers, Belgium. The brasserie is open daily except in the low season when it’s closed on Mondays. Fees are not advertised on their website so be sure to check directly with Espace Chimay.

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