Size: 330 ml
ABV: 9 %
Chimay print the year of bottling on their ‘Blue’ labels. Many other beers do, but not prominently on the front of the bottle. One of the unique selling points of good Belgian beer is that it will age well if cellared, and Chimay Blue, or ‘Grand Reserve’ as it is known in the 75cl bottles, is probably the most renowned exponent. They put the year of bottling on the front, in the sense that it identifies the vintage.
We have already drunk a few beers that age well – notably the Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31) and Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13), and they tend to be the heavier complex dark beers, which change, vary and usually improve when exposed to periods of time in the dark! This is known as cellaring. I don’t have a cellar, but I do have a large space on the floor in the bedroom (which my wife calls the Floordrobe) where my constant supply of beverages sit. There is however a darker place, deep in the real wardrobe, where I keep the darker, more appropriate beers, and there are one or two Chimay Blues among them ready for a tasting in a few years.
Cellaring works because the beer is bottle-conditioned. The yeast that is propagated at bottling will continue to work its magic if given the right environment, just as a plant will flourish if given the right feed, compost and climate. Two golden rules that many experts allude to is, a constant 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit if possible (normal room temperature), and little or no exposure to light. Any temperature higher than this can cause the lifespan of the beer to drastically shorten, and anything much lower will often induce a cloudiness which is referred to as ‘chill haze’. It is important to remember that the recommendation above is for beers of the Chimay Blue ilk – such as barley wines, triples and dark ales). Actual cellar temperature (normally 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit is normally recommended for standard ales – such as IPAs and Saisons, while even lower temperatures (ie 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit – refrigeration temperatures) are recommended for lighter beers such as wheat beers or pilseners/lagers.
I couldn’t get my hands on anything older than a 2008, and so my review is based on that. I guess it is important to note also that it is from the 330 ml bottle, as opposed to the ‘Grand Reserve’. It is often reported that the yeast weaves its magic better in the larger bottle. The beer, regardless of age is beautiful. It pours a dark brown that shimmers when held up to the light, with a yeasty froth of head. It smells mysterious, and the flavour is smoky, bordering on dry but with a distinctive flavour of malt. If this one is this good, I can’t wait for another one in 5 years !
(Post-Script) – I couldn’t wait five years and so on a heady night in the Kulminator bar in Antwerp I tried a vintage ‘Grand Reserve’. Believe the hype; it was remarkable !