CHIMAY/COGNAC - Chimay Bleue stands out as a classic amongst Trappist beers. Nevertheless, its brewer continues to break new ground. The first ‘limited edition’ Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques saw the light in 2015.
This beer matures on oak for six months whilst it undergoes a second fermentation, before fermenting in the bottle for a third time.
Ever since the launch of the Chimay Bleue, a limited quantity of this brew has been set apart to age in new or used barrels crafted from different varieties of wood.
“We experiment and compare the taste evolution of this unfiltered and unpasteurised degustation beer,” Jérôme Goffinet, spokesman for Bières de Chimay, explains.
The aromas of Chimay Bleue range from coffee, cocoa, dried fruits and stone fruits including apricot and nectarine. Mocha and coffee dominate in the taste. The alcohol provides a warming finish and leaves the palate with a refreshing, fruity taste.
70,000 bottles of Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques 2016 (10.5% ABV) are to be filled with a blend of beers matured in used cognac barrels made from French oak and American oak as well as new barrels.
Jérôme Goffinet: “Served at 10°C to 12°C, the Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques 2016 yields surprising aromas of cognac. It is a clear beer with a delicate head. The aroma is determined by wood and cognac.
The beer will gain in complexity in the bottle and acquires its optimum taste half a year after coming onto the market.
The beer ages in a positive way, becoming milder and providing a more delicate balance. Finally, beer that has matured in recycled cognac barrels demonstrates less astringency compared with beer aged in new barrels only.”
At Chimay, barrel aging is far from a new trend. Jérôme Goffinet: “One hundred years ago, the Trappist beer was matured in oak barrels. We are travelling back to the source with this homage to the craft of brewing.”
Food pairing with the Chimay à la Bleue, Vieux Chimay and Mont de Chimay cheeses is an obvious and delicious choice. The Mont de Chimay springs a notable surprise thanks to its slightly bitter aftertaste.
When tasting the beer, cheese affineur Frédéric Van Tricht recommends a slightly sour goat’s cheese for the necessary contrast. Why not try an Epoisses or a strong Roquefort blue-veined cheese with its salty touches?
Nothing is left to chance when it comes to the production of Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques. The brewer’s choice fell on a supplier of barrels crafted from American and French oak.
We pay a visit to cooper Francisco Loureiro, who provides the French barrels and is based near the small French town of Cognac, halfway between Bordeaux and Angoulême.
This is where Francisco makes and renovates oak barrels, predominantly for the cognac trade.
Our first stop is at the sawmill; oak trunks are delivered and unloaded, then the wood is cleaved and turned into timber with professional expertise.
“These trees have are a minimum of 50 years old, indeed some of them are even 500 years old,” Francisco tells us.
“Our craftsmen cleave and saw down the trunks just the way it should be done."
"They can ‘read the wood’ by following its natural grain. The timber will then dry out for two to three years before it is used to produce watertight barrels.” At 7 o’clock in the morning, the coopers are already hard at work in Francisco’s workshop.
Small wood fires are burning on the insides of barrels that are still open at the bottom.
Such a barrel can reach a temperature of 150°C on the inside and 50°C on the outside, maintained for 40 to 50 minutes; after which it will be manipulated into the right shape, sealed at the top and bottom and nailed shut.
Now it is time to drill the tap hole, beat the hoops into place and make small, careful adjustments with the utmost precision.
Francisco: “To finish off, we part-fill the barrels with water, using compressed air, to make 100% sure that they are watertight.”
Chimay is exploring taste boundaries using its well-known Trappist beer and has already been partnered successfully with cognac. We have an appointment with wine grower Sascha Boulet, another of Francisco Loureiro’s customers.
In common with most of his colleagues in the Cognac area, Sascha specialises in the Ugni Blanc grape variety and his wine is used for a well-known cognac label.
Sascha uses his own equipment to distil the wine before it ripens for two to three years in barrels crafted by Loureiro.
This ‘house of cognac’ will then blend the distillates.
Sascha: “To make cognac you need grapes with plenty of acidity as well as a sufficiently high sugar content and quite a neutral taste."
"The cognac develops tannins and takes on a lovely amber colour when it is cask-matured.”
Francisco prefers to use coarse-grained oak wood.
“In selecting our cognac barrels, we look for the right balance between alcohol and wood tannins,” he states. The new wooden barrels for Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques are heated in exactly the same way as those used for cognac.
The beer is transferred to new barrels or into ones that were used for storing cognac.
“We blend beers that come from new and used barrels,” Jérôme Goffinet explains.
“We are looking for the very best of two worlds; beer and cognac."
"In the meantime, for the Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques 2017 edition, we will draw our inspiration from a different type of alcohol.”
"Rumours are circulating about a rum from Martinique"…. Beer lovers, take heed.
Bières et Fromages de Chimay