Often referred to as Chimay White, this Tripel is one of three beers exported by the Trappist monks of Scourmont Abbey in the Belgian municipality of Chimay.
There are only seven Trappist monasteries in the world that produce beer, and only the products from these priories are authorized to feature the "Authentic Trappist Product" logo. All products bearing the logo are made in strict non-profit accordance to the guidelines established by the International Trappist Association [see wikipedia: Trappist beer].
Only the larger 750mL (25.4 fl. oz.) bottles carry the moniker 'Cinq Cents,' leaving the smaller bottles without a proper nickname - such is the case with Chimay's other brews (Premiére (Red) and Grande Réserve (Blue)). The brewery website makes no mention of why the larger bottles are deemed worthy of their respective titles, but in the write-up about the Grande Réserve magnum-sized bottle (51fl. oz.) the brewers propose an interesting point:
...it is important to appreciate that a large volume of beer affects the development of taste in the second fermentation of the beer in the bottle and gives it a fuller and smoother character.
Presumably the same would hold true when contrasting this 25 oz. bottle of Tripel against its 11oz. sibling, no? Many beer fanatics would agree that there's a certain amount of truth to the claim- though minimally consequential on the palate of the average beer connoisseur. That all said, the French translation 'five hundred' had me leaning towards price of purchase or volume when trying to surmise the origin of the Cinq Cents name. By chance, I found the answer in a book given to me recently for my birthday.
Michael Jackson's Great Beer Guide features interesting write-ups on some of the best beers in the world, and upon perusing its pages, the answer was right under my nose. [The late Jackson was the renowned beer educator who fathered our modern-day taxonomy of beer style. Read more: Beer Styles.] Regarding Cinq Cents, the book makes note that while this beer was once identified only by its white cap, the "Champagne-style presentation" was introduced to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Chimay, the town.
While the precise recipe of the brew may be shrouded in divine secrecy, the October 2008 issue of Beers of the World magazine confirms, "White is brewed with Pils malt and a touch of caramalt and hopped with American Galena and German Hallertauer." The Tripel is lighter in color, hoppier, and drier than Chimay's other offerings, characterized by a semi-sweet, almost fruity aroma and considerable bitterness, while light and crisp in body. There are notable citrus tones alongside what the brewery website describes as "fruity notes of muscat and raisins." This beer is complimented by a fair amount of carbonation and a thick, foamy, aromatic head.
Despite some minor controversy surrounding the alleged quality degradation of Chimay brews in recent years, the Chimay Trappists claim that their recipes have not changed since 1969, with the exception of using hops extract in the current recipe. No matter the case, the Chimay brews have maintained long-standing popularity across the world, and make up some of the more common Trappist beers found in American establishments.
Chimay is a fantastic brew, one my wife and I return to regularly. A classic example of a Tripel, Chimay White exhibits a hoppy, citrusy layered flavor profile finished with an incredible bitterness that lingers on the back of the tongue.
A light amber profile adorned by golden highlights, the head pours huge and foamy with medium bubbles. A crisp, highly carbonated body shrouds a relatively dry mouthfeel- dry, yet not to understate malty undertones and intense flavor. On tap we had experienced pronounced floral notes in the aroma and finish, while from-the-bottle brews gave way to more of a bitter orange peel.
Beer and Cheese
I have only recently been exploring beer and cheese pairings, an idea that struck me as absolutely brilliant seeing as how I find myself with a hand in each honey pot all too often. While most of these intense, strongly-alcoholic beers usually have an equally potent and pungent cheese recommendation, Chimay actually produces their own cheeses, and I had the pleasure of stumbling across a wash-rind bearing their name.
I am not entirely certain, but have good reason to believe the particular Chimay cheese we enjoyed so much was 'Le Chimay à la bière' or simply, Chimay with Beer. For one, I know for a fact the cheese was a wash-rind (a process that involves washing the cheese rind in a bath to promote bacteria growth, flavoring the cheese as it matures). Chimay with Beer is produced in just this fashion - and in this case the cheese bathes in Chimay beer.
When first we bit into the cheese, we were quite taken aback by its pronounced 'funk' - something I've since learned is inherent and defining of wash-rinds. As we originally sampled the cheese with a different beer, we were afraid we had wasted our money, that perhaps it was even inedible. When tasted alongside the Tripel, flavors simply exploded in both the beer and the cheese- each complimenting one another and completely altering our initial perceptions. Sure enough, the cheese disappeared quickly along with the beer- and so goes our new-found interest.
Chimay White is a complicated beer, perhaps reminiscent of some moderately hoppy American microbrews at a novice first glance. As this beer was one of our earlier introductions to Belgian beers, I have since noticed the similarity and on-par complexity with some other Belgians.
Recently, a Chimay representative from a local distributor nonchalantly said to me "Chimay isn't as old-school as some of the other Trappist breweries." I had read about the Chimay recipe staying the same since 1969, and realized the rep was right. A certain part of me almost thinks that the 'modernization' of the brew may actually make it more a bit accessible to the average beer drinker- I think this beer maintains a high level of drinkability. Don't get me wrong, a leap from Budweiser to Chimay may be a bit of a stretch, but those who find themselves enjoying an occasional Sam Adams, Duvel, or Hoegaarden should seek out a Chimay White for a stab at something different.
The real gem? The Chimay monks brew a low-alcohol beer for themselves. They don't export it, but I think outsiders can get some within the monastery walls. In fact the Trappist tradition of brewing a lower alcohol beer gave way to the naming structure, with each successive brew having a higher original gravity (and containing an increased amount of alcohol) - Dubbels (2x), Tripels (3x), and Quadruppels (4x). Other breweries have since adopted the terminologies, diluting the literal interpretation of the styles. Nonetheless, the take-away: they may be saving the good stuff for themselves...I'd like to get my hands on some of that.
Belgium - 8% ABV
Bières de Chimay [website]