I’ve enjoyed Chimay beers since I first began to drink them about 20 years ago. I like all three of them, but the Première or “Rouge” is my favorite, in an “I could drink this every day” sort of way. The monks at Scourmont Abbey have been brewing this beer since 1862, although the current recipe dates back to the late 1940s or early 1950s when Father Théodore re-established the brewery after World War Two. As described by the brewery, it is like all Chimay beers “mellow, forthright, and powerful”.
Why did I wait so long to try to make this beer at home? Perhaps it was knowing how difficult it would be to resist drinking it before it has matured. Although I have brewed a few Belgian Dubbels over the years, this was my first attempt to copy one from Belgium.
I brewed my first attempt at Chimay Red on New Year’s Eve 2013, following a recipe in Tess & Mark Szamatulski’s book Clone Brews. I followed it pretty much exactly, only changing the amount of bittering hops to adjust for the difference in alpha acid rating between the hops I used and those in the original recipe, and slightly increasing the flavor hops.
I racked the beer to secondary after five days and bottled it five weeks later. Then I tried not to drink it, really I did! I held out for about a month, and then the bottles started disappearing. It was very good. For the second month, the beer was adequately carbonated but developed more head each week. It also still had a yeasty, “bubble gum” esters aroma that diminished slowly and finally disappeared altogether by the third month.
My Chimay Red clone had been in the bottle nearly 12 weeks when I did my comparison. I bought a 330ml bottle of Chimay Première at a local store and tasted the two side by side. It is likely that the beer I bought at the store had been in the bottle longer than my homebrew, but since the bottle isn’t dated I can’t tell how long.
They are incredibly similar! Tess & Mark did a great job with their recipe. The commercial Chimay has a very slightly darker color of the same reddish-brown hue. Both poured with a medium head of tightly beaded small bubbles which settled rather quickly to a slight froth which remained on the top of the beer as I drank it. The body and flavor of each was nearly identical, and each had the same light refreshing effervescence. The small difference between the two beers is 1) the commercial beer has a slightly “bready” aroma that the homebrew lacks, and 2) it also has a very subtle “winey” astringency also missing in my own brew. I will be adding a small amount of biscuit malt to my third batch (the second batch is already in secondary) to attempt to gain the aroma described in 1), but am not sure how to incorporate 2). It may be a characteristic the beer gains from the yeast through further maturation and attenuation. I am going to attempt to keep a few bottles for a couple more months to see if this flavor develops.
P.S. I don’t often tout the financial benefits of my hobby, but…the 330ml (11.2 oz) bottle of Chimay cost $5.79 + tax; the yield from my home-brewed clone was about 45 twelve ounce bottles, and the ingredients cost me about $65.