3.6AROMA 6/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 7/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 16/20
We all know wine snobs exist but beer snobs have been gaining some serious ground over the last decade or two. I’ve never had to put a wine snob in their place, but if I did I’d probably use the entire Chimay line (and all the authentic trappist beers for that matter) as an example of beer craftsmanship.
Chimay Red “Premiere” is a great starter beer for the wine-drinker looking for a comparable beer. It’s got all the makings of a versatile red wine: strong aroma and palate, fruity taste without the bitterness, and the body to match. Pedestrian drinkers might find it a bit intimidating, but in reality it’s actually not as uppity as one might assume.
Chimay beers are sold in either 330ml capped or “crowned” bottles or 750ml corked bottles, and there is a distinct difference between the two. I was able to drink both versions but found the corked beer to be a bit superior. I’ll discuss the differences throughout this review as applicable.
POUR, COLOR AND AROMA
If poured from a 750ml bottle, there is quite a lot of kickback (which is due to the shape of the bottle and is completely normal). Out of a stubby, reverse funnel-shaped 330ml bottle, the beer pours much smoother.
The body is a dark, murky shade of maroon or rusty brown, almost like iced tea. There is noticeable sediment due to the fact this is a bottle-conditioned beer which means the yeast is still at work even after the brewing process. If poured into an official Chimay glass (or a red wine glass or similar glass), the beer produces a fairly small layer of off-white, foamy head. It lingers for quite a while but will eventually disappear completely and leave no lacing.
I noticed two different aromas. The corked bottle is much lighter in the nose with a sweet, fruity, malty scent. It indicates a lively palate. The crowned bottle is reminiscent of red wine with a sour, dry nose. The presence of alcohol is well-concealed by both versions.
Upon my first taste of Chimay Red I was immediately reminded of a German-style doppelbock. Considering that this is a Belgian dubbel, it isn’t surprising the styles are so similar (even though one is a lager and one is an ale).
In the case of the 750ml corked bottle, the beer has a rich, malty character complimented by the taste of dark fruits (i.e. plum, raisin, fig). The taste is sweeter than I was expecting, almost sugary. The backend is slightly dry but the alcohol is never noticeable. It’s tasty, to be sure, but it’s surprisingly mild.
With the 330ml capped bottle I was immediately reminded of a red wine as soon as it hit my tongue. This version is drier and rather sour with a distinct grape-like taste. Interestingly, the finish is even sweeter with a candy apple-like taste. I don’t think caramel malts are used in this beer but I did notice a caramel-like sweetness on the finish, although it dries out rather quickly. The taste is a little more intense here, but it seems more to-the-point whereas the corked version takes a roundabout path.
Bottle-conditioned beers tend to be more highly carbonated than other brews. The corked edition of Chimay Red has a slightly flat, thin, watery mouthfeel. There is definitely carbonation action present, but it’s a completely different type compared to that found in a macro lager. It goes down extremely smooth and is not a challenge to drink whatsoever.
With the smaller bottle the finish was more or less the same, but with a seemingly more intense mouthfeel. The finish, while sweet, also leaves a dry, almost sour aftertaste and warms as it goes down. It’s just about as smooth as its big brother, and certainly easier to drink than red wine.
I probably wouldn’t consider a beer with an alcohol content of 7% ABV to be a “big” beer, although I think Chimay’s reputation might supersede its actual potency. In other words, Red Premiere drinks like a heavy beer because we assume it is one. This is ironic because the beer does not have a “boozy” taste to it unless allowed to warm to near room temperature. The drinker is unlikely to immediately feel the effects of the alcohol, but it will make its presence known in the end.
The Chimay beers are roundly regarded as some of the best brews on the planet and for a beer critic to rate them at anything less than the best is probably consider blasphemy. While I would say I really enjoyed both versions of the beer I can’t quite rate either versions among the best of the best. Despite the fact the palate to both beers is not as intense as one might expect, I’d still consider Chimay Red Premiere to be an acquired taste. I highly recommend trying it, if only to see how well a beer can work as a wine substitute.