I'm not a huge beer drinker, but I do like to sample new things and gain appreciation for the most well respected flavors and traditions on the market. And while I still cannot drink a Guinness - it's too harsh for my palate - I have enjoyed the few beers I've had that claim to be traditionally Belgian in influence.
So if I like those, why not check out the giants in the field? That, and the encouragement of friends, led me to decide I needed to try out these Trappist beers.
A few weeks back when I made my pilgrimage to Belmont Station for Pumking they also had this:
What better way to get a feel for a classic Belgian than a sampler pack of Chimay? And hey, free glass - sold.
I started with the Red Cap, pouring into, of course, the new glass.
The red has a very rich, dark orange color with a nice head on it, pouring very smoothly. The nose is mildly sweet with some spiciness. I expected a very rich flavor from the smell and color, but I didn't get that. It wasn't bad, just a little flat, in my opinion (which, I see, doesn't match 1,400+ reviews on Beer Advocate). I also felt the alcohol showed through a tad too much, almost overpowering the flavors of the malt and the spices. It wasn't bad, really, just wasn't the greatest thing ever.
Next up was the Triple, in the bottle with yellow label.
I really liked this one. It had a slightly sweeter, more fuller flavor than the red. I was a tad surprised by that because the color was lighter in the glass (had about the same amount of head). A tiny bit of fruit in the nose. I'd have this one again.
Last up of the Chimay gift pack was the Blue Cap, predictably the one with the blue label.
This was, by far, my favorite of the group. It had a great nose, a little bit fruity and with a nice yeastiness, like rising bread. The Blue pours a rich, dark auburn/orange - almost a mahogany color. Unlike with the other two Chimays, the alcohol is almost non-existent in the flavor in favor of various fruits. Definitely the most balanced of the group.
Overall I would buy the Blue Cap again, I'd drink the Trippel if available and in the mood but I wouldn't seek it out, and the Red Cap I probably wouldn't go back to.
But wait - there's more!
Saying I'm trying Trappist ales and then only trying one brewery seems a little silly, doesn't it?
So I also picked up a Rochefort 8 at the suggestion of friend on Twitter, from the Abbey of St. Remy in Rochefort, Belgium (that link is in French, but if you use Google Chrome as a browser it will handily translate the page for you).
The 8 is the middle offering from Rochefort, and I picked it over the 6 and the 10 (John's Marketplace in Multnomah Village, just outside of Portland, carries all three) because...no reason. Just on a whim. I do intend to try the others at some point.
This beer had a very foamy head on it and poured a very rich amber color. It had only a slightly yeasty smell and little fruit. My suggestion? Let it warm up a bit and the flavors will meld very nicely. Also, don't drink it before having to do some serious writing for the night. It's less than a 12-ounce bottle, but be wary of that 9.2% - it sneaks up on you.
I did really enjoy the Rochefort 8, but of these four Trappist ales Chimay Blue was my favorite, with the 8 a clear second place over the other two Chimays. I thoroughly enjoyed this foray into Trappist ales and will at some point try the other Rocheforts as well the other breweries - Orval, Westmalle, and the like.
I don't know that I'll decide I like these better than my favorite stouts and porters, but they are a nice change of pace and just as enjoyable in their own right.