When the German army swung through Belgium, they took the local breweries with them. They dismantled brew houses. They confiscated copper coolships. Twice in only a few decades the Abbaye de Scourmont was sacked by invading troops. They could either rebuild or give up.
The monks of Chimay put the operation back together, and throughout the 1950s they rapidly expanded production. Much of the rebuilding and updating was encouraged by Jean De Clerck, one of the worlds foremost beer scientists. De Clerck encouraged Chimay to train it’s brewers in modern science. Before helping the abbey of Chimay, De Clerck formulated the first recipe for Duvel – a darker beer that was lightened years later to compete with crystal clear pilsners. De Clerck went on to assist Rochefort and others. He and his wife are buried at the Abbaye de Scourmont.
Along with modern science, Chimay also brought in modern business practices. Bieres de Chimay was the first brand to promote the Trappist name and the first to sell beer to the public. They were also the first to replace hop pellets with extracts and add wheat starch to the mash. As a resident of hop country, I find the use of extracts anathema to all craft beer stands for. I’m sure there is a solid argument for using ingredients other than malted barley, hops, and water – as the Germans intended – but I don’t want to hear about it. Brewing science can be messy stuff.
Chimay Premiere, with the red cap, is a dubbel ale. The name dubbel goes back for a few decades, but the style really emerged when lighter beers were colored with dark candi sugar in the 1920s. The sugar adds alcohol without adding body and gives the beer its distinct color. One of the main characteristics of Trappist style beers is relatively high alcohol and “digestability” – you can drink a full bottle without getting a tummy ache. Chimay Premiere is a spicy dubbel with a lightly tart, bitter edge. Cinnamon and cloves – Belgian wit staples that are rarely used in abbey style beers – meet a slightly dark, coffee flavor and hint of fruit. Despite the added sugar, red cap Chimay remains medium bodied and dry.