Following the brewery tour we ended up in Chimay’s beer ageing cellar, picking out a few bottles for tasting.
The two that I’m going to talk about today are a 19 year old Grande Reserve that has been kept in optimum conditions it’s whole life and an oak aged grande reserve, released last year for the first time.
This oak ageing is interesting for a few reasons; they use both American and French oak in brand new barrels then blend them together in varying quantities. First released in 2015 after five months in wood each release will have a different blend of barrels including old cognac barrels which can be seen above.
19yr Grande Reserve
Nineteen years is certainly a long time for beers to be aged for. To weather that amount of time it needs to be high strength, highly carbonated, contain wild yeast (to prevent oxidation) and ideally malt lead as hop flavours are more aromatic so will mostly have evaporated in that time frame.
The colour was a deep chestnut brown when this came out of the bottle and needed to be poured carefully, while not too oxidised it had a very definite musty character and a spirit character that brought whiskey to mind. Aroma was dominated by the mustiness of ageing but this reduced on the palette where rich dried fruit was evident.
Oak Aged Grande Reserve – Nov 2015 release
This beer was a mix of American and French oak where it had aged for five months in new barrels. The use of new barrels made the oak more evident and the vanilla smoothness of the American oak worked nicely with the rich treacle of the beer.
I found it hard not to be reminded of powerful red wines such as Barolo or Rioja Reserves here as that is normally where oak aromas of this nature would be found. My only regret with this beer is that I didn’t get a chance to play around pairing it with food as I believe it would add some totally new challenges and rewards as part of a tasting dinner.
For me it was a clear win for the oak aged beer.
The aged beer was a wonderful curiosity but I couldn’t help but feel it had passed it’s prime with respect to balancing falvours. The oaked beer however was an expression of the Chimay Blue I love but reinvented in a way that was as exciting as it was delicious.