I was a little apprehensive when I first saw Breandán's choice of topic show up on Jay's list of once and future Sessions. "My First Belgian". What was my first Belgian? There has to have been one, and it's not like it would have been all that long ago. I first drank beer in Belgium in 2002. Belgian beer was new and exciting to me when Dublin's branch of Belgo opened in 2000. A big bucket of Hoegaarden was my drink of choice in Aberdeen's The College in 1999. But I'm sure I'd had it or a Duvel or a Chimay at some point before that. It's annoying to have no memory of drinking any of these for the first time. (I do recall my girlfriend daring me to drink lambic in Belgo and me being instantly hooked, much to her chagrin. She's much better disposed to the sour stuff these days, but marriage will do that, eh, eh?)
Anyway, Breandán has mercifully offered a much wider scope for this round than the title suggests, and since I'm more a forward-looking sort of drinker I thought I'd bring in a Belgian beer I'd never had before. There's a strong chance that something from Chimay -- Rouge more than likely -- was the first Belgian ale I encountered so it seemed like a good idea to return to Scourmont for a more recent offering.
Chimay Dorée is the monks' table beer, only relatively recently released to the public outside of the monastery. It's an opaque cloudy orange and busily fizzy, smelling vaguely spicy, like a watered-down tripel. There's a lovely full and cakey texture: nutritious, which I guess is part of the point of the style. The flavour profile is very much that of your typical Belgian blonde, with earthy spices -- chicory in particular; a bit of poppyseed too -- and some lighter honey complexity. I'm reminded a lot of the aforementioned Duvel, but at a fraction over half the ABV this does a fantastic job of showing similar complexity without even a trace of wateriness.
Pure solid quality, which is no big surprise from Chimay -- a brewery which has done so much for the international reputation of Belgian beer.
The great thing about Belgium is that it's still exciting. The consistent quality of many long-established brewers sits next to the amazing living fossil guezeries and a host of new-wave upstarts, influenced by foreign styles and doing their own thing as well. We still use "Belgian" as a specific descriptor for beer. We should probably stop.
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