Last week, Patrick O’Neill, GM of The Belgian Café, was bartending when someone sat down at the bar and asked him, “What’s your favorite beer on tap?” “[The customer] didn’t give any parameters or anything,” says O’Neill. “So, I glanced at the 12 beers we had on draught and immediately said, ‘Chimay’, and his response was, ‘I asked you to pick your favorite beer and you picked Chimay?’ I said, ‘Yeah why not? Let’s not forget, this is a fantastic beer.’”
O’Neill’s Belgian beer journey began when he met Fergus “Fergie” Carey in 1988 at the now shuttered South Street haunt, Jon’s. After an eight-year stint running a bar in Norway, and five years at Monk’s Café, Fergie and Tom Peters were set to open The Belgian Café and asked O’Neill to run the place.
While Chimay has been a mainstay at the bar on 21st & Green Streets in Philly, O’Neill says it’s a beer that still deserves recognition. He makes the most of any opportunity to introduce drinkers to this classic Belgian Trappist.
Chimay Triple has been a favorite of O’Neill’s since he first tried it back in 2003, while working as a bartender at Monk’s. “It was among many, many great beers I tasted. But when I tried it that first time, I remember thinking that I’d never had a beer like this before. It was a revelatory experience.”
With a rare balance of mellowness and bitterness, Chimay Cinq Cents (better known as Chimay Triple) is an authentic Trappist beer brewed within the walls of a monastery that dates back to 1850. The beer has a distinct golden hue and gives off a subtle aroma of fresh hops and the famed house yeast that is a signature of each Chimay beer. “After drinking the hoppier beers of the late ’90s, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, this big, full-bodied and delicious beer was quite the eye-opener for me. These Trappist beers have such a distinctly different flavor profile.”
“People brush them off because they’ve been around for a while,” says O’Neill. “I don’t think there’s as much awareness – or rather, there is awareness of Chimay, but perhaps not as much interest as there once was.” He admits that we can all get bogged down by “rotation nation” and the desire to try new beers from unknown breweries. “There are just so many craft breweries, you want to give them all a shot and try them out. But then you come to realize that it just pushes the old guard out.”
After taking Chimay off their tap lineup a few years ago, O’Neill decided to change the draught list and keep it on permanently. “We always have an IPA, we always have a wheat beer, and I always have Chimay Triple. It deserves a bit more respect.”