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Tripel Off, Round 1, Game 1: Westmalle vs. Chimay

We’ve come up with a list of eight Belgian and Belgian-style tripels that we’re setting against each other in a series of taste-offs to determine the ultimate winner.

We wanted to give Westmalle, the best beer in the world, a tough opponent and so decided to pit it against another classic: Chimay Blanche.

Blanche used to be too much for us, bowling us over with its sheer booziness, but in the last couple of years we really fell in love with it and figured that if anything might slay The Big W, it was this.

On this occasion Ray poured while Jess tasted sort of blind, with no idea which two beers were being tasted.

Glasses of beer.
Chimay, left, and Westmalle.

Both looked pretty in their glasses, all fluffy white foam and clear gold, though the Chimay (glass A) was noticeably darker. Westmalle (B) seemed to have  a much bigger aroma with spice and fruit spilling out on opening where Chimay offered only a little whiff of sugar.

Jess: Well, they both taste like tripels, but I much prefer B. There’s just more in the after-taste. A is fine — I’d be very happy to drink it any day of the week — but B is less harsh, and has more spice. The flavours seem more… blended. I sometimes think about the transition from fore- to after-taste and how great beers have a kind of smooth segue, which B definitely does. It’s somehow softer, but also has bigger flavours.

Ray: Interesting… Both seem quite harsh to me today. If I take bigger gulps, though, the beer in glass B [Westmalle] is obviously better, sort of mousse-like in the mouth, so satisfying. Leafy and peppery. Glass A [Chimay] just seems rough, all bananas and booze. It feels two-dimensional, somehow, whereas Westmalle has a lot of complexity and subtlety. It’s got banana notes, too, but not just that. Do you want to guess what they might be?

Jess: Umm… Well, neither of them is Westmalle, obviously.

Ray: Ha!

Jess: Oh.

So, of course, based on flavour, we both chose Westmalle. Even though it’s more expensive than Chimay we reckon it’s worth the extra, too, so on value too it wins. That means it’s through to the next round, and Chimay is out of the contest.

We asked our Patreon subscribers to vote in a simple poll — should we disagree between ourselves their vote will decide the winner — and they overwhelmingly voted for Westmalle, too.

So, can anything threaten the reigning champion?

Well, given that Jess didn’t recognise it, and that Ray found it a bit less exciting than usual, it’s all to play for, Brian, and so on.

We bought both beers via mail order from Beer Merchants; Westmalle was £3.25 per 330ml bottle and Chimay was £2.85.

3 replies on “Tripel Off, Round 1, Game 1: Westmalle vs. Chimay”

I’m very interested in your competition and to see what you think about the differences between the beers.

In December 2010 I hosted a Triple Taste Off with 8 x Belgian tripels (all 750ml bottles) with half a dozen non-Belgian beer loving friends:

Westmalle Tripel
Gentse Tripel
St Bernardus Tripel
Kerkomse Tripel
De La Senne Jambe de Bois
La Rulles Triple
De Ranke Guldenberg
Dupont Moinette Blonde

Obviously we all got hammered, but the ‘winners’ were, according to my notes, the Guldenburg and the Kerkomse. These days I think the Moinette is my favourite, if I had to choose (not labelled a tripel, but what the heck).

I also remember from my research that no one is totally sure of where the name came from. Some say it is from triple fermented (Webb theory #1), others that it is from 3 grains used in brewing. Still others that it is a beer with 3 times as much grain (Webb theory #2), or even 3 kinds of yeast.

Do you know?

What is apparently certain is that they were all dark until Westmalle Tripel in 1956, after which they went blond.

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