Tripel Off, Round 1, Game 2 — Straffe Hendrik vs Karmeliet vs Achel

Illustration: Belgian colours w. beer names.

This group in our taste-off of Belgian and Belgian-style tripels represents the stars of the second division — beers lacking the name recognition of Westmalle or Chimay but with similar character and quality.

We had initially intended to include only Straffe Hendrik and Achel but when we asked our Patreon subscribers to review the contenders there was a strong lobby for Karmeliet to be included. Rather than bump anything, though, we decided to try a three-way match.

Thought this is only a bit of fun we did think it was worthwhile doing a bit of unscientific blind-ish tasting: Jess had a vague idea of the longlist of beers but Ray poured and served them so she wouldn’t know which was which.

  • Straffe Hendrik, glass X, £3.10, Beer Merchants online
  • Tripel Karmeliet, glass Y, £3.29, Corks of Cotham, Bristol
  • Achel Blonde, glass Z, £2.60, Beer Merchants online

Three glasses of beer lined up.

They looked remarkably different, ranging from dark orange (SH) to lager pale (TK) to a sort of golden yellow (AB). Karmeliet had a much higher level of carbonation than the others and was hard to pour without it blooming up and spilling.

As before, here’s a read-out of Jess’s raw responses:

Glass X: It’s nice, I like that one a lot. Really bang on spec for the style. A very classically tripel-y tripel.
Glass Y: Oh, I also like this one. Is it a bit… milky, maybe? Very different, lots going on. Plenty of spiciness.
Glass Z: This seems pretty watery. It’s quite grassy. Lacking depth by comparison. My least favourite.

I’d rank them X, Y, Z, just how they came, but I do like them all. They’re all essentially flawless.

Ray, who knew the beers, noted:

X: Great! A bit savoury, though? A slight bum note.
Y: Heavy, heavy body, lots of interesting flavours — layer upon layer. German white wine? Peaches?
Z: Yeah, what Jess said. Seems very thin alongside those other two, and one-dimensional.

Three beer bottles.

We were both surprised to prefer Karmeliet to Achel but concluded that this Karmeliet seemed quite different to the beer we remembered from previous encounters, being less sweet and more subtle. And Achel, billed as Blonde but usually classified as a tripel, really did seem to have more in common with Leffe than Westmalle on this occasion.

Then came the vote.

Ray: Karmeliet. Complex and fascinating, and I love the huge foam.
Jess: Straffe Hendrik. A more balanced beer, rich without being over the top.

So we gave the Patreon crew the deciding vote and the beer they chose, which goes through to the next round, was, by a very narrow margin…

Tripel Karmeliet!

Next time: The New Wave.

5 thoughts on “Tripel Off, Round 1, Game 2 — Straffe Hendrik vs Karmeliet vs Achel”

  1. Good match up. Is there an Achel ‘extra’ Blond version that is more in the style of a tripel? Not tried it myself, but on the list.
    Straffe for me, never really got on with TK. Looking forward to the next round! 😁

  2. To be honest, I’ve never been very impressed by Achel beers, they always seem to be a bit lacking.
    Straffe Hendrik is a decent more or less everyday beer, and Karmeliet has always struck me as being by some distance the best that isn’t Westmalle…

  3. Early in my beer drinking days I found TK to have a lot going on, almost cloying and I wrote it off. Later with a more mature palate and realising that my opinion was swayed by a friend originally, I retried it and liked it a lot – its a really good example of a good spice profile in a beer.

    SH is a brewery I really like, and made sure to tap as many of their beers as I could on a cycle touring holiday a few years back. Overshadowed by bigger names, they still pull their weight favourably in comparison.

    On the same touring trip we had the chance to try beers side by side, and Achel consistently underwhelmed in comparison. Cant say they are bad or anything, but they are not in the same league as their peers.

    My ranking of those beers would probably tally with yours, but I would have to try SH & TK side by side to decide which I like more.

  4. Not entirely sure Achel Blond is designed as a Tripel to be honest so perhaps not level playing field?

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