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

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.

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.

St Austell Cornish Saison for M&S

Marks & Spencer, the slightly upmarket English supermarket-stroke-department-store, has been doing interesting things with its beer range for a few years now but the idea of a Cornish-brewed Saison really grabbed our interest.

It’s pro­duced for them by St Austell, a brew­ery very much on our trust­ed list, and has evolved from an orig­i­nal small-batch brew designed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with beer writer Melis­sa Cole. It has 5.9% ABV, comes in a cute pur­ple 330ml can, and costs £2. (Or less as part of the cur­rent four-for-the-price-of-three pro­mo­tion.)

But is it a bar­gain, or do we have a Hather­wood sit­u­a­tion on our hands?

Saison in the glass with can nearby.

It is per­fect­ly, almost aston­ish­ing­ly clear in the glass, with a decent head of foam that stops short of Bel­gian volu­mi­nous­ness. (Per­haps it’s hard­er to achieve the nec­es­sary pres­sure in cans.)

On tast­ing, the mod­el is clear: it is an homage to Sai­son Dupont, which is fine by us. There’s the same famil­iar spici­ness from the yeast and the same gold­en colour. It isn’t a slav­ish clone, though: this beer is clean­er, more bit­ter, and seemed to have a lot more orange peel and corian­der char­ac­ter.

In fact by the end of the glass we were won­der­ing if it might not almost be described as a kind of Kristall Wit – that is, an appli­ca­tion of the fil­ter­ing tech­nique used to clar­i­fy cer­tain wheat beers in Ger­many to the spici­er, more cit­rusy Bel­gian equiv­a­lent.

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, very enjoy­able beer that could eas­i­ly pass for some­thing gen­uine­ly Bel­gian. (We know St Austell’s head brew­er, Roger Ryman, is a Bel­gian beer fanat­ic.) So, yes, that means it’s good val­ue, and we’ll cer­tain­ly be buy­ing some more next time we pass a branch of M&S.

In gen­er­al, we do like how M&S pack­ages its own-brand beers these days. Quite apart from the cool and colour­ful graph­ic design they’re (a) clear­ly iden­ti­fied as own-brand but (b) with clear infor­ma­tion about who brews them. That means we can make an informed choice about which to take a chance on (Oakham, Adnams, St Austell) and which to avoid (sor­ry, Hogs Back).

QUICK ONE: Bath Ales Sulis Lager

Sulis Lager
SOURCE: Bath Ales web­site

One of our locals, The Wellington, is a Bath Ales (St Austell) house and sells both St Austell Korev and Bath Ales new Sulis lager, so we popped into compare the two.

After a shaky start we’ve come to real­ly like Korev which is both straight­for­ward (i.e. not a twist on or rein­ven­tion of) and char­ac­ter­ful. We hoped that Sulis would be sim­i­lar­ly accom­plished, with its own iden­ti­ty, but feared that it would sim­ply be Korev under a dif­fer­ent name.

We’re hap­py to report that not only is Sulis dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent to Korev but also rather a delight in its own right.

It’s paler than Korev, almost Cham­pagne-like, and less dry. It has a dis­tinct flo­ral, herbal, mint-leaf char­ac­ter that Korev lacks, laid over a back­drop of white grape and peach. If Korev nods to Munich, this remind­ed us of Würzburg, where the beer and the fruity local wines share a fam­i­ly resem­blance.

We sus­pect there’ll be a few more pints of this for us over the sum­mer to come.

More gen­er­al­ly, we con­tin­ue to be pleased at the res­ur­rec­tion of Bath Ales, whose beers have shot up in our esti­ma­tion in the past six months.

Patreon’s Choice: The Irish Set

These days, Irish beer isn’t all about Guinness, as demonstrated by this interesting bunch which ranges from rye ale to ‘ice cream IPA’.

Of course we used that awful, cliched open­ing line pure­ly to troll the Beer Nut whose sug­ges­tion it was via Patre­on to try some of the Irish beers in stock at Hon­est Brew.

  • Yel­low­bel­ly Cast­away Pas­sion­fruit Sour, £2.79, 330ml can
  • Boyne Brew­house Vien­na Lager, £2.39, 330ml can
  • Kin­negar Rust­buck­et Hopped Rye Ale, £2.49, 330ml bot­tle
  • Whiplash Scaldy Split Ice Cream IPA, £4.59, 500ml can
  • Gal­way Bay Solemn Black DBIPA, £3.69, 330ml bot­tle

We drank them over the course of a cou­ple of nights while we were tied to the house for one rea­son or anoth­er, tack­ling them in ascend­ing order of ABV, except that we got Rust­buck­et and the Vien­na Lager the wrong way round because we weren’t pay­ing atten­tion.

A glass of flat, orange beer.

Yellowbelly’s pas­sion fruit sour, at 4.2% ABV, fizzed like e a bon­fire night sparkler then went com­plete­ly flat in about four sec­onds. It had a great pas­sion fruit aro­ma, bil­low­ing and beguil­ing, and, crikey, did it taste sour. Ray found it less heavy going than Jes­si­ca because he drinks soft drinks and she doesn’t (tea, please!) and what it resem­bled more than any­thing was some new vari­ant grown-up ver­sion of Fan­ta. In fact, we picked up two types of sour – the cit­ric acid of fruit and the kind of sweaty funk we asso­ciate with Gose. On bal­ance, though we found plen­ty to enjoy, we both want­ed it to taste more like beer, and would prob­a­bly rather have a can of Rubi­con at a fifth of the price.

Kinnegar Rustbucket glowing in its glass.

Kin­negar Rust­buck­et, at 5.1%, was more our kind of thing. It smelled won­der­ful, tak­ing us back to those days of a decade ago when Goose Island IPA was con­sid­ered Way Out There, all orange and pine. Red-brown in colour, it tast­ed like a well exe­cut­ed, tongue-coat­ing, jam­my IPA of the old school, and gave the impres­sion of being a much big­ger beer. It was per­fect­ly clean, nice­ly bit­ter, and just a touch pep­pery by way of a twist. What a breath of fresh air, and good val­ue, too. We’d drink more of this.

Boyne Brew­house Vien­na, at 5%, had the sex­i­est graph­ic design of the lot with its black and pur­ple can, and looked great in the glass, too, being a gor­geous gold with a cap of thick white foam. But unfor­tu­nate­ly it tast­ed weird – bad weird – in a way we’ve nev­er encoun­tered. Some banana, maybe? Apple? Grit­ty, grainy, unfin­ished. As if it was a lit­tle unwell, and threat­ened to send us the same way. We couldn’t fin­ish it. Sor­ry!

Whiplash Scaldy Split had about it the air of the main event: it came in the biggest can, cost the most, and is billed, rather excit­ing­ly, as an ice cream IPA. The ingre­di­ent list includ­ed mul­ti­ple malts, vanil­la and lac­tose (milk sug­ar), as well as reli­able old Cit­ra hops. The beer was a sort of queasy, home­made cus­tard yel­low, cloudy but not soupy, with an attrac­tive, sta­ble head. The prob­lem is – and this does hap­pen from time to time – we each per­ceived it quite dif­fer­nt­ly. Jes­si­ca found it a mess, from the petrol aro­ma to a flavour so exces­sive­ly dank it seemed to have gone through hop­py and come out the oth­er side at stu­dent bed­sit car­pet. Ray, on the oth­er hand, used words like smooth, sub­tle, taste­ful, and fun… Again, we won­der if his rel­a­tive­ly sweet tooth might make him feel warmer towards this kind of beer. Or maybe that long list of ingre­di­ents com­bined to cre­ate par­tic­u­lar unusu­al flavours and aro­mas to which we might be respec­tive­ly more or less sen­si­tive. Any­way, if you like thick, hazy, hop­py beers, you’ll prob­a­bly enjoy this one; if you don’t, you prob­a­bly won’t.

A glass of black beer with a huge head.

Final­ly, there was Gal­way Bay’s Solemn Black dou­ble black IPA at 9%.  Phew, what a mouth­ful, and that goes for the descrip­tion and the beer. From the first sip, we just straight up liked this one a lot. (Both of us, thank good­ness – much sim­pler that way.) Thank­ful­ly its sup­posed sta­tus as a black IPA didn’t mean lots of clash­ing, clat­ter­ing hops trip­ping over dark malt flavours, as is too often the case, and it struck us as an impe­r­i­al stout to all intents and pur­pos­es. We found it a silky beer that was all melt­ed milk choco­late upfront, and turned to port wine the longer it sat on the tongue. And it sat on the tongue for a good long time, rever­ber­at­ing almost for­ev­er. When we left it long enough, and it’s not a beer to rush through, some grassy hop char­ac­ter even­tu­al­ly sug­gest­ed itself, along with a burnt-toast black malt note. A hap­py place on which to con­clude this whirl through the world of Irish beer.