Tripel Off Round 1, Match 3: De la Senne vs. De Dolle

De Dolle vs. De la Senne.

In this third Tripel taste-off match we’re looking at The New Wave with takes on the style produced by quirky breweries founded in the past 40 years.

  • De le Senne Jambe-de-Bois, Beer Merchants, £2.95, 330ml, 8% ABV
  • De Dolle Dulle Teve, Beer Merchants, £3.35, 330ml, 10% ABV

It’s getting harder to make any pretence of blind tasting as this process goes on but Ray poured so that Jess wouldn’t know which beer was in which glass.

Two bottles of beer with glasses.

Jambe-de-Bois had the more assertive carbonation of the two, with a really fierce hiss and threatening to gush. The head was absolutely rock solid and very tight. From the fridge it was quite hazy, and glowed yellow, but a later bottle, at room temperature, was clearer.

Jess said: It’s almost tart. Grapefruity. Tastes distinctly Belgian — you’d never mistake it for, say, an American beer — but also somehow modern.

Ray: I find it quite thin and a bit… Rough. It seems very dry for a tripel. But as I go, I like it more and more.

Dulle Teve had a light haze and was a deeper gold colour. It didn’t produce a particularly appetising head, just something like bubble bath. It smelled of hot booze.

Jess: Ooh, wow. This tastes like a proper tripel. A little bit of green apple but it works. Like a spicy toffee apple. The aftertaste is immense.

Ray: It’s definitely got the classic tripel yeast character. A bit of banana, some spice… It makes me think of German Christmas biscuits.

We concluded in that both beers were a little raucous and rough-edged but that Dulle Teve benefited from the extra alcohol and more substantial body. There seemed to be a lot going on, with more layers and interacting flavours.

There was no doubt here, we had a winner: De Dolle Dulle Teve is through to the next round, and De le Senne is out.

Jess: But I liked them both. I’d happily drink either of them again, and the De le Senne beer is really good value.

Ray: The winner is great but I just can’t imagine it beating Westmalle in the next round.

Jess: Well, I dunno… I really love it. Right now, I think it could go all the way.

So, to recap, Westmalle, Karmeliet and Dulle Teve are through to the next round, with one slot left to fill. Next time: the Brits!

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.

Stella, Doom, Punk

A dog.

We had one of those moments this week that shines a light on the health of a brand: we saw BrewDog on the beer list at a new local cafe and thought, “Oh, it’s not really a beer place, then.”

It’s not as if we think BrewDog’s beer is bad. We spent a happy hour at its Bristol bar on Sunday and probably have a more positive view of Punk IPA than many of our peers. (It ain’t wot it used to be, and so on.)

It’s a sign that BrewDog beers have become one of the go-to cash-and-carry products along with Stella Artois and Doom Bar, which changes their status in the marketplace. (Here’s Pete Brown on Stella.) It is no longer a treat, no longer worthy of an appreciative “Ooh!”.

You might say this started years ago when they first turned up in supermarkets, or in Greene King and Wetherspoon pubs, and that’s probably true.

And we’re not complaining, really. After all this was the dream a decade ago — a supply of strong, bitter, furiously hoppy IPA on every street corner.

It’s just interesting to us that whereas once the presence of BrewDog on the menu indicated a beer geek working somewhere behind the scenes, it now means no such thing.

Artyfacts from the Nyneties #6: Beers of ’94

Sainsbury's Biere de Garde.
SOURCE: JS Journal Online (PDF).

Yesterday we stumbled upon a 2006 ‘top ten bottled British ales’ listicle by Pete Brown which we shared on Twitter, and which reminded us of something we found during research on Brew Britannia: a list of 101 bottled reviewed by Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson’s for an article in British tabloid the People in 1994.

It appeared in the Sunday edition for 21 August that year and offers an excellent snapshot of what was then readily available in British shops.

It’s from just the moment when Premium Bottled Ales were coming into existence in their almost-a-pint bottles and at around pub strength, shoving aside traditional half-pint brown and light ales.

There are some surprises but, generally, we think, it brings home how far things have come.

Jackson subscribed to the view that it was a waste of time to write bad reviews when you could focus on things you’d enjoyed but in this exercise was essentially forced to give a short note for each beer, some of which were uncharacteristically stinging.  Carlsberg Special Brew, for example, he found “sweet and yucky” and Scorpion Dry prompted him to ask: “Where’s the sting? More like cabbage water.”

On the whole, though, he remained quite gentle, even finding diplomatic words to say about some fairly bland lagers such as Rolling Rock with its touch of “new-mown hay”.

The asterisked beers are those he particularly recommended — quite a high bar, evidently.

Continue reading “Artyfacts from the Nyneties #6: Beers of ’94”