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 Westmalle tripel is obviously better, sort of mousse-like in the mouth, so satisfying. Leafy and peppery. 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.

Everything We Wrote in June 2018: RATs, Beavers, Kittens

June was hot and hectic, and yet somehow we managed 20 posts here and 13 over on the Patreon feed.

There was also the usual barrage of Tweets, bits and pieces on Instagram and Facebook, and 1000+ words of exclusive stuff in the newsletter. (We don’t normally make those publicly viewable but this one is, if you want to see the kind of thing we write about.)


The month began, as they so often do, with a contribution to the Session, this time on the subject of farmhouse brewing. The fun thing about the Session is how often we think we have nothing to say but start typing anyway and… Oh, there’s a thing.

You can read a round-up of all the entries at Brewing in a Bedsitter.


The first of this month’s Pub Life posts records a conversation between bar staff on important philosophical questions: are zebras black with white stripes, or white with black? (Do check out the hilariously (knowingly) literal comments on this post…)

Continue reading “Everything We Wrote in June 2018: RATs, Beavers, Kittens”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 June 2018: Drunkards, Dill, Dilemmas

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Victorian pub culture to brine drinking.

First, here’s a very long read: Thora Hands‘ book Drinking in Victorian and Edwardian Britain: beyond the spectre of the drunkard is available as a free download (PDF) under a Creative Commons licence via the publisher. It’s a serious academic work but, from what we’ve enjoyed so far, worth dipping into if you have any interest in the history of pubs and drink:

By the turn of the century, Bass was one of many companies competing in the growing domestic market for alcoholic ‘health’ drinks and many of the adverts from the 1890–1910 period drew upon concepts of beer as a nutritious medicinal drink that could be used in a variety of situations for an array of health complaints. One advertising campaign used the miseries of the daily grind to convince consumers that Bass ale could help cure their ills. These adverts posed questions such as: ‘Can’t eat? Can’t sleep?’ and ‘Too tired to sleep?’ or ‘Tired or run down?’—and in every case the answer to the problem was to be found in a ‘nutritious’ glass of Bass ale.


A pickle.

Not about beer but definitely a reminder that you can’t make any assumptions about what people will and won’t enjoy drinking: pickle juice — the liquid from jars of gherkins, in British English — turns out to have considerably more appeal as a beverage than might previously have been suspected, according to Julie Jargon for the Washington Post:

Devotees say they like pickles but like the juice even more because it satisfies a salt craving they can’t quite explain. Some gulp with pickles still in the jar, irking nondrinkers.

(Via @jennypfafflin.)

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 June 2018: Drunkards, Dill, Dilemmas”

An Enormous Drinking Barracks, 1959

Among the literary sources we identified but did not have space to mention in 20th Century Pub was Keith Waterhouse’s 1959 comic social realist novel Billy Liar.

It contains a chapter in which Billy Fisher, an aspiring comedian and writer in the fictional Yorkshire town of Stradhoughton, practices his stand-up routine at a local pub:

The New House was an an enormous drinking barracks that had been built to serve Cherry Row and the streets around it. The New House was not its proper title. According to the floodlit inn-sign stuck on a post in the middle of the empty car park, the pub was called the Who’d A Thought It. There had been a lot of speculation about how this name had come about, but whatever the legend was it had fallen completely flat in Clogiron Lane. Nobody called the pub anything but the New House.

There was a windy, rubber-tiled hallway where the children squatted, eating potato crisps and waiting for their mothers. Two frosted-glass doors, embossed with the brewery trademark, led off it, one into the public bar and one into the saloon…

The men who say [in the public bar] were refugees from the warm terrace-end pubs that had been pulled down; they around drinking mild and calling to each other across the room as though nothing had changed… The few items in the New House that gave it anything like the feel of a pub — the dartboard, the cribbage markers, the scratched blind-box, and the pokerwork sign that said IYBMADIBYO, if you buy me a drink I’ll buy you one — were all part of the same portable world, as if they had been wheeled here in prams in the flight from the old things.

This fictional pub has a concert hall which suggests to us that Waterhouse had in mind one built between the wars rather than in the period after World War II.

The Belle Isle, on an estate not far from where Waterhouse grew up, is one possible candidate as a model — a drinking barracks indeed, but now a nursing home.

Drinking, and the Spaces Between

Take a gulp and put the glass down.

Place it on the beer mat, right in the centre, right in the ring of dark ink.

As you talk, as you listen, turn the glass on the mat, twisting it clockwise, then back, as if tuning in the conversation on a shortwave dial.

Take a gulp and put the glass down.

Tilt it so that light plays in the depths of the beer, so the foam clings to the sides and then slides back. Swirl it so the foam grows and flows.

Take a gulp and put the glass down.

Sweep the sides of their condensation with your fingers, tracing the shape, clearing the fog to reveal the gold.

Turn the glass, lights flash, sweep again.

Take a gulp and put the glass down, almost empty, light in the hand, almost dead.

Last gulp, then, “Same again?”

Defer the pleasure. Dip a fingertip in the cream and lick it. Let the beer sit a bit, then sweep, turn, tilt…

Take a gulp.