We keep thinking about Belgian Tripels.
We’ve said that Westmalle Tripel is, without doubt or debate, so shut up, the best beer in the world.
But maybe Tripel is the best style.
A good Tripel demonstrates how a beer can be balanced without being bland or paltry. Sweetness reined in by bitterness, richness met by high carbonation, with spice and spicy yeast pulling it all together.
Complex without drama. Subtly luxurious. Affordable art.
Yes, very affordable: you can still buy some of the highest-regarded examples for less than three quid a bottle, and a suitable glass for not much more.
We’ll take murky beer but not muddy.
Murk is usually superficial, but sometimes softening, sometimes silky. It leaves room for other flavours. Light likes it.
Mud is taste and texture. It is dirt, the riverbed stirred up — chewable, unclean, silt between the teeth.
Mud is why you leave carp to swim in a clean bath before eating it — one degree away from… Well, you know.
Beers that look murky are more likely to taste muddy, but don’t have to. Clear beers can be muddy, we think, but it’s a clever trick.
Murky wasn’t meant as an insult. Muddy always is.
Ah, So Very British™ — saying things are Fine when you really mean they’re awful.
Except that’s not what we mean.
When we say Fine, we mean Fine — that is, adequate, the mildest form of Good.
And you know what? We drink a fair bit of beer that isn’t Fine. It’s not Awful or Dreadful — it’s just, like most stuff, floating around in the middle, stirring little beyond a shrug, an appreciative nod or a momentary frown.
We like to keep something back for the gold medal beers, and for the absolute stinkers.
The rest of the time, Fine is OK.
Let’s pop in here for a pint.
Oh, is it good?
Not, good, exactly. Interesting.
What does interesting mean?
There’s always something going on. Some sort of drama.
Oh dear. Is the beer good, though?
Well…. Not good. I mean, it doesn’t taste that nice, but there is something about it.
Sorry, but this sounds terrible.
Oh, yeah, it is, in a way. But we should go in anyway, just for one. It’s brilliant.
Oh, I see — ironic appreciation — ‘So bad it’s good!’.
No, we genuinely like it, we just can’t be sure anyone else will. It’s complicated.
Arriving in Somerset we’re greeted at the door with bottles of Butcombe bitter and their IPA.
Maybe it’s the exhausting journey, maybe the occasion, but both taste great — pure beeriness and sweet Christmas tangerines respectively.
There’s more bottled Butcombe with a barbecue, alongside local scrumpy. ‘Cider then beer, you feel queer,’ says Bailey’s Dad. ‘Beer then cider… Makes a good rider!’
Finally, lunch at the manorial inter-war Bath Arms in Cheddar with cool, perfectly styled pints of Butcombe Gold — a straightforward, satisfying amber-coloured ale but without the standard Bitter’s whiff of well-worn hand-knitted jumpers.
Soothing, dependable, decent. Good old Butcombe.