Tripel-Off Final: Westmalle vs. Karmeliet

We finally have a winner – we now know which is the best Tripel, no arguesy-backs.

The final, between the defend­ing cham­pi­on West­malle and plucky AB-InBev-owned under­dog Karmeli­et was a tense game that went right down to the wire. You could have cut the atmos­phere with a brick, Bri­an, and so on.

Both beers were essen­tial­ly flaw­less, as you’d expect con­sid­er­ing the com­pe­ti­tion they saw off. There’s no doubt: these are both great, deli­cious, delight­ful Tripels.

Karmeli­et was sweet­er with a dis­tinct pear drop char­ac­ter we hadn’t detect­ed in ear­li­er rounds. It seemed less com­plex than its oppo­si­tion, which is not to say there wasn’t plen­ty going on – just eight tracks of over­dubs rather than six­teen.

West­malle had all the same stuff but with a firmer bit­ter­ness, and more lay­ers – stewed fruit, cloves, banana, kazoo, string quar­tet, bloody booze! It seemed more sol­id, too, almost cus­tard-like on the tongue.

But maybe all that weight and depth is too much? Karmeli­et is just such fun, so light and excit­ing.

So, which will tri­umph? Spritz, or solid­i­ty? Pop, or baroque?

It was gen­uine­ly tough to call, and almost went to a tie-break­ing Patre­on sup­port­er vote.

But before we get to the final result, here’s a bit of half-time enter­tain­ment: what did Twit­ter reck­on?

A deci­sive win for West­malle, then, and absolute­ly nobody will be sur­prised to hear that it’s also our win­ner.

Yes, that’s right – sev­en blog posts dragged out over sev­er­al months to con­clude that the beer we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly called the best in the world is, indeed, the best Tripel.

Still, drink­ing a load of beers in this won­der­ful style was no hard­ship, and we’ve gained a renewed appre­ci­a­tion for sev­er­al clas­sics we had been tend­ing to over­look.

We’d say that if you’ve not had Karmeli­et recent­ly and were put off by the qual­i­ty dip a few years ago, do give it anoth­er try, and Dulle Teve is very much a new obses­sion for us.

So, same again in four years time?

Tripel Off Round 1, Match 4: Lost & Grounded vs. Solvay Society

Lost & Grounded vs. Solvay Society.

This is the last of the group matches and sees two UK breweries up against each other: Lost & Grounded from here in Bristol and Solvay Society from London.

The for­mer is a brew­ery with a par­tic­u­lar focus on Con­ti­nen­tal beer styles and is per­haps best known for its Keller Pils – very much a buzz beer of the sum­mer of 2018, despite its refresh­ing straight­for­ward­ness. The lat­ter is an intrigu­ing oper­a­tion run by a Bel­gian and ded­i­cat­ed to brew­ing “mod­ern beers abstract­ed from clas­sic Bel­gian styles”.

We bought both beers from Beer Mer­chants via mail order:

  • Lost & Ground­ed Apophe­nia, 330ml, £3.45 per bot­tle, 8.8% ABV
  • Solvay Soci­ety Tri­tium, 330ml, £4.05, 7.5% ABV

There was no hope of any­thing approach­ing true blind tast­ing at this stage but, as in pre­vi­ous rounds, Ray poured and pre­sent­ed the beers to Jess with­out say­ing which was which. She’d nev­er had either before, as far as she could recall, and cer­tain­ly doesn’t know either well enough to iden­ti­fy them from taste.

Two glasses of golden beer.

On pour­ing, both had sim­i­lar lev­els of car­bon­a­tion but Solvay Society’s beer looked slight­ly dark­er in colour.

Jess: Right, well, these both smell and taste like prop­er tripels. I’d be sur­prised if both weren’t using the same yeast, and if that yeast isn’t the West­malle strain. To be hon­est, they’re incred­i­bly sim­i­lar. If I have a com­plaint it’s that they’re both a bit on the sweet side. They’re lack­ing the crisp fin­ish I love in West­malle. They don’t have that bal­ance of rich­ness and bit­ter­ness that I get from the tripels I real­ly like, although maybe that’s just how my palate is read­ing things today…

Ray: For­tu­nate­ly, all you’ve got to do is decide which of the two you pre­fer.

Jess: True. Well, I have a mild pref­er­ence for this one. [Lost & Ground­ed.] Only because it’s not quite as sweet tast­ing. It’s a very close thing.

Ray: I agree, they’re pret­ty well indis­tin­guish­able, if you ignore the dif­fer­ence in colour. And a bit… Well, sick­ly is too strong, but heavy, some­how. This one [Solvay Soci­ety] is a bit spici­er, maybe, but per­haps I’m get­ting that impres­sion because I know it’s adver­tised as a pink pep­per­corn and rye tripel. It’s also maybe a touch heav­ier, despite hav­ing a low­er ABV. They’re both good beers, though – clean, bang on style.

Jess: I wouldn’t be dis­ap­point­ed if I’d ordered either of these in a Bel­gian bar.

Ray: So, my vote is for… Just, very nar­row­ly… Lost and Ground­ed! Which means it’s the win­ner.

Next round:
  • West­malle vs. De Dolle
  • Lost & Ground­ed vs. Karmeli­et

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.

100 Words: In Love With Tripel

Illustration: a Belgian tripel in the glass.

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.