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, Semi-Final: Karmeliet vs. Lost & Grounded

It’s been on for weeks now, the gaps between games are getting longer, and your favourite was knocked out early so who cares? Yes, it’s another Tripel-Off semi-final.

The end is draw­ing near, though, and we’re cer­tain­ly con­tin­u­ing to enjoy the expe­ri­ence.

In the past when we’ve entered into big mul­ti-part tast­ing projects there have been moments when it’s felt like a chore – “We real­ly ought to drink those three saisons we sus­pect are going to be rub­bish, ugh…” – but not this time.

It’s tripel! We love tripel! And none of those we’ve tast­ed this time have been any­thing less than enjoy­able.

We have to admit that we went into this par­tic­u­lar match with the frank expec­ta­tion that plucky Lost & Ground­ed would get ham­mered by the expe­ri­enced vet­er­an on home turf.

In the group match­es Karmeli­et knocked our socks off and we’ve drunk a cou­ple more in the mean­time, so impressed were we by its char­ac­ter. Seri­ous­ly, how can a British-brewed upstart hope to chal­lenge a Bel­gian orig­i­nal? Well…

This time, both Jess and Ray knew which beers were in play, but Ray poured and pre­sent­ed them with­out the bot­tles just in case there was any chance of keep­ing Jess guess­ing.

The con­trast in appear­ance was pro­nounced: Karmeli­et is lager-yel­low with an absurd­ly vig­or­ous foam, while L&G tends to a faint­ly hazy orange with a decent but less sta­ble head. We wouldn’t nor­mal­ly use an out of focus pic­ture but it’s good enough to give the idea:

Two tripels side by side.

(And hap­pens to mim­ic the effect of drink­ing mul­ti­ple tripels in a ses­sion.)

On tast­ing, though, it became appar­ent that Karmeli­et was not going to walk this.

Jess: Well, to my sur­prise, I imme­di­ate­ly pre­fer the Lost & Ground­ed. It’s rougher but just more enjoy­able. It ben­e­fits from being real­ly cold and I sus­pect will get rougher again as it warms up but, for now, yes, that’s my favourite. Karmeli­et seems quite… insipid? It’s smoother but more bland. It’s not doing it for me.

Ray: That’s a good point about tem­per­a­ture. These are cold­er than some of the beers we’ve tast­ed in ear­li­er rounds. I agree that it’s clos­er than I expect­ed, but I do pre­fer Karmeli­et. The L&G seems a bit home­brew-tripel-by-num­bers, though I’d strug­gle to pin down any faults, as such. Maybe a bit of burnt sug­ar that shouldn’t be there? And, yes, Karmeli­et does seem quite lager-like at this tem­per­a­ture, but I like that it’s less heavy going than L&G.

[A few rounds of knit­ting and sev­er­al pages of Mai­gret lat­er.]

Jess: OK, as these warm up, they’ve switched places. The L&G has def­i­nite­ly become a bit less fun, while the com­plex­i­ty we noticed in Karmeli­et is re-emerg­ing.

Ray: Agreed. So the win­ner is…?

Jess: Karmeli­et, but Lost & Ground­ed stood up to it bloody well. It’s a very cred­i­ble tripel. Tell you what, though – I reck­on De Dolle would stamp all over both of these.

Ray: Oh, don’t say that! That means the last round was effec­tive­ly the final.

Jess: I’m lob­by­ing for a third-place play-off.

Ray: Hmm. Maybe.

So, that’s that: the final prop­er is Karmeli­et vs. West­malle, which we’ll try to sched­ule for the next week or so. In the mean­time, if you’ve had chance to try any of these beers side by side, we’d be inter­est­ed to hear your views.

Tripel-off, Semi-Final Game 1: Westmalle vs. De Dolle

We’re now into the semi-finals of our Tripel-off. First up: De Dolle Dulle Teve vs. Westmalle Tripel, the reining world champ.

You might recall that this wasn’t the orig­i­nal match-up but Ray had a cun­ning plan to keep the tast­ing just a tiny lit­tle bit on the blind side for Jess.

  • He changed the line-ups with­out telling her.
  • He put Dulle Teve in a West­malle brand­ed glass, and West­malle in a more gener­ic Bel­gian ves­sel.

Two beer bottles side by side.

Both had huge, gor­geous, bil­low­ing white heads of foam. Both looked about the same colour, with Dulle Teve per­haps just a touch dark­er, more orange than yel­low.

Our first sips were of Dulle Teve.

Jess: Oh, wow.

Ray: Same.

Jess: That’s just a love­ly beer, but… Hmm… Have you put some­thing oth­er than in the West­malle glass? Are you play­ing mindgames?

Ray: Yes, bust­ed. That didn’t take you long to work out. It is great, though. It’s love­ly. I would describe my reac­tion as swoon­ing.

Jess: [West­malle] has a much bet­ter aro­ma, though. Fresh and flow­ery. This one [Dulle Teve] smells fruity but much more restrained.

Ray: [West­malle] is more ele­gant and lighter bod­ied. A classier beer. But.. Is there a sort of savouri­ness at the end?

Jess: I’m detect­ing a burn. Too much of a burn. It seems very boozy.

Ray: [Dulle Teve] seems almost trop­i­cal­ly fruity. Again, great. Such wow fac­tor.

Jess: Fun­ny thing is, the more I drink, the bet­ter the first one [West­malle] tastes. It reminds me of Duv­el. Boozy, but also very drink­able. I think… I think I pre­fer it, on bal­ance, but only just.

Drink­ing these two beers togeth­er was real­ly inter­est­ing as each did strange things to our per­cep­tion of the oth­er (com­pare with our first-round tast­ing notes here and here) and both seemed to morph fur­ther into dif­fer­ent beers in the time it took to drink them. If beer-and-beer pair­ing was a thing, this is a com­bo we’d rec­om­mend.

Decid­ing a win­ner real­ly was dif­fi­cult. In the end, though, we both agreed that by the nar­row­est of mar­gins West­malle had the edge.

That means, much as we expect­ed from the start, it will be in the final, fac­ing off against either Lost & Ground­ed or Karmeli­et.

We’d like to thank Patre­on sup­port­ers like Dar­ryl Cham­ber­lain and Bryan Rob­son whose sup­port paid for the beer and access to the nice font in the head­er image.

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, 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!