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!

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.