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.

Golden Pints 2011

This is our con­tri­bu­tion to The Gold­en Pints 2011, run by Beer Reviews and Mark Dredge.

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer: Pen­zance Brew­ing Com­pa­ny Potion 9 (4%)
From our near­est brew­ery and, in fact, prob­a­bly the last brew­ery in the coun­try. (Every­thing down here claims to be the last, most souther­ly or most west­er­ly one in the coun­try.) Best con­sumed where it is brewed, at the Star Inn in Crowlas.

Best UK Bot­tled or Canned Beer: Fuller’s Past Mas­ters XX Strong Ale (7.4%)
We liked the idea and liked the beer; and, as we’ve worked through a case, it’s slow­ly become one of our absolute favourites.

Best Over­seas Draught Beer: none
We haven’t had a for­eign draft beer which has real­ly blown us away. They often seem a lit­tle stale by the time they reach the UK and (boo hoo) we haven’t been to Ger­many, the Czech Repub­lic or Bel­gium this year.

Best Over­seas Bot­tled or Canned Beer: West­malle Tripel
A new beer from an up-and-com­ing lit­tle brew­ery you might have heard of…

Best UK Brew­ery: Thorn­bridge
When we go into a strange pub and see a Thorn­bridge pump­clip, we get excit­ed. Vari­ety, con­sis­tent qual­i­ty (at least in our expe­ri­ence) and style.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Sheffield Tap
A great idea, great premis­es and great beer, and still going strong after a cou­ple of years. We look for­ward to a Tap in every city. (Bris­tol next, please!)

Beer Fes­ti­val of the Year: CAMRA Ker­now, Fal­mouth
The only one we’ve been to this year. We had a great time.

Super­mar­ket of the Year: Marks and Spencer
Their own range is var­ied and inter­est­ing and the qual­i­ty keeps improv­ing. Top marks for labelling, too.

Online Retail­er of the Year: Beer­mer­chants
We’ve found them reli­able, friend­ly and they have the beer we want (Bel­gian, most­ly) at the right price.

Best Beer Book or Mag­a­zine: CAMRA’s quar­ter­ly BEER Mag­a­zine
Where What’s Brew­ing is still the pre­serve of the man-in-blaz­er pho­to­graph and moldy old Keg Buster strip, BEER feels like a 21st cen­tu­ry pub­li­ca­tion with an inclu­sive atti­tude and arti­cles from many of our favourite beer writ­ers.

Best Beer Blog or Web­site: it’s com­pli­cat­ed
Any blog we’ve linked to in a post this year is one we like and/or find inter­est­ing. If pushed, though… The Beer Nut does make us laugh, and write beer reviews like nobody else.