Tripels: Beer Recommendations From Golden State's Jason Bernstein
Smells and our discussions of them are a bit of a shell game; we're constantly moving things about. An almond might smell "apple-y." "This apple has undertones of vanilla." "And Tahitian vanilla contains elements of almonds." A shell game to be sure, but it's all we have. Somehow, it seems more descriptive to say, "This asparagus has elements of pine and juniper." As opposed to, "This asparagus smells like asparagus." My current beer recommendation is one made from only water, barley, malt and hops; and yet it smells like a peach.
Belgian or Belgian-style Tripels possess marvelous aromatics that pair up perfectly with this season's crop of Blenheim apricots or Rich Lady peaches. They are extremely effervescent and can be one of the great beers for dessert in general, because the microcarbonation lifts sweeter flavors from the palate, allowing you to be surprised by your next bite of pie.
There isn't much written about Tripels in the summer because they have a couple of strikes against them for general quaffability. They're potent: usually about 9% alcohol (for comparison, Corona Extra is 4.6%). And they're slightly sweet: not the ultimate refresher. But there are a billion low alcohol light bodied beers out there. The Tripel is unique. And when the sun sets tonight and the temperature drops, you're going to need something to serve with that new cobbler you baked.
Many of the beers in Belgium have origins that stretch back more than 500 years but the Tripel as we know it is only about 60 years old. There's even an "original" one. Some Trappist monks at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart brewed up a batch of (strong) beer with three times as much malt as a Belgian Simple. Three times the malt = Tripel. The brewery is Westmalle and the Westmalle Tripel is the progenitor of this influential style. (N. B. There is also a style of beer called a Dubbel with twice as much malt as a Simple but the flavor characteristics are completely different.) The beer was a riproaring success and has been emulated all over the globe and while there are of course many beers of this style made in Belgium, we do a great job of this beer in North America.
Along with the Westmalle Tripel, other ones that you'll encounter are the Chimay White, Tripel Karmeliet (one of my favorites) and the Witkap Tripel. North America makes some great interpretations of this beer as well. One of the most popular is the Unibroue La Fin du Monde from Canada. It's lighter in body than its Belgian Variants and finishes cleanly. Portland Maine's Allagash Brewery , makes two: the regular Tripel which is not particularly unique and their reknowned "Curieux," which is their Tripel aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. This is one of America's great beers and works very well with desserts. It must be said that the peach-y nose of Allagash Curieux is subdued by the barrel aging. Instead, it is replaced by a kind of "boozy vanilla" which dovetails perfectly with a variety of summer fruit desserts.
My suggestion is to try a couple of these beers at the same sitting (responsibly though - bring a couple of friends, as they're potent). Small physico-chemical variations in the brewing process yield different results. Some might be more peach-y and some are more clove-y. Some are more floral and some more spicy. But it's neat to see that with only water, malt, yeast and hops, Tripels showcase a myriad of aromatics.
Jason Bernstein is the co-owner of Golden State.