By Don Corino, Pat Smith, Kevin Hussey, Howard Goldstein, John Morina, Steve Sharkey, Tim Rodgers & Matt Goldstein
The Belgian Tripel Trials were an international showdown between Belgian Tripel Ales and North American Belgian style Tripels. A Belgian Tripel, or sometimes Triple, can also be described as a strong pale ale. Tripel is a style that was created by Trappist Monks before WWII in which 3 times the amount of malt is used in the brewing process as compared to a standard Belgian or Trappist Ale. Many Belgian monastery’s support themselves and their religious studies through brewing beer and making cheese. These quiet and religious men who dawn themselves in maroon robes and rope belts have proven to be some of the best brewers in the world. With about 8-10% ABV per beer, the Trappist Tripel style brews are usually thick and gold in color, slightly sweet and bitter with a complex finish. All of the beers competing in the double blind taste test were Belgian Tripel styles except for the Trappist Rocherfort 8, which is actually a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. (We like to throw in a curve ball or two.)
The beers competing were as follows: Allagash Tripel, Victory Golden Monkey, Westmalle Trappist Tripel, Chimay White Tripel, Maredsous Tripel, Trappist Rochefort 8, Kasteel Tripel, Flying Fish Exit Four American Tripel, La Fin Du Monde, Sly Fox Incubus Tripel and Weyerbacher Merry Monks. After the scoring was tallied, it became apparent that North America crushed Belgium! It wasn’t even close! The beers were judged by scent, color, flavor, finish, bite and aftertaste. Has North America perfected the style created by Belgian Trappist Monks? The numbers don’t lie. Editors Note: For those who will argue that North American Beers had an advantage because they were fresher, that arguement doesn’t hold up with Belgian Tripels. The high alcohol content and the fermentation style in Tripels create an excellent beer for bottle aging and conditioning and many of the beers we sampled were exactly that, bottle aged and conditioned. Freshly bottled beer is not necessarily the best way to serve a Trappist style Tripel. Some of these beers get better after being shelved for a year or two. Despite all of that, real champions rise to the occasion… The Belgian Tripel Trials had 10 different tasters and were scored as follows:
The Exit 4 is our 2010 Belgian Tripel champion! The Exit Four flavor was sweet, bitter, and floral with notes of hops. This bottle conditioned ale has a perfect balance of malts and hops with a complex finish and great bite. The Flying Fish Exit 4 American Tripel is simply one of the best beers in the world. Flying Fish Exit 4 was winner of a Gold Medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival and named by Mens Journal as best Belgian beer brewed in America for 2009. Flying Fish also performed extremely well in our Oktoberfest contest with the Oktoberfish finishing in the top 5 out of 25. Brewing since 1995 in Cherry Hill NJ, the Flying Fish Brewery is one of the best in the world and often overlooked in the recent craft beer craze. Food pairing suggestions for the Exit 4 are fish, roasted vegetables, shrimp, and strong cheeses.
2. La Fin Du Monde Tripel:
La Fin Du Monde performed extremely well in the Belgian Tripel Trials. In fact, the La Fin Du Monde was very close to the Flying Fish in scoring and completely separated itself from the rest of the pack. The La Fin Du Monde Tripel is a phenomenal beer. It’s sweet with hints of wheat, fruit, spice notes and a good head with a slightly bitter finish. The bottle describes the beer as being brewed with triple fermentation and is brewed in Quebec Canada and bottled at 9.0% ABV. La Fin Du Monde actually translates to the “end of the world.” If the world was actually ending and La Fin Du Monde was your last beer, it would be a pretty damn good ending.
The Incubus is an excellent Trappist style brewed with German Pilsner malt and invert sugar. Light in color and citrus notes, with 39 IBU’s and 10.3% ABV, this American Tripel easily beat out all of the classic Belgians it went up against. Sly Fox is brewed in Phoenixville PA and is well known for their Pikeland Pils and Route 113 IPA. Sly Fox is also one of the best canned beer brewers in the world.
4. The Victory Golden Monkey:
The Golden Monkey is brewed with German 2 row malts, European whole flower Hops, and imported Belgian yeast. At 9.5% ABV, the Victory Golden Monkey is light gold in color with notes of honey, wheat and oak. Milky and a bit sour with a good dry finish, the Golden Money is a little light on carbonation. Golden Monkey and Victory brewing are an American staple in craft beer and brewed in Downingtown, PA.
5. Westmalle Trappiste Tripel:
The Westmalle is considered by many as the quintessential Belgian Trappist Tripel! The Westmalle Tripel is a cloudy and murky yellow color, with notes of citrus and oak. With a great mouth feel and a dry, light finish the Westmalle is a little light on carbonation and aftertaste. The Westmalle Trappist Tripel is a classic Belgian ale! At 9.5% ABV, the taste of the Westmalle Trappist Tripel can actually vary depending on bottle size and glassware according to the brewers. The Westmalle Trappist Monastery in Belgium has been brewing beer since 1836 and the Westmalle Tripel has been brewed since 1934 with the same recipe since 1956.
6. The Kasteel Belgian Tripel:
The Kasteel is a top fermented ale and then re-fermented in the bottle. Yellow in color with little head but great carbonation, the Kasteel Tripel is lighter in color than the other Belgians. With notes of wheat and flavor like a fine wine, the crisp bite and bitterness make this a great Belgian Tripel that can hang with some of the best beers in the world.
The Allagash is a murky cloudy yellow, light in body with notes of wheat with coriander spice. Dry and bitter with good head, this Allagash is pound for pound much better than the infamous Allagash White! According to the Allagash brewery, the Tripel is great when paired with crab cakes or an assertive cheese such as Roquefort or Stilton. The Tripel is particularly delightful with asparagus. Is also the perfect accompaniment to a fruit dessert or wonderful on its own as a digestif.
8. Trappistes Rochefort 8:
The Rochefort 8 was our curveball in the contest. We wanted to see how the flavor of the Belgian Strong Dark Ale stacked up against the golden colored Belgian Strong Pale Ale Tripels; and the Rochefort did not disappoint. The Trappistes Rochefort 8 is very malty with good head and heavy sediment. Smooth, with notes of caramel, espresso, coffee, good carbonation and light hops, the Rochefort 8 also has a light scent. The Rochefort 8 is the largest selling beer from the Rochefort brewery. Brewed by Cistercian Trappist Monks, the men are described as those “who leave everything behind to live with God and in that way open the eyes for the Resurrection of the Lord.”
9. The Maredsous 10 Tripel:
The Maredsous has scents of fruit and a very sweet flavor with notes of fruit, lemon, cherry, good carbonation and little head. At 10% ABV the Maredsous Tripel is brewed in Belgium by the world famous Duvel Company. Duvel also brews the critically acclaimed Ommegang in the U.S..
Chimay is one of the most famous Belgian beers in the world. Chimay’s three staple beers, the Blue Reserve, the Red Premiere and the White Cinq Cents Tripel put Belgian beer on the map. The Chimay White Tripel is a top fermented Trappist ale. The White Cinq Cents has good head, with a clear brown light cloudy color. Bitter and dry with a light toasted malt flavor and a scent of hops, there is a touch of fruit in the finish. The Cistercian Trappist monks of Chimay have been developing the production of Trappist beers and cheeses since 1862 at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont Monastery.
11. The Weyerbacher Merry Monks:
Merry Monks is a bottle conditioned Abby Tripel. Brewed with Pilsner malts and Belgian yeasts, the Merry Monks is bottled at 9.3% ABV. This Weyerbacher is sweet with notes of bubble gum and then a sweet aftertaste. Even though Weyerbacher finished last in our double blind taste test, we’ve tasted it many times before and it is certainly a fabulous beer. If you’re looking for more bang to your buck, the Merry Monks might be a better choice than some of the more expensive beers on our list. Weyerbacher is brewed in Easton PA, home of the Easton Assassin and former heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes.
We’d like to give a special thanks to our beer wenches, Sari Abrahamson, Elizabeth Corino and Carolynn Chapman. Without our very dedicated beer wenches, the Belgian Tripel Trials would not have been possible.
Editors Note: Beers were selected on the basis of availability….