DSC02310I guess it’s tough for most breweries to bat 1.000. Even if you only make three beers.

I was a little surprised with my experience with Westmalle Dubbel, considering their tripel is generally regarded as the benchmark of the style. In fact, it ranks very high on my Top 20 list. But the dubbel left just a little to be desired, especially when compared to its peer group in the Trappist/Abbey category.

Poured with a rich mahogony coloring and a decent head that hung around for a bit. Aroma was earthy, a pretty balanced mix between caramel and some fruity esters. I get some plum. Solid yeast backbone. Also seemed hoppier, maybe even spicier, than other Trappist dubbels like Chimay Premiere, for example.

While the introduction was pleasant overall, Westmalle Dubbel fell flat on the back end for me. A very dry, very bitter characteristic with not much of the malty sweetness that I look for in a dubbel. Not very complex or interesting. It almost bordered on sour, the furthest thing from rich and creamy. I was a bit surprised by all of this. Also a fairly weak mouthfeel, thin and a bit watery. Again, not what I expected. Didn’t pick up any alcohol in the finish, which was good. But that might be the only redeeming quality to the taste experience.  

I feel like I need to give this one another shot at some point given Westmalle’s reputation. When I look back at my review of their tripel, I wonder if Westmalle just trends to the drier, spicier side of the equation, even in a beer that isn’t generally supposed to take on those qualities. To be fair, it’s better than some dubbels I’ve had, but not nearly what I’d expect from a Trappist brewery of its ilk. Bit of a disappointment.

Rating: B-/C+

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With my recent acquisition of Westvleteren 8 and 12, it dawned on me that I now have representation in my cellar from each Trappist brewery, six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands.

Got me thinking that I should plan a “Trappist Week” series of tastings and reviews. Might be a fun and educational way to celebrate the innovation that makes up the Belgian beer scene, in many ways spearheaded by these seven beer-producing monasteries over the past couple hundred years.

Stay tuned…
 

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I got on Facebook a little while ago, because I felt like I was missing out on this decade’s biggest thing. Like Members Only jackets were to the 1980’s, or American Gladiators to the 90’s (sorry Hulk). But after I located a couple old college buddies, selected several pieces of flare that represented my offbeat personality, and updated everyone on what I was doing at that exact moment, I kind of wondered what the big deal was. Were my friends really sitting around anxiously waiting to see what my favorite movie of all time was? Or even if I gave Hoegaarden Wit a 9 out of 10 on RateBeer? Maybe I’m stuck in the stone age, but coworkers I don’t even know go out of their way to “friend” me, then that same day walk by me in the hall without saying hello. It’s almost like a trophy case of acquaintances, a competition to see who can secure the most digital friends.

I’m really not trying to be a curmudgeon, but I find it fascinating that nobody (to this point) has truly figured out a way to make significant money by leveraging people’s online social networks. Sure, there’s been a few big bets placed on Facebook. But the underlying driver behind the success of the site isn’t money. Nor is it fun little widgets. It’s humans’ desire to connect with each other. It’s a basic need. And one that others actually have capitalized on in the past…Ma Bell, the postal service, Hallmark. I think that some day, whether it’s Facebook or some other platform, someone is going to break through with a social utility noone can do without. Next decade’s version of the cell phone. But in this age of IM and email and, yes, blogs, it feels sometimes like we’re ironically slowly regressing in our ability to communicate and connect with each other, on a human level. I’m not sure I want to live in a world where people would rather send an email than walk 20 feet down the hall to talk to me in person.

All that said, there’s no way reading this blog that you’re going to understand how great of a beer Westmalle Tripel is until you go out and buy it for yourself.

My earlier experiences with other Westmalle offerings have been superb. And their Tripel may just raise the bar. Great head, great coloring. A little bit of yeast sediment floating around in the cloudy, light orange brew. Beautiful, as expected. It is Westmalle, after all. Nice aroma, like slightly warmed apple sauce. Taste is very spicy, crisp bite. The kind that hits you in the back corners of your tongue. Also real citrusy, like licking the tart backside of an orange rind. It stays with you long after you swallow, like a spicy Thai dish that lingers well after the meal is over.

It’s not as malty sweet as most other Tripels I’ve enjoyed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not balanced. You can barely notice the 9.5% ABV. This is probably the best overall Tripel I’ve had…even better than Chimay Cinq Cents.

Rating: A

The monks really know what they’re doing.

If you can’t tell, I’m on a Belgian kick of late, and have been slowly working my way through some of the more well-known labels. Chimay has always topped my list. But I’ve never been able to find the Triple. I stumbled (not literally) across a bottle the other day, and had to try it. I was not disappointed.

I purchased the 750 ml bottle, aka “Cinq Cents”, with a 2007 bottling date on the cork. Poured into a stemless wine glass, which is my preferred vessel for these types of ale. Very nice, thick white head with a slow pour. Also a beautiful straw-like coloring. Definitely a medicinal aroma. I know it’s 8% ABV, but I didn’t notice the strength at all. At least initially. Very smooth throughout. A little citrusy and spicy too, which is a nice complement to Chimay’s more deep and earthy Rouge and Grande Reserve offerings. Highly recommended, can’t wait to have another.

Rating: A

I love Belgians. More specifically, their ales. I had the pleasure of drinking a Rochefort 8 this evening, and it was fantastic. Rich cherry notes, plum, a little vanilla, and a nice hint of alcohol that just slightly warmed the back of the throat. All in all, good stuff. Sitting here in the U.S., I wonder how these complex Trappists would taste if I were in a pub in Brussels. Overseas shipping and temperature fluctuations must take its toll. I’d imagine it would be the same experience I had drinking a Guinness in Dublin…best I ever had.  But that likely had more to do with the fact that I was a stones throw from St. James Gate and had consumed approximately ten pints of the dark stuff.

Of the official Trappist ales, I’ve enjoyed about half of them. A Chimay Triple is chilling in my beer fridge, with an Orval begging to be opened later this evening.

I kind of like the idea of getting to know a country or region through its beer…spend a couple months sampling the wares, appreciating the subtle differences and brewing traditions…then push on to a whole ‘nother area. As a somewhat fledgling home brewer, I think it helps strengthen the palette. It also helps me understand the time and effort that goes into making a truly drinkable beer. As I’d tell my fiance, this type of research is the yeast I can do.

Rating: A-

Welcome. Let’s get things started…

Me: Beer Maker, Scotch Peruser, and Whiskey Sampler.

You: Blog Reader, Fellow Connoisseur of All Things Liquid, Pun Appreciator.

On Tap: Trappist Ale (Chimay Clone)
On Deck: Oatmeal Stout
In the Hole: IPA