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Nov 1, 2013 10:43 PM

Belgian Trippel Blind (or Bland?) Tasting

Nov 1, 2013
So I have this Gulden Draak on tap the another night… it’s outasite... Review here

I ordered 5 other beers, and one was out (Stone suede?) so the bartender recommended a switch to Gulden Draak. Very glad she did b/c it won hands down. I served it to some friends at a poker game the other night, and even the non-beer drinkers liked it, a hit all -around.So this revives my interest in Belgian Ales.

Belgians for a lot of beer drinkers, myself included are sort of a “last frontier”… we come across them along the way through everything else, find ‘em tasty but a little heavy...

But…. now’s the time to start getting into this.. start figuring out the difference between a dubbel / trippel / quad. / strong ale, etc.

So I’ve got 6 top rated Tripels I’m going to taste blind, two at a time over the next week or so. Tonight it’s Tripel Karmeliet vs. Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel Houblon. Actual tasting notes follow:

Brew 1: Not unpleasant. Sort of a “restrained” flavor and nose. Curiously close to an American pedestrian beer in basic flavor (like a toned-down Budweiser without the fizz and froth but with similarly unremarkable flavor) with a modest bitter-sweet edge. Frankly not that interesting overall…

Brew 2: Disappointment too. Not sure what’s going on, these are from diligent stores with great beer selections.

Final thoughts: This is going to be a short night  Brew 2 has a strange aftertaste that I can’t get past. Brew 1 is the “winner” though both of these are getting booby prizes.

Now to reveal the labels: Brew 1 is….Karmeliet, Brew 2 is Chouffe. Won’t be buying either of these anytime soon. Better luck next time. As I’m drinking these I wonder if it’s “Belgian Strong Ale” that I’m really looking for? ... time will tell.

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  1. I think they are both great beers, though it has been some time since I have tried them. I am surprised that you didn't pick up the characteristic tripel flavors in either of them - the intense sweetness from the candi sugar, the bubblegum/banana and the tangy/herbaceous tones. I just can't imagine the Karmeliet tasting like a toned-down Budweiser but perhaps your bottle was off.

    I would also note that the Chouffe is not a typical tripel as it is a hybrid between the tripel and Belgian IPA styles. Perhaps the strange aftertaste was from the hops, which are not typically associated with the tripel style.

    19 Replies
    1. re: brentk

      Brent: I too was surprised. I didn't get ANY of those candy-like flavors from the Karmeliet...

      I was grasping for a descriptor and came up with the bud analogy, Probably not the best, in retrospect both of these beers came off as somewhere on the softened pale ale end of the spectrum. There wasn't that much difference in the fundamental flavor of the karm and chouffe, just the afternotes on the chouffe.

      Anyway, I'm now thinking that what I'm looking for is "belgian strong ale" rather than just a straight trippel, but I have 4 others to taste: St. Bernardus, Maredsous, and Westmalle so maybe there's some positive surprises in store. Also have a Carolus Gulden blue label... ratebeer calls that a trippel but I think it's really strong ale, no? I've had it before and recall it being very candied and delicious.

      1. re: TombstoneShadow

        Historically speaking tripel *is* a Belgian strong pale ale. The style existed long before the name. I would suggest reading up on some of the Belgian styles, and possibly also finding a bottle shop with a good supply of them so they can give you tips based on what you like.

        FWIW, Karmeliet is a decent tripel, but nothing particularly special. There are a lot of Belgian beers that are well-known that fall under this heading.

        Some of my favorite triples these days are made in the USA. If you can find them I suggest trying Green Flash Tripel and Brouwerij West's Tripel. Both are really good.

        1. re: Josh

          Tripel is not a pale ale and the type and name are only separated by a little over 20 years.

          According to Jef van den Steen, the premier Belgian beer historian, the monks at Westmalle brewed a stronger beer (called, at the time, a superbier) in 1934 when their new brewery was finished. In 1956, the recipe was modified and the name was changed to tripel.

          Westvleteren, Rochefort, Chimay all make darker tripels and Achel makes both. In fact, of the Belgian Trappists, only Westmalle makes a pale tripel. The development of stronger beers in Belgium is quite recent and not very extreme.

          1. re: ThomasvanDale

            My mistake, I meant to say Golden Strong (not Strong Pale), but I see that is also not quite right:

            I was reading the Wikipedia entry about Tripels because I realized I did not know what defined it technically vs. golden strong ales, especially given the similarity of their flavor profiles.

            Not sure what you mean about dark tripels, though. Chimay's tripel, Cinq Cents, is pale in color. The Chimay Premiere is a dubbel, and the Grande Reserve a quadrupel.

            Westvleteren and Rochefort don't have tripels in their lineups (Westy 6 is dark strong, 8 dubbel, 12 quad; Rochrfort 6 is dubbel, 8 dark strong, 12 quad). Don't think I've had Achel so couldn't comment on that one. Koeningshoven, another trappist brewer, also makes a tripel and it is pale.

            I can safely say I've never seen a beer called a tripel that was not golden or orange in color.

            1. re: Josh

              The problem is that you are using American sources, not Belgian ones. In Belgium, there is no such thing as a "quadrupel." There is a beer called Quadrupel, but it is made in the Netherlands. (Yes, there are commerical Belgian breweries making quadrupels, but primarily for the export market.)

              In Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, there is little attention payed to beer "styles". Trappist beer, for example, is not a "style", but tells where the beer came from, much like Kölsch says the beer comes from Cologne (Germany). Likewise with lambik, geuze, kriek, etc. - not "styles" but where the beers came from and what type they are.

              Here is a list of beer types from the German brewers association as an example:

              The main listing includes nine types of beer, and the "beer specialties" includes several more, primarily Bavarian, types.

              Here's the site of the Belgian brewers association: Good luck finding even a list of Belgian beer types.

              1. re: ThomasvanDale

                Very interesting. That said, Mr. Shadow is buying his beer in the USA where they are labeled based on these sources. I realize BJCP isn't internationally recognized but my comments weren't aimed at someone living in Belgium.

                1. re: Josh

                  Yes, that is actually quite well known here. There is even a Munich brewer (I don't remember which one) that colours its beer for the American market because Oktoberfest beers in the US are darker than the German version.

                  Although it's not beer, American companies do the same thing. Amazon, for example, in the US, calls it "Movies & TV", but on their European sites, they call it "Films & TV".

                  Michael Jackson, especially in his later books, wrote (in English) many useful and interesting things about European beers. (And I always thought he was a big hero in the US beer scene.)

                  As for your last sentence: while it is true that different countries have different customs, it should NOT be true that different countries have different facts. You originally wrote: "Historically speaking tripel *is* a Belgian strong pale ale." Well, that is a statement of fact, not custom, and, as I point out, it is incorrect. There is no good reason I can see to spread information if it is incorrect.

                  BTW, I'm Dutch, not Belgian.

                  1. re: ThomasvanDale

                    You're correct that Michael Jackson was a huge hero in the US beer scene. And a champion of Belgian beers, US craft beers, and any other good beer in the world.

                    1. re: ThomasvanDale

                      Yeah, I noted my mistake in my reply to you above. I wasn't trying to say that facts differ between the USA and Belgium, just that here if you're discussing tripels most beer nerds are going to assume they're golden in color and not dark.

                      Interesting about the Munich brewer, too. We had Weihenstephaner's Oktoberfest beer at our wedding which is also a pale Oktoberfest, but they don't add coloring. Very strange to think that's considered necessary.

                      1. re: Josh

                        I'm taking that munich brewer ofest comment with a grain of salt. Did you know that bocks are just the thick beer that settles at the bottom of the tank too? lol.

                        1. re: LStaff

                          Heh, good point, though I have read that other large European brewers use caramel color. Newcastle Brown is one that allegedly has it as well.

                          1. re: Josh

                            English breweries are known for use of caramel color, but for German breweries, they would use a malt based coloring agent like sinamar or other roasted malts. But I am skeptical that breweries (or even just one from Munich) are just taking their lighter festbier meant for homeland consumption, coloring it, and labeling passing it off as marzen for US consumers.

                            These are the Munich brewery Ofests that we get in the US.

                            Spaten - its a year round product for the US and is usually on the thicker/maltier side

                            Paulaner - they now ship both marzen and the festbier here. And they have different thickness/mouthfeel/flavor to me.

                            Hacker-pchorr - the US version is thicker in body, more caramel and bready/toastiness and less hoppy than the one served in Munich
                            Lowenbrau ? - not sure if some markets in the US still get this one, but when they supplied my market, it was the lighter style they sell at the Ofest in Munich itself

                            Hofbrau - that beer couldn't get any lighter in color and mouthfeel and still recognize it as a festbier

                            If anyone is the culprit, I would think it is Spaten - always thought it had a weird brown color to it. Still highly skeptical though unless someone has some evidence.

                            Speaking of Spaten, imo thier dopplebock has gotten much better in recent years. No longer 7.2% abv like it used to be. Love the dunkle too when I can find it.

                            1. re: LStaff

                              Don't think I've tried their doppelbock. One of my favorite styles. I especially like Celebrator.

                      2. re: ThomasvanDale

                        Regarding my response about tripel/golden strong, this is where I read that:

                        "The modern origin of tripels lies in Belgium, in the 1930s. According to brewing historian Michael Jackson, the first golden strong pale ale associated with the term was brewed by Hendrik Verlinden of the Drie Linden (Three Lindens) brewery in the early 1930s, when ale brewers were looking to compete with the pale lagers from Plzeň.[2][6] Verlinden regularly assisted the Trappist brewery Westmalle with their brewing,[7] and in 1932 he produced a golden strong pale ale, the Witkap Pater (now known as Witkap Tripel), for his own brewery, the Slaghmuylder Brewery.[8]"

                        As you'll see if you follow the footnotes, this entry is based partially on what Michael Jackson wrote here:

                        Though as you see, he refers to "golden Triple", which is not a term I was previously familiar with:

                        "I believe the first golden Triple was produced by the Three Lindens brewery, at Brasschaat, near Antwerp, in the post-war period, when brewers of strong, top-fermenting beers were trying to compete with Pilsener-style lagers.

                        When the Three Linden brewery closed, its product, under the name Witkap, was taken over by the Slaghmuylder brewery, at Ninove, west of Brussels.

                        The style was subsequently popularised by the outstanding example made by the Trappist brewery of Westmalle, near Antwerp.

                        The best examples of this style have a tantalising combination of clean, biscuity, maltiness; estery fruitiness; and flowery hop dryness. I have tasted several new Triples in the past year. The most remarkable was made by the Bosteels brewery, of Buggenhout."

                        The reason I raised that point to begin with was because the OP complained that the tripels tasted like "softened pale ales". Assuming Wikipedia's info is correct, the tripel's history described therein might help explain that perception.

                        1. re: Josh

                          That Wikipedia article is wrong on almost every point. You will also notice that the M. Jackson article nowhere says that a tripel is always pale (as the article says).

                          The story about the "Three Linden Triple" is also wrong. Their first beer, called Witkap Pater, was neither a tripel or golden. It was a dark beer, almost certainly what would today be called a dubbel. In fact, that's what the current brewery calls it.

                          I have never tasted Belgian beers in the US, so I don't really know how well they cross the ocean. Or, perhaps, drinking a lot of strongly flavoured American beers has an effect on people's taste perception.

                          1. re: ThomasvanDale

                            You should correct it! You have the power, sir. And you can prevent future misunderstandings by well-meaning pedants on the internets.


                    2. re: ThomasvanDale

                      Thomas, Thank you for your sane and enlightening post.

                      1. re: Tripeler

                        You're quite welcome. It would be a shame to waste the many hours I have spent reading local books about beer and there is no good reason not to share this useful information.

            2. I think I may have first breakthrough in understanding:

              "Belgian strong DARK ale" vs
              "Belgian strong PALE ale"...

              From wikipedia: "Tripel: Tripel is a term used originally by brewers in the Low Countries to describe a strong PALE ale, and became associated with Westmalle Tripel.[35] The style of Westmalle's Tripel and the name was widely copied by the breweries of Belgium,[36] then the term spread to the USA and other countries."

              Ahh hah! That explains exactly the flavor notes I tasted last night which were.... very reminiscent of a softened U.S. pale ale!! Also what the gentleman posted elsewhere on this thread that Chouffe Houblon is an IPA/belgian mix of some sort.

              What I think I'm really looking for is a "Belgian strong DARK ale" such as Gulden Draak or Cuvee Van De Keizer Blue, as on this list of the top strong belgian Darks from BA:

              Will keep tasting and report back...

              4 Replies
              1. re: TombstoneShadow

                Update: just tried the Cuvee van de Keizer by Gouden Carolus (the 2011 vintage btw)... this is absolutely the brew variety I'm looking for, and as above, I think the proper definition is Belgian Strong Dark Ale... it's dark caramel, complex, great lingering candy/port-like aftertastes, the whole schmiel... so I'm going to focus on these.

                As this stuff warms in the bottle and glass a bit, it just syrupy, with a great crema head and really nice bouquet... you could serve this stuff to discerning wine aficionados as an after-dinner drink and they'd love it. Not sure if it would work as a dessert drink, i.e. paired with a dessert, but I'm open-minded to that... would probably be great with a creme brulee, maybe?... might not be quite sweet enough, but it's getting there.

                My little foray into Belgian Strong Pale Ale will probably dead end as I just wasn't that impressed by those...

                1. re: TombstoneShadow

                  Keep an eye out for Belgian Christmas/Winter beers which are usually of the strong dark type - many have spices added, but they are usually subtle and blend with the yeast character. Also Dubbels might be your thing too but are a little less syrupy than your description. St Bernardus Prior 8 is my favorite - you may be interested in Abt 12.

                  1. re: LStaff

                    Thanks staff... I've noticed those coming out now... better try 'em while they are on the shelf

                    1. re: TombstoneShadow

                      Even better - try them at their source:

                      I've been a volunteer at the festival for about 10 years. (It's hard work, but, when we can find a free moment, we can try the beers ourselves.) You can also buy bottles to bring home.

                      There are now over 150 beers to try (all brewed in Belgium), so it's well worth a visit.

              2. Just hit the liquor store and am lining up an awesome belgian strong dark ale blind tasting for late Nov. So far it will feature:

                Rochefort 8
                Gulden Draak
                Cuvee de Keizer (Gouden Carolus)
                Chimay Blue Grand Reserve
                Unibroue Maudite

                I've seen a couple christmas belgians on the shelf now so will probably add one or two of them.

                Goal: identify my top 2 or 3 for go-to and benchmark purposes. Will taste them all blind. Cuvee de Keizer is going to be hard to beat, that stuff is immaculate, but we'll see.

                One problem I am having is POURING these *&^%$ brews... they probably have the greatest propensity to form a foam head of any beer I've ever tried. You have to let these settle in the glass for several minutes, yes? No matter how I try to soft-pour them down the side... so how are they supposed to be poured?

                12 Replies
                1. re: TombstoneShadow

                  I don't think that is a good sign. To me this means the beers have not been handled well in shipment and it is also possible that the flavours have changed somewhat.

                  If pouring slowly down the side of a glass doesn't work, then pour only a half or quarter bottle at a time, since, I assume you will be tasting several beers at one time. Otherwise, just wait for the foam to settle.

                  And Unibroue is not a Belgian beer.

                  1. re: ThomasvanDale

                    Ahhh, it's Canadian, good catch... but supposedly in the "belgian strong dark style".... as there are now numerous U.S. microbrewers of that style.

                    I would believe there is something wrong with the bottle if it was just one bottle... I've found this foaminess in every bottle of this stuff I've ever tried, so far as I can recall... I do notice that if you over-chill it, then there's not nearly as much foam, but then this stuff isn't made to be served too cold is it? I can't pour more than a quarter bottle or so because it just foams like &^%$#@ from the get-go.

                    BTW, I don't see bars having this same problem serving the stuff on tap, it's just out of the bottle that it happens.

                    1. re: TombstoneShadow

                      There are styles and then there is reality. If you go by styles, you'll find beer a lot more confusing than it already is.

                      As I said above: perhaps the importer did not handle the beer well in its travels. Perhaps more than one of the beers came from the same importer or more than one importer is sloppy in their import practices.

                      The bottles are probably bottle conditioned (there's still yeast in them). The kegs probably contain no yeast. That's why pubs don't have the problem.

                      You are correct that the beers should not be served cold. Here they are traditionally served at cellar temperature. That is about 10-15C (about 50-60 Fahrenheit, I believe).

                      1. re: ThomasvanDale

                        Not sure what that means. Styles vs. reality?

                        If a beer is brewed with similar grain bill, yeast strains, hop varieties, water, and fermentation methods then what exactly is the difference besides geography?

                        1. re: Josh

                          Beers don't make styles, people do. Isn't that so? If you look at BJCP, Ratebeer and Beeradvocate (and maybe elsewhere), you find little agreement about what something is or isn't and yet, long, long lists of these styles.

                          If, however, you let your own senses (reality) decide the differences, it makes much more sense and is easier.

                          1. re: ThomasvanDale

                            I find the style designations useful because it gives you at least some idea of what you can expect when you open the bottle. All imperial stouts don't taste the same, but there are characteristics of the style that are common across almost all of them.

                      2. re: TombstoneShadow

                        Belgian beers are almost always superior out of the bottle vs. draught, IMO.

                        1. re: Josh

                          Well one advantage of the bottle is you can store them... I just tried a Cuvee Keizer from 2011, and it's drinking great.

                          1. re: Josh

                            We have done many side by side Tastings of Belgium Beers and we preferred the Bottled every time.
                            Brasserie Caracole's Nostradamus was a stunning difference

                      3. re: TombstoneShadow

                        In my experience, the Gouden Carolus is tremendous, and a good notch above the others.

                        1. re: Tripeler

                          I agree, their Noel Christmas ale is one of my absolute favorite Belgians.

                        2. re: TombstoneShadow

                          Many belgian beers are meant to have a higher level of carbonation - helps to lighten the body and provide a nice big fluffy head which is pleasant to the eyes as well as the nose. Try rinsing your glass before filling - using a wide mouth chalice also helps.

                        3. More vernacular on the Belgian Christmas Ales:

                          Ratebeer includes the St. Bernardus Christmas in with all the other "belgian strong ales"

                          Whereas BA puts it in the Quadrupel category:

                          I'm not that concerned over labels, as long as I'm reasonably tasting apples vs. apples. So if I'm tasting a "quad" and it's in the same flavor ballpark that I'm looking for as a "tripel", then I'm not going to get distracted by these labels.

                          I did notice quite a difference between Gulden Draak's white ("dark tripel") bottling, and their 9000 bottling, which BA categorizes as a "Quad". Much preferred the white bottle variety.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: TombstoneShadow

                            Wouldn't it be simpler to just keep the alcohol level within a few points of each other and not worry about the labels? You could also separate by colour.

                            Some breweries, and I don't know about St. Bernardus, put their regular beers in bigger bottles and give them different names. Chimay, for example, does that with all its beers.

                          2. regardless of whether "dark" or "pale" are precisely accurate terms for belgian brews, I do notice that among the bottlings I've sampled there is a group that is a lighter-colored batch that is more similar to a softened pale ale in flavor and darker-colored brews more similar to a rich barleywine. For these purposes I'm much more interested in the darker varieties.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: TombstoneShadow

                              You should check out Orval. Their beer is quite unique. It's a pale with brettanomyces.

                              1. re: Josh

                                Yeah, I was in a beer store and they had Orval in six-packs, and the sign said "Cheers -- Here's The Brett Pack."

                                Seriously, though, everything about Orval is distinctively beautiful, from the design of the bottle and glasses, to the color and look of the beer, to the very distinctive flavor.

                                1. re: Tripeler

                                  OP is probably familiar with Goose Island Matilda as well.

                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                    Green Flash makes a very respectable Orval-style beer called Rayon Vert. Zeitgeist has it in bottles.

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      Not knowing French, I was amused when I worked out the translation of Rayon Vert.

                                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                        I'll have a pint of the Redundant, please. :)