Nation Sessions

Nation Sessions 2: Tripels

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, March 08, 2009 08:00 PM Comments: 15

Welcome to Nation Sessions, a monthly glimpse at six beers reviewed by yours truly. Your six pack of the week: Tripels.

Okay. Ask me on the street my favorite type of beer, and I’ll tell you flat out: “Tripel.” Brewed with three times the amount of malts that would normally go in a Trappist (monk-made) beer, a Tripel is unusually strong (most are about 9 percent alcohol content), well balanced and just plain delicious. The strength is unusual because it pours golden and doesn’t taste strong — copious amounts of fruit and spice flavors hide the booze very well. Balanced because of the fruit and spice — the best Tripels have a bitter spicy taste, but contain the same amount of sweet fruit taste. The fruits in question? Peaches, plums, apricots usually. But the secret taste that comes out in the best Tripels: banana. It’s hard to spot it, but if you do, congratulations, you’re probably enjoying a great beer. And as a note, two of a very good Tripel will leave you giddy. And you’ll want to drink these in a snifter, a rounded glass that almost resembles a red-wine glass.

Let’s hit the six pack, which includes one of my overall favorites, and is divided by three Belgian offerings and three American beers.

St. Bernardus Tripel
Brewed by: Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV

At 8 percent alcohol, this Tripel is a potent little drink that sits very much like a Tripel. The pour is a pure gold, which is the traditional look for a Tripel. It’s light enough to drink easily, but it carries a slightly bitter aftertaste. Not bad bitter, however. You can hint fruit — peach, lemon even — as you sip, but overall it’s a robust tangy taste, full of body. The balance of spice and fruit is quite even. And yes, the banana is there. Very, very quietly. The triple goes down very smooth, leaving one with a satisfying polish. I love this beer.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Probably three. Probably. Cross my fingers.

Grade: A


Bornem Tripel
Brewed by: Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.

Coming in a cute little bottle that resembles the Sierra Nevada bottles, Bornem Tripel is a Belgian-based beer (brewed by the same house as Augustijn Ale). It pours perfect gold with a little head. The taste? Way too fruity. We’re talking Witbier fruity here. Citrus, lemon, peach, plum — all of it dominates and leaves little in the way of bite. It’s an easy beer to drink, and thus becomes indistinguishable from not just its Tripel friends, but from other light Belgian beers that you can grab at the bar. It’s at 9 percent alcohol, so you won’t want to overdo it despite its easiness. Aftertaste is very fruity, so it may even turn you onto a Blue Moon. Heh. You don’t want a Tripel turning you onto Blue Moon.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Three would get you tipsy, so keep it three.

Grade: C+


Augustijn Ale
Brewed by: Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.

Augustijn Ale is one of those beers that you can sit at the bar with, sip quietly and well and just enjoy yourself. With hints of apricot, pear and peach, it smells terrific, and goes down very easily. It does leave you with a slight twinge because of its spicy texture, so it’s not a perfect Tripel. It’s not a strong taste, though it contains 8 percent alcoholic content, so it’s a good sit-down drink. It’s perfect with clam fritters or oysters — you know, quality sea pub fare.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Two: You’re OK. Three: Walk it off.

Grade: B+


Sprecher Abbey Tripel
Brewed by: Sprecher Brewing Co.

I distinctly remember ordering this Tripel at Grey Lodge in Philadelphia, hoping for something on par with my beloved St. Bernardus. I received this beautifully golden beer that, ironically, comes out of Wisconsin, not Belgium. The Sprecher Brewing Co.’s shot at the Tripel (they try almost every type of beer) is a lot like Bornem, and boy did I know it out of the gate. This one is fruit-y. Apricot and peach overpower at first, then comes the banana. Now, Tripels are supposed to hint at banana, not force feed you it. It’s vaguely spicy, but you can taste the 8.5 percent alcohol during the ride. Now, I’ll say it’s a good beer — better than most hybrid fruit beers — that went very well with my Grey Lodge fries. But as a Tripel it doesn’t succeed. Overwhelming one way, it doesn’t give you the balance the Tripel preaches.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Two.

Grade: B-

Golden Monkey
Brewed by: Victory Brewing Co.

Ahh, we know Victory quite well. The Pennsylvania brewers decided to take a stab at the Tripel style by creating Golden Monkey. It’s a nice pour — close to the gold they boast. It’s probably a bit more orange; therefore, it doesn’t quite resemble a Tripel, but more of a Witbier. Sadly, it doesn’t quite taste like a Tripel. This is way too strong going down, with high hints of fall spices and alcohol making their way through the throat. It’s not appealing. Is it bad? No, but it’s certainly no Tripel. The aftertaste is heavy, making you want to settle with one. That’s probably best. It’s a college try, but a good example that you want to leave Tripels to the Belgians.

How many can you drink in one sitting? One.

Grade: C-


Allagash Tripel Ale
Brewed by: Allagash Brewing Co.

This one, however, completely turns that theory about Belgians brewing Tripels on its head. The Maine-based Allagash Brewing Co. has this Tripel, which is premium as far as American beers are concerned. Like Golden Monkey it pours gold, but this even lighter, completely throwing off the traditional color. Yet one taste shows this is not Golden Monkey. It’s spicy, sure, but balanced very well with sweet, fruity flavors. You get peach and plum (two trademark Tripel tastes), and even a hint of banana, the magic fruit that comes out in the best Tripels. The combination masks the high alcohol content (9 percent) and allows for a fine experience. Aftertaste lingers softly, more fruity than spicy. It’s not traditional, but it’s certainly worthy of your purchase. Most Belgian houses serve it.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Two. Maybe three.

Grade: A


Nation Sessions 1: Stouts

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, February 08, 2009 07:00 PM Comments: 22

Welcome to Nation Sessions, a monthly glimpse at six beers reviewed by yours truly. Your six pack of the week: Stouts.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Stouts: Stout and porter are dark beers made using roasted malts or roast barley. There are a number of variations including Baltic porter, dry stout, and Imperial stout. The name Porter was first used in 1721 to describe a dark beer popular with street and river porters of London that had been made with roasted malts. This same beer later also became known as stout, though the word stout had been used as early as 1677. The history and development of stout and porter are intertwined.

Let’s dive into the pack.

Strike Out Stout
Brewed by: Cooperstown Brewery

A black beer if there was one, Strike Out Stout will get you looking. It carries a taste rich in barley, but the barley isn’t strong enough to overpower you. Instead, it’s softened by a hint of cofee beans. The aftertaste remains for a moment, a very biting hazelnut flavor. Very satisfying. I’d rank it high among traditional stouts, but it lacks just a tad of the strength that makes them so fun. A quality stout that — if available — you should at least purchase once.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Three. You can only drink two of an elite stout.

Grade: B


Wagner Valley Oatmeal Stout
Brewed by: Wagner Valley Brewing Co.

This is clearly a stout — dark, robust. But ultimately, Wagner Valley Oatmeal Stout doesn’t quite have flavor. Where’s the oatmeal? Instead, it’s a bland, unknown taste, even warm at the end. Stouts should project warmth, not taste like it. It doesn’t even taste strong either. Sure, some may like a beer they can drink over and over again, and you can drink this over and over again, but when I want an oatmeal stout, I want something close to a meal in a bottle. Overall, I was disappointed by something that’s close to being good.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Four. That’s how strong it wasn’t.

Grade: C


McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout
Brewed by: Belfast Bay Brewing Co.

Oatmeal stouts — as I wrote already — should taste like a meal. McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout is just that: hearty, rich, filling, flavorful. It has a big barley bite that sticks around for a few moments before slowing down the throat. It goes down smooth, but not really smooth, which brings it back just a tad. Still, this is a winner. It’s a potent dark brown beer that tastes like it’s been hanging around for a while. Great stuff.

How many can you drink in one sitting? I’d advise on two. It’ll fill you right.

Grade: A-


Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Brewed by: Samuel Smith Old Brewery

The British can do stouts. It’s just in their heritage. And Samuel Smith, possibly the most famous of British brewmeisters, has forever touted their oatmeal stout, kick-started in 1980 after a 100-year absence of them in beer culture. And with good reason — it’s a fulfilling slow drinker. It’s not quite a meal of a drink, but it’s hearty enough to keep your attention. Hints of chocolate wrap around the drink as it sails down the throat. It’s easy to drink, but complex in taking it down. The aftertaste lingers for just a moment, but overall, it’s a fine experience, close to sipping a bowl of Quaker Oats.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Two.

Grade: A


Fort Collins Chocolate Stout
Brewed by: Fort Collins Brewery

A chocolate stout is supposed to taste like chocolate. Fort Collins Chocolate Stout? Not really. Instead, it’s a rougher trip, dark in taste but nothing resembling the “velvety smooth” flavor it boasts. It certainly is bitter, with the hops percolating at all sides. It’s not entirely smooth, which isn’t that bad, but it just doesn’t distinguish itself in its strength. If anything, it veers toward a coffee stout, or even a pale ale. Not the best example of a chocolate stout.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Three.

Grade: C-


Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout
Brewed by: Harvey & Son

When it’s called “Imperial Extra Double Stout” you know you’re in for a treat. At nine percent alcohol, this Harvey & Son product, which is a Russian stout, is a tremendous beer. The 2003 that I tried tastes fluid and flavorful at first bite — hints of oatmeal, syrup, vodka and prune, among other things. First, you have to pop a cork to get to this baby, so that’s your first hint the drink will be an experience. It surely is. The aftertaste lingers for a moment before going down pretty smooth, but not too smooth. Remember, stouts have to have some bite back. This does. It’s a meal, it’s a good meal, and it’s a delicious drink that can compete with any hard liquor.

How many can you drink in one sitting? Two. Any more and you’re falling over.

Grade: A


The Beer Post

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, December 20, 2008 11:40 AM Comments: 43

Happy Saturday, everyone.

So, as you all may or may not know, I’m a beer guy. A beer connoisseur, if you may. For each game, I recommend a new brew for your enjoyment. I don’t expect you to imbibe immediately, but at some point, I do hope you try the beers I suggest. You see, I believe beer is a drink to savor, to study, to sip. Beer is more than just Buds and suds.

Just to give you a glimpse of where I am: Last night I returned home from driving through a treacherous snowstorm, and ate dinner with a glass of Sam Adams Chocolate Bock. Now, the bock is only available at this time of year, and comes in a larger, wine-style bottle, costing about $14. But it’s clearly worth the purchase — a stunning array of dark flavors, punctuated by the cool winter wind. Highly suggested.

Yes, this is the time of year when stronger beers are invited at my shelf. I enjoy the stouts, the porters and the bocks right now — I’ll take a Guinness, I’ll take a honey. As long as it’s dark and hearty, I’ll try it.

And to further quench your thirst, here are my favorite beers:

Harpoon Raspberry Hefeweizen UFO: The perfect combination of fruit and alcohol, and not too strong. The perfect late-spring, early-summer beer.

Sam Adams White Ale: Spicy but not intolerable, it goes down like a cool mist on a warm spring day. Best in April.

Opa Opa Milk Stout: Tried this not long ago — a nice amount of cream with the hard stout content. Great for January.

Harpoon Oktoberfest: Just a fantastic autumn beer; hidden spices mixed with a hearty ale.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale: Not too spicy, not too strong, but not light; it’s easy to take in on a December night.

Yuengling Lager: Yes, I know, I’m pandering. Still, it was damn comforting to arrive at my new home and see Yuengling was at a premium. A fresh six pack rests in my fridge.

Okay, everyone, tell me about your favorite beers.