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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.