Friday, February 06, 2009

Session #24 - The trouble with tripels

"I try to be a good beatnik, but it's hard." - Del Close

I wished I loved, without prejudice, all Belgian ale styles equally and unabashedly. The seemingly bottomless well of variety in the Belgian brewing tradition is, after all, one of its great attractants. Here, in a country smaller than Maryland, one can literally lose oneself in the crisscrossing mazes of traditional styles and groundbreaking innovations, is where countless folks find their first true appreciation of the diversity and depth that the seemingly simple act of brewing beer can provide, myself included.

Occasionally, though, on foisting upon a guest a squat, thick-stemmed snifter of vaporous, glowing ale, bronzenly tinted by a mysterious alchemy of malts and gifted with an aromatic cloud rich with yeasty spices, along with the inviting introduction, "c'mon, then, try it, it's Belgian", the retreating recipient's reply comes back like a reflex: "Sorry, but I rather don't like sweet beers". So goes the uphill battle of beer ambassadorship. There is, in some circles, a stigma or unknown origins, about the relative sweetness of the Belgian beers, one that in light of their jaw-droppingly wide variance, continues to astound me.

And while I'd prefer to believe that their exposure to Belgian brewing is limited to being suckered into sampling some fruity, saccharine-laced bastardization of a lambic or some monastically-themed "abbey ale" of questionable quality, I have to admit that the truth is often harder to face: I honestly find a large proportion of the highly vaunted golden ales brewed with an eye towards the great Trappist tradition unappetizingly sweet. There, I've said it.

I don't particularly care for tripels.

And it's not just the level of sweetness - one that tends to cut through the mouthfeel thanks to the lack of other sensory obstacles, a generally low bitterness level, and an extremely minimalist malt profile - it's the kind of sweetness that keeps me from reaching back for multiple tastes, a type of sweetness that folks often liken to tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, a result of a ton of white sugar (up to 25% of the fermentables, if my memory serves) being chewed up by a distinctive family of yeasts. It's a sweetness, along with a commonly overpowering level of carbonation, that sets my lizard brain into alert mode, warning me of the easy potential for a nasty headache and my stomach in search for something bitter to get it settled.
"with laagje slagroom or ice-cold yet never only because... all gnomes are enraged."

Thankfully, as it's likewise impossible to categorize and classify the whole of Belgian brewing, it's impossible to categorize and classify the entries in the world's field of tripels. This one's different (and one I've already noticed as the subject of a few other Session posts).

Once upon a great rare while, a particularly crazy bunch of artisanal brewers from the gnome-infested forests of the Ardennes comes west to sample what some other Europeans may have dismissed as one-dimensional and harsh, the hop-driven ales of the new craft brewing movement in America, and, returning to their candlelit tree-trunk hovels to lazily rock in a chair by the pot-bellied stove with a tumbler of Chouffe Coffee on ice, look back at those foreignly bitter concoctions with a bleary sort of fondness. That's exactly when something like this happens: the Houblon Chouffe IPA Dobbelen Tripel, an idea wrought of (apparently) enraged gnomes, aggressive hops, and a palate willing for the none-too-sweet.

Emboldened by a liberal use of Amarillo, Saaz, and Tomahawk hops (a gnome with a tomahawk, an image sure to haunt my dreams now), this is more of a loopy mash-up of a beer than anything else, a curious dance between American and Belgian styles that, interestingly, predates a lot of the US takes on the Belgo-American hybrid. There's an apparent bready yeastiness to this one, and a slight minerally sharpness that reminds me of one of the other tripels I do enjoy, Chimay's Cenq Cents. And the hops, while not nearly as muscular as you'd likely find in a stateside iteration, provide an enjoyable interplay that livens up a style that I (in weaker times, long ago, before I knew any better) have dismissed as vaguely dull and one-dimensional. There's almost a farmhouse level of grassy earthiness, too, far removed from the pristine cleanliness of some other examples I've experienced, and a finish that's brighter and sharper than the creamy, dull, hyper-effervescent lingering that also seems to follow the ones I have a harder time appreciating. But is it then really a tripel? Says so on the bottle, so I'll take it.

And share it with my wife I did, per David's instructions, but lamely and distractedly didn't gather her impressions. Such is the way it is, finding oneself discussing things other than beer once in an odd while.

With that, I think it's only appropriate to once again pull this old chestnut off the shelf for some deep listening. Be sure to play this next time you're in the presence of a Chouffe, just to get the full effect. Enjoy.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by David at Musings Over a Pint. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide. You can also follow this month's entries on twitter by searching for posts marked with the #thesession hashtag.



Post a Comment

<< Home