Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: When it's hot out, it's time for a TripelBy JIM BEAUREGARD July 18. 2017 10:34PM
It is now most definitely hot. And when it’s this hot, I tend to look for cooler and refreshing drinks. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, and so decided that today would be the first in a series of columns about Belgian ales, more specifically, Belgian Tripel ales.
So, first, a few words about Belgium, then a few more words about Tripels, then a look at some representative ales that are locally available.
It began with the Belgae, somewhere in the northwest of Europe, back in Roman times. They were a tribe that was thought to be a mixture of Celts and Germans and were known to be beer lovers, according to contemporary documents. (There is reference to beer making, actually, going back much further than Roman times, almost as far back as 3000 BCE.)
The Roman Empire, as you may recall, eventually fell and with it, central authority in Europe largely disappeared. Who took over? Local powers, and to some extent religious authorities. It’s the latter that’s of interest to us today because those religious authorities took over the brewing of beer.
As Randy Mosher tells us in his “Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink,” “Large amounts of beer were needed to ensure smooth functioning of the monasteries, so brewing was a necessary function.” He doesn’t speculate on what “smooth functioning” means or why it required large amounts of beer, as opposed to moderate or small amounts, though it most likely had a great deal to do with the quality of the local water supply and the fact it was probably safer to drink beer. Alcohol kills germs. ’Nuf said.
There are architectural plans for monasteries going back into the 9th century that include plans for brew houses on the monastery property.
Beer isn’t just made in monasteries anymore, though many commercially made beers follow the styles of those earlier beers. Belgian ales, if you’ve seen them on the shelves or have the pleasure of tasting one, can run from light in color to dark, from lighter to heavy in body and from a more hoppy profile to a more malty one.
The term “tripel” refers to one particular type of Belgian ale, typically golden colored. The word itself actually referred to the amount of malt that was put into the beer, and these beers tended to be strong. There was a tradition back in the Middle Ages using the letter “X” to denote the strength of the beer, where a single X denoted a relatively weak beer, and XXX, three Xs or “tripel,” a much stronger brew.
Belgian Tripels nowadays tend to run about 9 percent alcohol and are made from Pilsner malts which, as you would expect, makes for a lighter-bodied beer. Many of them are bottle conditioned as well and run about 30 to 40 International Bitterness Units, or IBUs.
Let’s take a look at our first Belgian Tripel for the hot days of July and August (there’ll be more to follow):
Allagash Tripel Ale, Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, Maine. 9.0% alcohol by volume. 750 mL bottle, $8.99 at Market Basket. Traditionally, Belgian Tripels have huge heads and this one is no exception; when you pour it takes up at least a third of the glass, and is slightly off-white in color. The beer is gold/amber with relatively low malt and fairly high hops, the nose sending forth citrus, lemon, herbs and spices.
On the palate it is dry, consistent with the style, of medium bitterness and acidity, medium-plus alcohol, which may place it a little out of balance since it is usually pretty well integrated. Medium body, with a silky texture and medium-plus flavor intensity that includes hops and malt, the former dominating and reflecting the nose along with some caramel flavors from the malt. Medium-long finish. The recommended serving temperature is a chilly 40-50 degrees F.
Check out allagash.com to learn more.
Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.