Fri 22 Apr 2011
I’ve been tasting a roster of Belgian beers for an article I’m writing on the subject for my former newspaper. Last night I opened the Westmalle Tripel Trappist Ale and decided after a few sips that it’s perhaps the best beer I have encountered in my life; it’s certainly right up there, anyway, or at least LL and I loved it. There are only seven Trappist monasteries authorized as breweries, six in Belgium and one in Holland. The monastery at Westmalle was founded in 1794. The monks first produced beer for consumption in 1836. Their tripel style beer was introduced in 1934. In Belgium, “tripel” — the origin of the term is obscure — indicates a strong pale ale, in the case of the Westmalle Tripel meaning 9.5 percent alcohol. This example undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, so it’s quite effervescent.
The color is a glowing light golden-amber; the head is deep, pale cream verging on white, persistent and lacy. Aromas of dried citrus fruit and pears, cloves and orange rind are twined with a clean, fragrant yeasty scent that lends a touch of wildness to the bouquet. This is a wonderfully smooth, mellow and supple beer, yet its true character resides in the ineffable balance among its liveliness, its fruity/fruitcake nature — citron, peach, coriander, a hint of almond brittle — and a sense of burgeoning bitterness that grows from mid-palate back through the finish. None of these elements is obtrusive or overstated; all is harmony and integration, though there’s something zesty and racy about the beer too. This rates Exceptional. About $6 for an 11.2-ounce bottle.
Imported by Merchant du Vin, Tukwila, Wa. A sample for review from the local distributor. Image from pubsub.com.