Liquid Gold

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014

I titled Monday’s tasting ‘The Golden Ales of Belgium’ because Belgian beers, whether they are of gold colour or not, tend to overlap to some degree or another. While some beers can definitively be classified in a particular style, what exactly differentiates a ‘Belgian Strong’ from a ‘Belgian Tripel’ from a ‘Belgian Blonde’ is sometimes (even often) beyond me to determine. Belgians aren’t terribly keen on stylistically defining their beers anyways.

Beering this in mind (you see what I did there?) and taking into account a unique and knowledgeable audience of one, I did something I very rarely do and offered a swap about if my fellow connoisseur was of a mind. He took advantage of such a generously offered opportunity and the final beers we cracked were as follows:

1) Tripel Karmelite: So named because of the three grains they use in the brew (oats, wheat and barley), Tripel Karmelite presents itself with distinct coriander, vanilla, and honey aromas. Creamy, sweeter malt flavours meld in with fruity Belgian yeast characters which all taper off to a smooth, dry finish.

2) St. Sebastiaan ‘Grand Cru’: Stepping right into this beer you get a distinctly sweet nose reminiscent of apple pie, with cinnamon and spice leading to lots of ‘nice’. A light, estery body finishes with a phenolic bitterness at the end, and I still can’t decide whether it derives from the hops or the yeast.

3) Duvel ‘Tripel Hop Sorachi Ace’: Duvel is often considered to be the best example of a Belgian Golden Strong you’re likely to find. The ‘Tripel Hop’ series is an annual release which uses three different hops, as one might guess, with a specific focus on the dry-hop addition (in this case Sorachi Ace). It gives off a huge amount of rich tropical fruit, eucalyptus, and mint characteristics. It has smooth, semi-sweet malt profile and finishes exceptionally dry (as expected from most Belgian beers) with a lot of lemon coming through once again from the hops.

4) Cantillon ‘Geuze’: Being the aforementioned swap, this beer is assuredly the odd-ball out. For those of you who have never tasted Belgian Lambics, it is an experience (and one you probably won’t enjoy the first time around). They exist on an entirely different level from what you might expect from a ‘normal’ beer, with this one throwing out loads of hay and a funky grapefruit note. Lemon and grapefruit rind hit you on the middle. It finishes with a cleansing acidity, but a residual phenolic note is left by the Brettanomyces yeast which all Lambics employ.

5) Urthel ‘Hop-It’: Giving off lovely tropical fruit aromas at the start, a melon flavour resides alongside smooth the smooth honeyed malt. The finish is boozy and an earthy hopiness comes through at the end as well.

6) Westmalle ‘Tripel’: The only Trappist beer in the lineup, Westmalle had an aromatic depth revealing honey and sherry aromas. Orange and spicy phenolics begin to come through on the palate and the finish is clean and dry, as always.

Five of these six can all be loosely considered as ‘Belgian Golden Strong’ ales (seriously, none were below 7%), and so maybe it’s a bit out-of-touch to say that the favourite this time around was the Cantillon. Given that it is such a different beer, however, I should mention that of the five ‘Golden Strongs’ the Duvel triumphed.