Like rich earthy select late vintage riesling...but not. A triple fermentation leaves a bare and hot drink like a medium bodied cider...but not. These five bottles challenge the ability of a sipper to find a place in the beer pantheon for them. Rajotte describes the style in his book Belgian Ale as folllow:
It is pale in colour usually only made with only pale, Pils-type malt and a judicious addition (up to about 25 percent of the total extract) of either glucose or candi sugar in the brew kettle. Its alcholic strength will vary between 7 to 10 percent v/v...These beers have a light, malty nose that can at times be neutral or have a faint aroma of hops.
- La Fin Du Monde: 9%, 750 ml from Unibroue. The first impression this big beer gives is of candy floss and while pepper. A big snowy foam head fills the glass and falls back leaving tracks of foam. There is a slight empire biscuit suggestion of cherry in the heat - a hint of kirsch which could also be orange peel. Then the white pepper opens up to a nice white grape juiciness with castor sugar and a fresh french bread stick with the pale Belgian malt and the fine yeast. A swirl of the last pour of from the 750 ml gives a boost to citrus notes, lemony like witte. Beer Advocators call it a strong pale and praise.
- Petrus Triple: From Bavik in Belgium. Massive candy floss smelling merange head collapses back. Not as finely beaded as the Fin Du Monde. The first taste is malt, hop and candied sugar and under it, where the Fin Du Monde had cherry, the one has pear. Not as hot and peppery. Balanced and sneaky. Light for the style at 7.5% in a 250 ml bottle, Michael Jackson notes that a very small amount of corriander is used in combination with Czech Saaz hops. Nice (often a curse): a good enough introduction to triples but not particularly profound. Advocatonians are not thrilled.
- Bornem Triple: 9%, 330 ml. This brew again surprises as it is better than the Bornem dubble which was much better than the Bornem amber. It is the most witte like triple I have had - even at this level of alcohol there is comparatively less heat and more spice and orange peel than the previous triples discussed above. Something of a dried peach note in the middle. It has fairly active carbonation and a nicely balanced bright mouthfeel. The finish has a very pronounced pale malt graininess which is no doubt enhanced by thoughtful hop selection. I appear to be at odds with the beer advocate consensus but I find this quite good, if perhaps a bit too flavourful and not candiflossy enough for the style. The brewery has a useful webpage on this brand of theirs which explains:
A 'triple' means that the brewer uses three times as much malt in the brew kettle as for a regular beer. A Triple used to be reserved for the Bishop or for Father Abbot. And you can bet they knew a good thing when they tasted it.Useful wisdom I had not picked up before.
- Augustijn: 8%, 330 ml. By the same brewer as Bornem which says that is has been brewed since 1295, taken over by this commercial brewer only in 1982 - "at which time the flavor was also adjusted"...oh, good. Why not jig a recipe that has lasted a mere 687 years? It may not quite qualify as a triple, though fairly favouring reviewers at the Beer Advocate classifies it as such.
So what is it? There is little candiflossiness that I would think required for being called a triple. There is a much bigger pale malty profile than in the other triples. It is, however, very moreish even at this strength. I suppose when your country requires an ale to be over 10% before it will be called "strong," this sort of beer is a bit light...ok - lighter. It is a really pleasant sip: quite actively carbonated, lemony, spicey and tart, dry and fruity pale malt core. The yeast is creamy but subordinate to the malt. Nicely laced glass.
- Chimay Blue: 9%, 330 ml. The error is entirely mine. Not a triple. I recall two years ago, in February 2003, after over 2000 km driving from the Maritimes to Kingston and half way back in about 48 hours, I had three small bottles of Chimay bought in the excellent Riviere du Loup SAQ: one red, one blue and one white. I had recalled wrongly that the blue was the triple. It is in fact a dark strong Belgians which I discussed a few weeks ago. I will add my notes there.