"Onslaught" is a word that comes to mind when I think of tripels. I was first introduced to very strong beer when I had a pint or more of some version of tripel when I was backpacking in Europe back in 1986. I recall the bar in Paris served it in a dimpled mug. I don't seem to recall much more. That can be the problem with tripels. I also had one, a bottle of Fin Du Monde, watching 2002 Olympic hockey finals that seemed to last all game. That can be the good thing about them.
Serafijn Tripel from Microbrouwerij Achilles in Itegem, Belgium is not the tripel I had originally planned to try. But I thought I would go with something new rather than repeat what I've already written about an old favorite. The BAers gave me some doubts, what with their rankings from -A down to C, but on the first sniff I was reassured: tropical sweet fruit like pineapple, banana and melon. The beer pours a burnished golden haze under a foamy white meringue head. At only 8% it is a bit light for a tripel but there is the tell tale slightly musty bubblegum thing along with a bit of heat that marks the style for me. There is a metallic jag from the hops as well which is a bit intrusive but it also balances of the fruit in the malt, echoes of the fruit in the aroma with a bit of nutmeg spice as well. The finish lingers with white pepper. A bit light for a tripel but that can be a welcome thing.
Here's the thing. There are not too many days - after I've, say, been out rounding up yaks, chopping cords of iron wood or speed skating the frozen lakes - when I think "mmmmm... gotta have a tripel!" Of all the strong beers, for me, it is the one in which the alcohol burn is a feature rather than a characteristic needing covering up. This one has a bit more going on but, by doing so, it is getting close to a Belgian strong pale ale like Duval. Do I care about style guidelines that much? Nope, not really. But it also has that crystal sugar thing that is a bit like eating icing. I don't know what it's supposed to go with. Sugary fish dishes? Savory fruit pies? Sausage stuffed cantaloupe? It's a hard one to place. It's too much like candy to pair with a meal in my mind. But it does go with ginger sugar cookies. Just established that.
Hard to sum up my feelings on tripels. There's something too much about them and maybe even a bit missing. I wish a brewer would try messing around with them like Weyerbacher did when it stuck some in oak barrels to make Prophecy. Vanilla beans and strawberries come to mind as the sort of things that could be steeped in it. It's hard. It sits somewhere around a martini, gueuze and fino sherry. Drinks for people who come off as a little mean, a little uncaring. There is a starkness about it. Like a rock than never got to be smoothed by the sea.