In Search of the Best Belgian Tripel
The moment Chimay released their "Spéciale," a new special-release beer from the famed Trappist Brewery, I knew I had to try it. Not only do I love all of their offerings, but I am so fascinated by Trappist brewing traditions, that anytime one of these fabled monasteries release a new recipe, I need to try it. (And any longtime readers will know that I am a sucker for good marketing!)
Then I saw the price tag: $26.99. Ouch. My taste would have to wait.
Several other friends were lamenting over the same thing: we all wanted to try this beer, but none of us could justify shelling out nearly $30 for a single bottle of beer.
Naturally, we pooled together and bought the bottle to share. But now we needed to know: what was the best tripel for the dollar?
We chose nine beers, the selection of which was simply determined by what was easiest to find at our local liquor store. Considering the basis of this comparison was what beer we could theoretically have as a "house table tripel," we didn't want anything too esoteric or difficult to find. (The exception, of course, being the Chimay Spéciale which was a limited release beer.)
Without further ado, here's what we found:
Chimay Spéciale (26.99/22oz) $1.23/oz
Bottled 6/12. A spicy nose with cloves, lots of forward hops, and hard butterscotch candy. Big and sweet in the mouth, biscuity with hints of cinnamon and even a little pine. Tremendously boozy and hot, we all agreed it would probably do best with some age and time. (10% abv)
Chimay Cinq Cents (14.99/22oz) 68¢/oz
Bottled 2012. Half the price, but not half the quality. Much darker in color with a big clove bouquet. Fairly dry and hoppy, with flavors of dry biscuit, lemon grass, and a little tropical fruit. (8% abv)
Westmalle Tripel (5.99/33cl) 54¢/oz
An amazing floral nose with flavors of honey, scones, graham cracker, and butterscotch. Truly a wonderful beer from start to finish. (9.5% abv)
Allagash Tripel (11.99/4pk) 27¢/oz
A surprisingly earthy nose with hints of postage stamp, especially when compared to the Trappists. Sweet but not syrupy, it has a remarkably light body. Little dryness and almost no hop presence with the cloves lightly in the background, there is also the requisite biscuit flavor we've come to expect. Massively drinkable with no hint of the alcohol: this beer goes down easily. (9% abv)
Unibroue La Fin du Monde (11.99/4pk) 27¢/oz
A spicy honey-laced aroma that reminds me of hard water (seems high in Magnesium). Spicy in the mouth as well: almost peppery with a lot of clove and hints of vanilla and oak. Not overly dry nor overly sweet, this is a perfectly balanced beer. (9% abv)
Boulevard Long Strange Tripel (11.79/4pk) 25¢/oz
A bit of a farmhouse funk in the nose, the beer begins rather dry and finishes fairly sweet. Little clove, but there is a spicy pepper flavor that mixes with candied and dried bananas. (9.2% abv)
Weyerbacher Merry Monk (13.99/6pk) 21¢/oz
Aromas of bubblegum and Laffy Taffy. Overly sweet, there is a distinctly candy/carnival flavor to the beer: bubblegum, cotton candy, and carmel corn. (9.3% abv)
Avery Nineteen (9.99/22oz) 45¢/oz
Bottled April 2012. Sweet and super floral with honey, lavender, and rosewater flavors. A lovely beer, but almost nothing like what I've come to expect in a triple. (8.2% abv)
Tripel Karmaliet (4.99/33cl) 45¢/oz
Spicy and effervescent. Flavors of tangerine, cinnamon, and cloves. It surprised me how similar it was to the Boulevard. (8.4% abv)
The best overall tripel was a unanimous decision: Chimay Spéciale is a good beer, but not worth the money. If money is no issue, spring for the Westmalle Tripel instead. It's a classic for good reason.
Despite our unanimous love of Westmalle Tripel, we differed on which beer was the best value for the dollar. My personal favorite was La Fin du Monde: I could drink it all day, and it's a beer I regularly return to. The other taster, however, opted for Allagash Tripel. At the same price per ounce, you can't go wrong with either.
There's many more tripels out there to try. Do you have a favorite? Let us know!