We need to talk about beer styles. Or specifically, one in particular. I’ve been lucky enough to notch up pretty much all of the world’s great beer styles over time – and some of those that are best forgotten. This is all part and parcel of living amidst the modern wonders of craft beer. You don’t have to travel far to tick them off these days; chances are that the 5BBL brewery in the lockup down the road is already knocking out an oatmeal weizenbock, pomegranate IPA and still has room in the fermenters for an imperial beetroot and nigella seed Kölsch. So if you’re not already aware – a) the global styles of beer are already all around us and b) such is the fluidity of modern breweries that they are being stretched into meaninglessness.
There’s nothing wrong with either of those things – it’s just what seems to be happening. And yet when I sat down the other day and pondered what my favourite overall beer style is, instead of playing through argument and counter argument in my head on the merits of Vienna Lager or American Pale Ale (both of which would be in my top three) they took an instant and immediate back seat to the beer style that popped to the front of my grey matter. My favourite beer comes and goes depending on circumstance, context, season and company – but my favoured beer style? Absolutely no doubt on this one – it is the Belgian Tripel.
Belgian Tripel is the perfect beer style. And I’m going to prove it to you.
1) They are Inviting
Pour out a tripel into a glass – any glass – and try to stop yourself from taking a sip for five minutes. You can’t do it – they just look so appealing, with that enormous pillow of foam and golden haze underneath. If ever there was a beer to kill the #IceManPour craze it is these beauties – Archimedes himself couldn’t have conceived of a better perpetual motion device that the self-sustaining head of a Tripel. You can sit there for ages just watching the lazy rise of bubbles gently nudging against the underside of the beer’s head (if you put the glass down between feverish gulps, of course). There is no better looking beer you can pour out of a bottle, in my opinion.
2) The Taste Sensation
All of this puffiness in the glass isn’t just for show, either – the carbonation these beers possess dances across your palate (that’s about as wanky as I’ll get in this post) – having a beer with an effervescence lifts all of the flavours (that’s my real reason to hate the #IceManPour) and with Belgian Tripels you have every possible flavour on the spectrum. Crisp, bready malt. Citrus. Banana. Clove. Spice. Grain. Grassy hay. Stone Fruit. Herbs. You may read that list and shudder a little, which is fair enough, but all of these come together in dishes you eat – with the possible exception of hay – and nobody bats an eyelid. There is no better tasting beer style out there.
3) Their Ease of Access
The monks at the Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van het Heilig Hart van Jezus knew they were on to a good thing when they produced their strong golden ale in the 1930’s – even if it can’t have helped them pronounce the name of their own Abbey. Whether Westmalle Tripel was the first or not it popularised the name since the first bottling in 1934. The recipe has remained the same since the 1950’s and it is still one of the foremost of it’s kind – this recent blind tasting of 36 from around the world saw it placed second. It is one of the greatest beers in existence and to track it down, you need only type its name into Google and order a bottle for a little over three pounds. That’s it. Most of your craft bottle shops will have it. These aren’t beers you need to hunt down, at all.
4) They go with Food
Belgian beers go with food better than those from any other country, because Belgians would brush their teeth with the stuff if they could. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit the low countries you’ll know that mealtimes start at beer o’clock and vice versa. Sure you can drink wine if you like, but a Belgian Tripel is like champagne, prosecco and chardonnay all in one and pairs with all kinds of foods, from salty meats to sweet desserts and everything in between. And there’s nothing better to go with your cheeseboard than one of these – try one side by side with a glass of red wine and see which one you prefer. Tripels have a depth and complexity that works with and against the fats, oils, herbs and saltiness of any cheese.
5) Pure Refreshment
Finally – I’ll leave you alone soon, I promise – they stand alone on a hot day. You can get the best from a Tripel straight out of the cupboard at room temperature, but add one to the fridge and two hours later you’ve got the ideal way to cool down. Sure lagers are advertised in this way and Tripels roll in just shy of double-digit ABV, but you may as well have fun as you rehydrate. They taste amazing outside, in the sunshine, with a small plate of nibbles (or a packet of ready salted, whatever you fancy) – and if you forget about them they also age really well and soften and round out over time. Basically, they are the perfect beer style and never more than one row from the front of my beer cupboard.
So my favourite beer is a tough proposition, but my favoured style – as you can probably tell having made it through this post – is not. All hail the Tripel. Oh, actually my favourite beer of all time was also a Tripel, drunk in Belgium. Case closed!