Belgium in Colorado, OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Trippel

Being out in Colorado, without a car, and basically limited to the resort town I live in (Vail) offers many great opportunities to hit the slopes… and not much else. As I’ve mentioned earlier, most bars here are catered to the generic apres ski crowd, so Bud, Coors, and Keystone (along with New Belgium’s Fat Tire) dominate the taps.

The only advantage of living here (Vail Valley specifically), in terms of beer tasting, is the alco-ma-hol stores have a great selection of CO Microbrews, and not just the common ones you see across the country, like NB’s Fat Tire, or Avery’s The Reverend, I’m talking the entire Odells, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium catalog, and a good chunk of Avery’s selection as well. While it does take me a bit of a bus ride to get there, and another one to get back: Worth it.

Today, I gathered a collection of three Belgian-style ales from CO, mostly because it’s not a style (or group of styles) that I generally drink, nor is it one of my favorite groups of styles, and getting yourself into a habit of only drinking a couple types of beers is going to diminish your palette, and we can’t have that, can we?

7.8% ABV

New Belgium's Trippel - 7.8% ABV

The first beer on the list was the New Belgium Trippel. This poured well, for a trip, a lingering sudsy head typical of the style that helped release the aroma of the beer. This picture makes it appear much darker than it actually is, which is a nice golden yellow. The aroma is dominated by the banana esters and maybe a hint of strawberry. Hop tones are light as is the coriander. I’d go so far as to say I had to strain hard to pick up on it.

The flavor also strongly featured the bananas with what I thought was a surprising amount of malt flavor. Sweet, but not so much as to prevent you (read: me) from rapidly consuming it. It did, however do a fantastic job of covering the flooring 7.8% ABV. I had one of these, and was definitely aware I was drinking a beer. The finish lingered enough to leave my mouth wanting another swig.

This is truly a great brew. I don’t really go out of my way to drink tripels, but I can see myself (frequently) getting a six pack of this again and enjoying a couple on the mountain for a mid-day picnic once the we start getting a little warmer around here.

Next on the list was New Belgium’s Abbey ale. This is a dubbel ale with a bit more color to it. On my first attempt at a pour, epic fail ensued, resulting in a five finger head out of my mug, with maybe half that height in beer. It faded enough to try again in about two minutes, this time with much more success.

7% ABV

New Belgium's Abbey - 7% ABV

Significantly darker than the trip (as one would expect), the Abbey’s head laces much more, and the head settles to a thin creamy cap on a deep amber transparent base. Fewer esters in the nose here, along with a bit more malt aroma. I also picked up a significant amount of tannins in the nose. I felt like I was about to drink some bizarre cab sav.

And on to the tasting: Boy, oh boy, getting suck in a style(or, more accurately, chronically avoiding a style) leads to some forgetfulness. My tongue doesn’t remember anything but a banana smoothie that has that much banana in it. The fruitiness of the malt hides some of the more basic sugar flavors you’d expect from something this dark. Normal for the style, not so normal for me.

Just as a side note, I’d like to voice my appreciation for these two NB bottles. It seems breweries are going to busier and busier labels. These are simple two tone bottles, with the name and style and a small, simple graphic. Beer doesn’t need to be show-y. It’s beer, you drink it. Hilariously, after buying both of these, I told Paul he’d like the design of the bottles. Paul mentioned he also had bought sixers of each, with a significant factor in his decision being the label design.

9% ABV

Avery's Salvation - 9% ABV

And finally, the bomber of Avery’s Salvation Belgian golden pale ale: The pour was excellent, with a soft one and a half finger head that subsided to a light dusting of eggshell white foam. Not the retention I was expecting, but the texture was decent, for a non-Belgian-aficionado like myself. The aroma had a sickly sweet fruit aroma, with a small mix of earthy and floral hop notes. It reminded me of our Lawnmower beers: a lot going on, but nothing really coherant. I know I’m not well versed in this style, but I don’t remember any Belgian anything smell like this. It’s hard to get past, maybe because of my bad memories of trying to choke down the Lawnmowers so we could put something else in our kegs…

Once I got it into my mouth, it seemed to normalize a bit, and I was able to track it down a little better, but I’m not sure that’s doing it any favors. The spicy pepper notes come through very strongly, drowning out most of the malt flavor. Floral hop flavor also dominates. I caught a bit of honey and maybe a lick of cruciferous veggies, cabbage, mostly. The alcohol covers up any other notes that might lead you to think this was anything but a macabre attempt at a complex, enlightened beer.

Well! What an adventure! That was certainly interesting, and it ran the gamut of Beer I Loved (Tripel), Beer I Liked (Abbey), and Beer I’ll Quaff, But Not Do So Enthusiastically (Salvation). Importantly, I reminded myself that some Belgians can rock my socks. It’s easy to get caught up in our preferred styles. We always try that IPA we’ve never had before, or the new stout our beer store is carrying. That’s totally fine! That’s great! We drink beer because we like it. Certain styles we like more than others, so our tabs should favor those brews. I just want to emphasize the importance of not letting yourself forget what certain aspects you like and dislike about styles you might rarely drink.

Your palette is like a muscle. Exercise it. Challenge it with flavors it doesn’t always come across. It will make your ability to discern the various aspects of the beers you usually consume all the more. Maybe you didn’t notice that the stout you always pour has a slight but now-noticeable ester presence, or that APA has some tannin notes you never got before. Expand your tongue – stretch it and flex it.

Am I Spoiled?

I’ve been living in Chicago for just about 3 months now, and I’ve more or less figured out where in my neighborhood I can go to belly up and have a pint or three.  I have a few awesome multi-taps around me like Sheffields or Local Option and neither Goose Island tap house is too far.

A Standard Selection of Taps

photo by flickr user JanetandPhil

Beyond these destination beer bars, I’ve noticed that almost every bar has tab options beyond the standard American macros. I’ve grown accustomed to many of the standard imports (Guinness, Smithwicks, Becks, Heineken) in my 3 years of going to the bar, but beyond these Chicago seems to have a class of pervasive micros. Almost every bar that I’ve been to has both Boston Lager as well as the Sam Adams seasonal offering. Most also have at least one of either Fat Tire or Magic Hat #9 or even both.

Recently, I’ve notice that I tend to turn my nose up at these at these ubiquitous beers.  To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of #9 or Boston Lager, but I think a good bit of my disregard for for the others is some sort of mix between overload and plain ‘ol snobbery. I remember trying Two Brothers’ Domiane DuPage at Firkin and Pheasant and really, really enjoying it. When I was thinking of beers to compare it to, the one blindingly obvious one was Fat Tire.

I honestly think Domaine DuPage does a better job balancing the sweetness and roast of the malt, but if I step back, I bet a lot of my preference comes down to liking the less well known beer better.

It’s like the paradox of the greatest indie band ever, as soon as it forms it’s less awesome than it was before since people (the members) know about it.

So am I right shoving aside the common, tested brews in favor of something less well known? Or am I simply punishing legitimately earned success?