There are beers for every situation and mood. Tripels are made for those times when something of rare quality is sought, to sip slowly and enjoy. This is where beer drinking gets especially close to wine drinking. These beers can be pricey, sometimes difficult to find, and are typically complex and flavorful. Generally on the heftier side, these aren’t the beers to spend the night knocking back while watching the game. You probably won’t want one to slake the thirst after mowing the lawn. But, if you like a beer or two with dinner, or one to wrap up a long but successful day, a good tripel is an excellent choice. Tripel Karmeliet, from the Bosteels brewery in Belgium, is one of the best examples of the style.
Pull the cork on one of the large bottles, and it’ll pop like champagne. The nose on this beer is spectacular. There are so many aromas swirling around, that it’ll take most of the bottle to track them all down. It smells like a garden. Some floral tones, but predominantly spices and herbs. Coriander, pepper, vanilla, even some orange drifts by. With the first whiff, you realize you’re in the presence of something special. The color is just to the orange side of amber. Clear and bubbly, with a solid but small head. Let it rest for a minute to let all the flavors come out, and just enjoy the sight and smell.
The taste is even more complex than the aroma. They don’t bother hiding the alcohol, which tends to vary from bottle to bottle in the low 8 percent range. It is noticeable and warms the mouth, but there is a lot more going on here. The sweetness stands out the most. It seems like the line of flavors to be discovered never ends. There are apples, peaches, pears, bananas, oranges, maybe some mango on the fruit side; but, even with all that, there’s just enough coriander, pepper and cloves to balance it all out. The sweet and fruity side comes out on top, but just barely. It still finishes nice and dry. Even with all those flavors, Tripel Karmeliet manages to stay smooth, soft, creamy and very drinkable. The full body is filling, though. One of these could serve as dinner in a pinch.
I probably wouldn’t want to waste one of these on a casual meal. This beer pairs well with almost any food, having all those subtle flavors, but save it for something extraordinary. I would especially consider it with some better quality, light Italian fare. Don’t waste it on the Olive Garden meal. Even better, save it for after dinner. This beer is one that begs for quiet contemplation.
Those Belgians -- beer makers to the gods. Tripel Karmeliet is made in the classic style using just three grains. Oats, barley and wheat. It’s stunning how something kept so simple can be so deep and flavorful. No lime juice mixed in to mask some lousy swill. You won’t find a barman threatening to plop an orange slice on this thing. There are no ridiculous flavors falling over each other in a brewer’s misguided attempt to add complexity. This is just pure quality. Depending on personal prejudice, this is as good a tripel as you’ll find. I still tend to go for the St. Bernardus, but for mostly incidental reasons. The Karmeliet is made by the brewery responsible for Kwaak. A perfectly respectable beer, except they insist that it be served in those ridiculous “1/2 yard of ale” type wood contraptions. Points off for making me drink a beer as if I were a 17th century coachman driving horses. I can’t quite forgive them for that. On the other hand, they are also responsible for Deus. If you can find that, try it. Their Karmeliet is a great beer, though. You aren’t going to want them every day. This is a beer to kick back and toast the good times, and appreciate the best things the world has to offer.