I love Belgian beers, especially Abbey Ales. They were one of the first “expensive” beers (as I called them) that I got into when exploring craft beer. Today, I am in luck as I will be reviewing an official “Certified Belgian Abbey Beer.” This is often indicated somewhere on the label and often looks like a stained glass window (picture included at end of post). This is not to be confused with the seal that indicates an authentic Trappist brew. Before I get too distracted I should mention that this beer was bottled in February of 2010. I’m not sure if that will effect the flavors or not (I kept in refrigerated, but I obviously cannot attest to the retailer), with the high ABV, I’m hoping any effect would be negligible. St. Martin has a great presence on Twitter (@AbbeyStMartin ) and I can’t believe I have not yet reviewed one of their beers. Thanks St. Martin for the great conversation with your customers. We really appreciate it. Let’s pour!
Aroma 12/12 – This is an incredibly complex aroma. Be prepared to smell everything a Belgian beer could possibly include. As the head settles from a somewhat vigorous pour, a strong malt comes to the nose and smells like rich, baking bread. The head settles marvelously into place and allows a understated banana to take over. It is not the overly sweet, candied, “laffy taffy” variety that we find in many belgian-style ales, but a simple, natural, mouth-watering banana. The warmth can be felt in the nose at this point, but does not truly add itself to the aroma. Subtle spices soon make their way to you, consisting mostly of a dusting of clove and coriander. Wait a minute or two longer and a few lemony citrus notes poke out their head along with a clearer malt aroma than in the initial sniffs, and even a touch of honey. None of these ingredients smack you in the face. They are presented simply, earnestly, and in balance. Very complex and extremely well done.
Appearance 3/3 – Initially pouring light, but growing darker with more sediment, the Tripel pours a dusty golden peach color with an ample white cloud of head. Moderate lacing on my glass and a wonderful, hazy brew that seems to catch the light and create new facets with every twist of the glass.
Flavor 18/20 – The first touch on the tongue is a combination of the bready and light malts from the aroma. This transitions beautifully into a light citrus, then a very spiced banana and quite a bit of alcohol warmth that is definitely not as camouflaged in the flavor as in the aroma. The alcohol with the spices and sweetness are nearly reminiscent of a spiced rum. Almost simultaneously is a dark caramel sweetness, but is largely overshadowed by the alcohol and banana. To let this sit in the mouth lets the banana+alcohol mix mellow, the citrus grow a bit, gives the whole lot a bit of a sour/tart tinge, and a light bitter to develop. The finish is more of the spiced banana and strong alcohol warmth. The aftertaste is oddly a good portion of the bready malt, but also some peppery hop flavor without much hop bitter.
Mouthfeel 5/5 – The first thing to mind, of course, is the strong warmth of the brew. Its body is a nice medium-full and the carbonation, though incredibly tiny, appears in ample amounts even through the bottom of the 750ml bottle. The creaminess is relatively low for what one normally finds in the style. Is that a bad thing? No. This is already a big beer and it does not need any creaminess to prove or improve it.
Overall Impression 8/10 – Nirvana-esque aroma, but the flavor did not quite play at the same level. The alcohol largely overwhelmed some of the cornucopia of flavors originally found in the aroma. This is still a damn tasty beer. Non-candy banana, lots of spices, big flavors, technical brewing, and even a peppery hop at the end all make this beer a winner.
Total 46/50 – I am very impressed by this beer and would definitely buy it again, but I cannot help shake the feeling of disappointment that I wish the flavor lived up to that intoxicating aroma. It was complex, beautiful, comlimentary, and…. wow. A lot of that was lost when the alcohol was introduced to the palate and overwhelmed a lot of the give and take that was happening. Long story short, I was thinking that this might be the first beer that I give a perfect rating to, but it got lost in the warmth. Does that make this a bad beer? Hell no. If someone offered me this, whether I knew what it was or not when I sipped it, I would probably give them a hug (in a very masculine way). Big Belgian authentic taste, alcohol laden, spicy, bananas, and amazing technical specs all make this beer worth every penny. I just cannot help but think… “what if.”
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!