Go “down cellar” and bring this up: Allagash Tripel Ale

On the docket:  750ml cork & cage Allagash Tripel Ale, bottle date:  8/6/15.

Poured into:  Chimay etched chalice

S:  A quickly rising, stark-white whip of head formed on the surface of a nearly Ticonderoga #2 pencil-colored body.  The head will settle down, clinging to the top in a ¾ thumb-width.  Tiny bubbles zip to the surface.  There is a visible cloudiness in the body, but this treat was bottle conditioned, so that’s just fine by me.

A:  Light, malty sweetness works in partnership with a dry, spicy note of clove.  Gentle banana and bubblegum (and I mean really gentle) yeast esters also emanate from the head.  A mild fruitiness (Allagash says passionfruit).  Spicy, earthy hops probably feel overlooked, but I waved at them, made them feel appreciated.

T:  Dry clove spice and an earthy, husky/straw flavor meet your senses immediately.  One will also detect some sweetness from the malt and the candi sugar.  There’s certainly a little fruitiness in the mouth, too.  Peach?  Apricot?  Mango?  I’ll chalk that up to the yeast.  Honey wends its way into the flavor.  The hops and the higher alcohols show up in the finish.  It’s a slight warming tingle, but by no means unpleasant. Tripels are dangerous– light body, great flavor, and well-integrated alcohol.  This one comes in at 9% abv.  Take your time with this cork and cage beauty.

F:  Light, fluffy, tingly, and like they said on the bottle, a long finish.  A great sipper.

O:  An excellent interpretation of a cherished Belgian style by an American brewery.  High marks to Allagash.  If you think this one is good, try their barrel-aged releases.

Suggested food pairing:  Rich creamy Blue cheese, Italian or clove seasoned pork-loin, fruit tart or maybe even a slice of apple pie a la mode

S:  4.25  A:  4.5  T:  4.75  F:  4.5  O:  4.5

Walkin’ ‘Round in Warsteiner Wunderland

On the docket:  11.2 oz. bottle of Warsteiner’s Weihnacht (Winter).  Best by date:  7/27/16

Poured into:  Sam Adams Perfect Pint glass

S:  Gold, amber hues twinkle in a crystal clear body.  The head is fluffy and thick, like whipped cream.  Microscopic bubbles travel from the etched bottom of my glass.  The head dissipates, leaving a guarded coastline on one side, much like the Gulf of Texas… though this beer is brewed far from the Lone Star State.

A:  Dark brown German bread and a touch of nuttiness caress your nostrils, and a small hint of caramel shows up, too.  The hops are very gentle and spicy, letting the malt profile do the heavy lifting.  No fruity esters, nor should there be.

T:  To smell this beer is to taste this beer, and vice versa.  The trio of brown bread, nuttiness and caramel are there on the taste buds.  There’s just enough hop presence there to keep the sweetness in check.  For those that crave balance in beer, this brew is for you.

F:  Medium-light on the tongue, with a good amount of carbonation.  It may start sweet, but it certainly dries out by the end.  It keeps you coming back for more.

O:  Malty, dry-ish, and easy to drink.  Great session lager at 5.6% abv, and great for working your way through a crossword puzzle book.

S:  4  A:  4  T:  4.25  F: 3.75  O:  4

Suggested food pairing:  smoked ham, dark chocolate, Ashdown Forresters cheese

Not The Verve: Left Hand’s Bittersweet (Symphony) Imperial Coffee Milk Stout

On the docket:  22 oz. Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Bittersweet Imperial Coffee Milk Stout (best by date of 4/17/16)

Poured into:  Jester King Snorkel snifter

S:  A coca-cola colored head forms atop an opaque, brown-black body.  It settles to a small cap, and leaves delicate, thin rings around the glass.  After peering closely at the bottom of my glass, I do see bubbles slowly tuning upwards to the top.

A:  The overture begins with roasted malt in the form of coffee, dark dark chocolate, and that oat-y aroma that reminds you of Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout or Left Hand’s own Milk Stout on Nitro (or even their Fade to Black).  A pleasant surprise- despite the high abv (8.9%) I do not detect the alcohols at the outset.  Perhaps they’ll feature in the second movement, after the beer has had a chance to warm up.  The hops, while subdued, are present in the form of a faint whiff of pine.

T:  A (bittersweet) symphony of flavors swirls around your palate after one sip.  Espresso and coffee tones are at a forte volume, from the actual coffee and roasted malt.  The sweetness from the lactose decrescendos the volume, smooths out the rough edges, like a strings section rounding out a bold brass of trombones, French horns and euphoniums.  If you listen closely with your tongue, you might even hear the gentle “ting” of the dark cherry triangle.  The movement ends with a bit of clanging bitterness, the hops playing snare drum and cymbals.  A low, warm boozy bassoon completes the finish.

F:  Smooth, fluffy and velvety- flutes, clarinets and perhaps a piccolo, to extend the musical metaphor I already established.  Oily, coating.  Deceptively light-bodied despite the usual assumption people have that dark beer is heavy.  The carbonation is present, gentle pricks on the tongue.  It’s just enough to scrub away the sweetness, like an usher guiding you to your seat with a flashlight.

O:  Marvelous offering by my favorite, sinister-friendly brewery.  It’s something to take in, and enjoy.  Pick it apart, study it.  Analyze it, like you might do with a well-composed piece of music.  I did.  I’d call this one Brahms-like, akin to his requiem.

Suggested food pairing:  Bold barbecue, earthy cheddar cheese, desserts featuring dark chocolate, cherries, or coffee flavors, tiramisu

S:  4.0  A:  4.0  T:  4.5  F:  4.0  O:  4.25

Belgian Trifecta Part 3: Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue) Ribbon

On the docket:  11.2 oz.  Chimay Grande Réserve (blue)

Poured into:  Chimay chalice

S:  A rich, dark, barbecue sauce-like brown body sits underneath a beige head.  I poured with enough force to create a nice, inch-plus head, but it settled down to just more than half a thumbnail.  The body is so dark I cannot see the bubble activity from the base of my etched chalice.

A:  Dark, fruity, almost bubble-gum like sweetness leads the pack, followed closely by grapey-port or sherry note.  Spicy pepper and phenols trail behind, with hops in the rearview mirror.

T:  Plum, an overall fruitiness, and a definite twang of umani.  This brown-eyed girl has a bit of port in the palate.  Like its (argued) diminutive sibling, the Rouge, the Blue also boasts fruit-cake qualities, and while bitter, gives wide berth to its sweetness.  Climbing from a manageable 7% in the Rouge to cautionary 8% in the White, Blue boasts an abv just over 9%.  You can tell, the warmth from the alcohol is certainly present, but by no means “hot” or solvent-like.

F:  Dangerously light and fluffy feel courtesy of the carbonation.  Moderately long finish of dryness, and tingle from the bubbles.

O:  Regarded as Chimay’s crowning achievement.  I understand why.  Most people don’t even considering opening this masterpiece until it’s at least five years old.  I don’t have that luxury yet, so I’ll settle (right… settle) for the fresh-off the line model.  This is a libation for sitting and sipping, not shot-gunning in a contest.  Enjoyable during cold weather in front of a roaring fire and a heavy, small-print hardcover novel.

S:  4.25  A:  4.25  T:  4.75  F:  4.25  O:  4.5

Suggested food pairing:  filet with bleu cheese butter, sharp cheddar, baby-back ribs, New York style cheese cake- fruit optional

Belgian Trifecta Part 2: Chimay White

On the docket:  11.2 oz. bottle of Chimay’s Cinq Cents (white)

Poured into:  Brand new logoed Chimay Chalice

S:  A stark white, meringue-like head sits on top of a burnished bronze body.  This is not a fake tan however, but the real deal.  Until pouring the remains of the bottle (gasp) I could see tiny bubbles shooting up to join with the underside of the head that sits around, leisurely, taunting me to disturb it.  Lacing is nearly the entire side of the glass.  Wow.  Thick blotches with pockmarks.

A:  Gentle malt sweetness melds with a yeasty clove and spiciness.  Hops are very subtle, and lend a spiciness as well.  The alcohols whisper at you, leading me to believe they’re well integrated into the beer.  I could smell this for hours.

T:  Sugar and spice, which makes tripels nice, greet the tongue immediately.  Despite the sweet greeting, this beauty dries out in an instant.  The slightest touch of caramel, brown sugar, and an ending of subtle noble hops round out this beer.  Along with the previous, delicate warmth develops as you drink it.  It reminds you that though this beer is easy and enjoyable to drink, it’s got some heft.  The label states 8%.  I’ve got a small bottle, but a cork and cage version would do most people in.

F:  Tingle, tingle, tingle, how the bubbles jingle.  Most use the term “expressive” carbonation when referring to traditional tripels.  It certainly applies here.  Without the carbonation, Cinq Cents might be a bit of a chore to finish.  Thankfully, the bubbles “lift and separate” the thickness from your palate.  The hops and the spice stick around considerably after a swallow.  Then you go back for more.  Long, drying finish.  Refreshing.  But NOT a lawnmower beer.

O:  The monks of Scourmont Abbey have been at this for more than 150 years.  They’ve got their art down to a science.  Excellent execution of the Trappist tripel style, those in-the-know utter the name Chimay in hushed reverential tones, like death metal-heads do with the names Åkerfelt, Schuldiner, and Lindberg.  I could drink this all day long, but I have another Chimay beer to review.

S:  4.5  A:  4.5  T:  4.75  F:  4.5  O:  4.5

Suggested food pairing:  sharp cheddar, lemon-seasoned chicken, summer salads, lemon squares or fruit tart

Belgian Trifecta Part 1: Touch of (Chimay) Red

On the docket:  Chimay Première (Red)  11.2 oz. bottle

Poured into:  Unmarked Libbey tulip

S:  An opaque, deep walnut brown body holds up a khaki head.  Its top is thick, uniform, and full of tiny bubbles.  I cannot detect carbonation activity because the beer is so think and dark.

A:  Sweet malt and spicy yeast gives your nose a wake-up, plus a note of molasses and pumpernickel bread.  Just a whiff of booze.

T:  A touch of caramel, molasses, and sweet malt form that base of the brown beauty.  Sugar and spice balances the raisin and fig flavors.  Kind of “fruit-cakey.”  Few circumstances would use that as a compliment, but this is one of them.  Dry but not bitter.

F:  Slick, but deceptively light mouthfeel.  Starts sweet but boy does it finish dry!

O:  Perhaps the single-most recognized and best regarded brew of its style and Belgian origin.  Iconic.  Great for sitting down and enjoying.

Suggested food pairing:  Havarti, char-broiled steak, dark chocolate, by itself as dessert

S:  4.5  A:  4.25  T:  4.5  F:  4.25  O:  4.5