There's nothing we stuck-up euro beer geeks like more than cracking open a couple of lovely Sierra Nevada Torpedos and guffawing over how those clueless Americans keep getting our local styles wrong, the fools. Wheat beers tend to be Exhibit A: very few US craft breweries seem to have got the hang of the spicy Belgian variety or the full and fruitsome Bavarian iteration. And then there's tripel. I did rather enjoy the Alesmith-Mikkeller-Stone joint effort recently, but as a juicily-hopped American beer rather than a warmly piquant Belgian-style one.
Which brings me to Victory's Golden Monkey, a straight-up attempt at a tripel by the Pennsylvania brewer. This is a remarkably light and thin affair. It has that slow-building tripel warmth -- at 9.5% ABV it would want to -- but it just doesn't build high enough, dropping away into wateriness after the first few seconds. The spices are in place, but again not to enough of a degree. In fact, what with the coriander and orange peel vibe, and the lightness of touch, this could nearly pass for a very good Belgian witbier, except without the quaffability. It's a good beer, and enjoyable drinking, but I can't help feeling it needs to raise its game a bit more if it's to stand beside real Belgian tripels. That or, like the Alesmith-Mikkeller-Stone one, be its own unique thing and sod the damn Belgians.
Moving on, I'm finding it harder to be snooty about Victory's Storm King imperial stout (though obviously I'll give it my best shot) because, while I've enjoyed many in this style from American brewers, and from European craft breweries who work in the American vernacular, I've very little reference to what what an "proper" old-fashioned British imperial stout should taste like. The 16-year-old Courage Imperial Stout I had a couple of years back (thanks Ron!) wouldn't exactly be typical, though the well-balanced Czar's Imperial from White Shield brewery, sampled at last year's Great British Beer Festival, would perhaps be closer to the mark. A mark that Storm King misses completely. Now, never let it be said that I have something against big west-coast hops in black beer: I don't, and I'll offer both Yeti and Gonzo as examples of how it can be done well, even in strong dark beers. But Victory have over-egged this one badly, in my opinion. I mean, the beer smells lovely, with succulent peaches overlaying sweet dark malt: not what one might expect from an imperial stout, but good beer is good beer and labels aren't important. Hope dies with the first sip. It's horribly, sharply, bitter, and this is accentuated by very high carbonation. No quarter is given to smoothness or warmth. The roasted flavours come in second, jarringly dry and rather acrid, and the finish is given back to the hops, being harshly metallic. It's certainly an interesting beer: there's lots and lots to keep your darling little tastebuds occupied, but more in a House of Horrors sort of way than a pleasant nature walk.
So, it's not that Storm King isn't a "proper" imperial stout: I wouldn't enjoy it regardless of the designation. And I do rather like Golden Monkey for all its untripelness, I just wouldn't swap it for the "real" thing (reminding me that I have a blind tasting of tripels to do here some time soon). I guess you just have to be happy there are people out there willing to take the risk, throw tradition to the wind and mess about with so-called perceived wisdom. The world of beer is better for them.
Snobby and patronising: I'm on a roll today.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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