There’s always a gateway drug.
I’ll leave the discussion of any illicit behavior to others. Instead, let’s talk gateway beers. Without that first sip of a beer that had color, aroma, and tasted like more than bubbly yellow water, you may never have gotten here. Today’s beer, Allagash Tripel, is not such a gateway beer, but instead one of the nectars of Nirvana you can enjoy once you’ve been initiated. However, one of Allagash’s beers was my initiation to delicious craft beer, so it’s them I’ll choose to review today.
Allagash has been making delicious beers in Portland, Maine since 1995. When the company was first founded, the American craft beer movement had been around for a few years in its modern form. Sierra Nevada was cranking out its Pale Ale and Samuel Adams’ Boston lager had been around for about a decade. The common thread running through many American breweries at the time was an inspiration from the great brewers of Germany and England. Admittedly, when one thinks of great ale, one most likely thinks of England; when one thinks of a lager, the brewers of Bavaria come to mind. Allagash saw an opening in the American market for beers inspired by the great brewers of Belgium. When I think Belgian beer, I picture little monks brewing delicious beer batch by batch. Now, not all Belgian beer is even brewed by these religious men, and the ones that do have since modernized, but forgive me if I still imagine!
This image is perhaps what inspired Rob Tod to found Allagash seventeen years ago. From a small 15-barrel (30 kegs) brewing facility, Allagash set out to take the traditions of Belgian brewing and put on an American twist. Their first beer was Allagash White, still their flagship beer, which is widely available today. This, my friends, was my gateway to craft beer. It’s a simple, delicious, and easily found beer, and the first craft beer I remember buying for myself. The White is modeled after a Belgian wit beer that uses wheat instead of barley in its grain makeup. It results in a crisp and refreshing beer with a zing of orange aroma. For comparison -- though both are inferior in my opinion -- try Blue Moon and Shock Top, both wit beers, brewed by giants Coors and Anheuser-Busch, respectively. If you like either of those beers, you owe it to yourself to check out Allagash White.
To the main event! Today’s beer is Allagash’s Tripel (sometimes called Tripel Reserve, but it’s the same beer) a strong, golden ale in the Belgian style. As I’ve mentioned before, tripels are one of my favorite styles of beer. First thing you might notice is the small mountain of yeast sitting at the bottom of the 750ml corked bottle and the relative clarity of the beer. This yeast is added with some sugar upon bottling and it’s what gives the beer its carbonation. This process is called bottle conditioning and is widely practiced in high-quality beers.
By pouring slowly to disturb as little of this yeast as possible, you’ll get a surprisingly clear, rich golden ale with a nice half-inch of white head on top. The aroma has big hits of ginger and cloves. Taking a sip, there’s a refreshing zip of carbonation, an initial sweetness, and a fade to some dry herbal flavors. The alcohol content is a respectable 9% ABV, and here there’s just a peppery well-mannered hint of it present. The finish is very nice and overall the beer is superbly drinkable. Please try. Grade: A
Enjoy at 45 degrees
Style: Belgian Tripel Ale
Curieux, Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, ME). Ok, so I sort of let Allagash take over my column today, but I’d be remiss to mention this special brew. Curieux is Allagash’s Tripel aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. The oaky wood notes from the barrel aging mellow the sweet, refreshing character of the underlying tripel. This stuff is good, though pricey at about $13 due to its cost to make. Also, note this is a strong one at 11% ABV, though it’s hard to tell. Grade: A+
Image courtesy of the author