Ah, tripels. Eventually, every brewery feels the call. A burly yet beatified beverage, it has the virtue of a velvety hammer of alcohol but the respectability of Catholic abbeys. (I almost went with "hammer of hooch," but we were at near toxic levels of alliteration already. See what tripel does to you?) I think brewers in particular are drawn to try their hand at a tripel--there is little in the beer world as tasty as one of the world-class versions. (There's never been a blockbuster abbey ale in the American market, so owners may be less interested in the style.)
But here's the rub. While it's pretty easy to make an adequate tripel, it's damn hard to make one that rivals the best. With enough alcohol, a brewer can conceal some sins; but to make a big beer like a tripel harmonize--that's no easy trick. A pale tripel immediately recalls Westmalle, which is perhaps the highest pinnacle for the style. Westmalle is a lush, creamy ale that manages to combine strength with sweetness, never sacrificing either. In this way, it's a dangerous, alluring ale.
BridgePort's Fallen Friar is the final seasonal in their Big Brews series, and the most straightforward in terms of style. Except for having been aged in pinot oak, BridgePort has gone for a classic tripel.
Things don't begin auspiciously. Fallen Friar pours out limply, rousing only a tiny skiff of instantly-disappearing head. The golden, honey-colored body is attractive, but the lack of head doesn't bode well. The aroma, too, throws me off. A bit bready, a touch of spice (phenols?), but then a rather pronounced apple note. Fortunately the apple fades and the spice opens up as the beer warms. But still.
The flavor is--I hate to say it--adequate. The lack of effervescence causes the beer to cloy; I find it thick and syrupy. At some point, I'm going to have to make a serious study of the effect of pinot casks. My sense is that quite a bit of wine gets into the beer, adding substantial sugar, but the sample size is still too small to know if that's what's happened here. It could just be the character of the yeast.
It wouldn't be a bad idea to put a bottle away. The yeasties may still be doing their thing in a few months, which could do this beer wonders. As it is--well, the monks at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart aren't yet quaking in thier boots.
Malts: German pilsner and Northwest wheat
Hops: Czech Saaz and Hallertauer
Available: 22 ounce bottle, through the Spring.