The Imbibing Scribe: Tripel Karmeleit

I love tripels. I love splitting a great one with a couple of friends. I love having an entire 750 to myself and riding out the buzz on my couch. They go with everything. They’re sweet, bubbly, and just delicious. Additionally, a few years ago, I was gifted a book called 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die. It’s a pretty great resource, actually. One of my finds from that book was a gem of a tripel called Tripel Karmeliet by Brouwerij Bosteels out of Buggennout, Belgium. I had it a few years ago and fell in love.

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This one’s been on my mind lately, because a few months ago ABInbev bought Brouweij Bosteels. Many people in the craft beer community are greatly saddened by this. It’s like when your favorite little indie label gets bought by Warner Music: you want to think the artists will be allowed to keep doing what made them great, but you’re worried the soulless corporation will force them to change. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching on this front, and…I don’t know what I think. But I do know what I drink.

So, a tripel is really just a name for a Belgian (or Dutch) strong ale. In the grand pantheon of beer, Karmeliet isn’t even that strong, ringing in at 8.4% or so. What really sets this one apart is its use of three grains: wheat, oats and barley. That creates an uncommon complexity of flavor without using other additives, like fruit or spices, or aging in non-beer vessels, like wine barrels or the like. They also bottle-condition the Karmeliet, and that adds to the sweet flavor profile.

This beer pours pale and cloudy, but it is also fizzy. It has a champagne-like quality to it, both in mouth feel and flavor. It smells like yeasty sugar, mainly, but also like grain. There is a slight citrus character to it as well, and that’s to its credit. Truthfully? It’s just a damned good beer.

The brewery claims that this thing is based on an over 300 year old recipe from a Carmelite monastery in the Netherlands which they’ve been brewing since 1996. While you can’t independently verify the veracity of this claim, I’m inclined to say, “Sure. Why not.”

Now, the greater philosophical question: Should I continue to enjoy this beer now that it’s owned by what amounts to a monopoly? Let me answer this with a tangent.

I am a fan of various strains of punk and indie music (which we used to call alternative, but that’s just a silly a term). One of my favorite musical personalities is Steve Albini (of Shellac, Rapeman and Big Black, and he also recorded several of your favorite rock albums). He has frequently said that it is impossible to make truly creative music on a major label, and that the only way to artistic greatness is through fierce independence. My response to this has always been, “yeah, but…In Utero is awesome!” Plus, Albini recorded it.

I guess with music, and with beer, I am sympathetic to the argument that independent artists (or artisans) make a more interesting product. But I think that, ultimately, I disagree. If I want something good, I’m going to take it wherever I can find it. There is something kind of gross about ABInbev buying everybody, and it makes it all the more important to keep an eye on the distribution laws that favor the major brewers, But this beer is fucking delicious, so an argument that says I should not drink it because of who owns it strikes me as needlessly self-denying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drink this theoretically 300 year old beer recipe while listening to some major-label rock.

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