Boulevard Smokestack Series: Long Strange Tripel

Well there is nothing more interesting to me than a new beer from Kansas City, Missouri’s Boulevard Brewing and a beer named after one the most legendary lines in music. The Grateful Dead was one of the most prolific bands in the history of modern music. On their 1970 album American Beauty the words “What a long strange trip its been..” were spoke in the song Truckin’ and so was born the ultimate hippy yearbook quote. Long Strange Tripel is a 9.2% Belgian Tripel by style and was the third beer brewed in Boulevard’s Smokestack series of limited and small release brews.

Pouring out a beautiful colour of bright honeyed orange with a steady carbonation stream and a thick off white head. The head isn’t exactly sticky but certainly persists. The aroma is boisterous and overly estery with tons of citrus and spice notes filling the profile. A big coriander and lemon zest note with mild toasted malts, a bit of caramel and honey sweetness to offput the spice. Overall the aroma is that of a tripel, yeast heavy with tons of ester and malt notes. Rich and full bodied on the taste with a bit of lemon pledge and orange rind making appearances before the mild coriander spice. Floral and almost perfume notes appear as the glass warms towards room temperature. The sweetness is there but isn’t cloying and is actually in good proportion. The finish is warm and the 9.2% ABV is certainly noticable but falls hand in hand with mild bitterness and lingering ester notes. Sometimes tripels fall flat for me in the world of Belgian style brews and Boulevards Long Strange Tripel is no different. Although this tripel is expertly made and offers a great profile of Belgian esters, light toasted malts, mild hops and good balance I find this a bit unimpressive. My bias is in no way a reflection of the quality of this beer I simply don’t enjoy tripels as much as their Belgian brethren. 

Grade: 88/100

Ninkasi/Devils Backbone The Devil Went Down to Oregon

The first time I tried a Ninkasi beer I was on holiday in Palm Springs, California and found a bottle of Oatis at the local grocery store. Ninkasi is a larger craft brewery located in Eugene, Oregon and is named after the Sumerian goddess of brewing and fermentation, Ninkasi. Unfortunately I would have to wait 4 years for Ninkasi to finally import into Alberta. Oatis was stuck in my head as the epitome of a creamy oatmeal stout with a moderate bitterness and full body flavour. Since Ninkasi started hitting the shelves in Alberta I’ve been lucky enough to try nearly a dozen of their brews and even attend a sensory class with Ninkasi founder Jamie Floyd. The Devil Went Down to Oregon is a collaboration brewed with Roseland, Virginia’s Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Stylistically, “The Devil” is a Imperial Dark Rye or Roggenbier brewed to 72 IBU’s and 7.2% ABV with Northwest hops and an Alt style yeast strain. 

Pouring out a dark, opaque blackish brown with a thick, puffy head of off white that does not subside but rather coats the entire glass in lacing. The aroma is heavily malted with spicy, bready notes of rye and biscuity crystal malts that give in to solid caramel and toffee malt sweetness. A bit of a nutty aroma with a hint of vanilla blends with the notable hop aromas. Light citrus fruit and a pinch of pine resin adds a Northwest twist to the staunchly German style malt profile. The first sip comes across rather sweet and a bit fruity with caramel and biscuity malts with a spicy twist of rye malt. Citrus zest and tart hop flavours build towards the finish with a light pine resin and lingering astringency. The malts and the hops are both blown out of proportion but also balance out well in the middle. An interesting mash-up of styles with the hop content expected from Oregon with the malts of a traditional German alt or roggenbier. A very peculiar brew overall.

Grade: 86/100 

De Ranke Pere Noel

Brouwerij De Ranke in Dottignies, Belgium is a bit of a fairy tale story for many beer enthusiasts…started in 1994 by two best friends as a home-brewing fascination it quickly turned into more than a hobby. After a few short years they acquired weekend brew space at the historic Deca Brewery in West Flanders. After 11 years of sharing space and capacity with Deca, De Ranke built their own brewery in Dottignies, a town only a few minutes from the French border. De Ranke beers have been scarce both out of and in Belgium until their import to Alberta last year. Pere Noel is a Belgium Strong Ale (a category lacking boundaries besides being of Belgian origin)> brewed with brewers gold, hallertau hops and licorice. Unlike most Belgian Christmas beers that are rich, dark and fruity Pere Noel is spicy, sweet and bitter. At 7% ABV Pere Noel is about normal for Belgian style beers but rather low for a Christmas beer with most others hitting upwards of 9% ABV. 

Pouring out a bright golden amber Pere Noel lacks the heavy effervescent head of other De Ranke beers and settles rather quickly. A thin line of lacing foam sticks easily to the glass as the head subsides slowly to a thin layer of bright white bubbles. The nose seems a bit out of place with the style as it is predominant with citric and grassy hops, toasted caramel and bready malts, mild spiced notes and a bit of alcohol warmth. A subtle yet pervasive funky aroma sticks to the nose throughout the tasting lending a bit of intrigue to this beer. The mid palate of taste is smooth and somewhat fruity with mild citrus hop notes as well as hints of apple and pear combining well with notes of toasted wheat, caramel, cereal grains and light licorice/anise spice flavors. The finish has a moderate bitterness that lingers unexpectedly into the aftertaste leaving mild resinous notes and sweet fruity flavors. Pere Noel has a great balance overall with bitterness, spices and malts blending well and leaving a crisp, clean but bitter Belgian flavor profile. Overall, a interesting and unique twist on a Belgian Christmas beer.

Price: $12.99                                                                                               Grade: 90/100

La Guillotine

La Guillotine is a Belgian Strong brewed in the triple fermentation method to 8.5% ABV by the Belgian family brewery Huyghe in Melle, Belgium. The Brewery Huyghe is best known as the producer of Delirium Tremens which also comes in the ceramic-like painted bottles. A brewery has been in operation in Melle since 1654 but it wasn’t until 1906 when Leon Huyghe bought the brewery. In 1989 the Huyghe Brewery launched La Guillotine to celebrate the bicentennial of the French Revolution.  Within recent decades, Huyghe has bought many breweries and now brews close to 100 beers and brands. 

La Guillotine has a brazen copper toned amber appearance with a huge fluffy white head that settles at a snails pace. A few lacing rings form are short lived but the head tends to slide right off the glass. The nose has a bready malt base with spicy yeast notes and an accompanying handful of grassy vegetal hops. A definite alcohol aroma with a hint of honeyed and caramel malts. The first sip is quite sweet with big bready and light caramel toasted malt notes. Hints of lemon rind and citrus fruits with a few pinches of spices blend well in the middle. The finish has a gentle spice that lingers and a moderate hop bitterness.  The aftertaste has an impending and lingering alcohol presence that seems unrefined for a triple style beer.  After letting La Guillotine warm up to near room temperature I notice more cloves and a cracked black pepper in both the aroma and the taste. The hops have seemed to settle in well and have been covered by quite a forceful alcohol presence throughout the finish leaving a mild bitterness but quite a pungent booze filled aftertaste. Overall, a good Belgian style beer but the unrefined alcohol presence certainly draws away from its overall quality. 

Grade: 83/100                    Price: $4.49

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