MOVIES & BOOZE: Beer for the New Year

Beer Messiah, Dean McGuinness joins Sean today with some dark tripels

Dark Tripels and Van Steenberge Brewery 

Brewery Van Steenberge is a member of the Belgian Family Brewers, an organisation of brewers to be a member of which you must be a brewer with at least three generations of family ownership who is committed to the quality tenets of their association. Jef Versele is the current member of the Van Steenberge brewing dynasty responsible for the direction of the brewery – sixth generation of this family.

Gulden Draak is a world-recognised beer, the signature beer for the dark tripel style. The name of the beer comes from a golden statue of a dragon on the Belfry in Ghent. Legend has it that this statue was originally the figurehead of a ship in which the Norwegian King – Sigrid Magnusson – set out on a Crusade in 1111. 

The classic characteristics associated with the tripel style would be a beer that is (usually) 7.5% to 9.5% a.b.v. and golden in colour. A few tripels are unashamed in breaching the upper limit of this alcohol range – 10.0% is not unusual, so 10.5% would not be considered to be an unforgiveably stretch. However, the golden colour is one of the defining characteristics of the style. This golden colour distinguishes tripels from dubbels (which are typically red-brown) and quadruples (which range from dark amber through to rich/dark red-brown).

Gulden Draak is probably recognised as the signature beer for the dark tripel style. Distinctive and characterful, this beer delivers a flavour that is reasonably removed from the quadrupel style (less porty, and combining a distinct phenolic/fruit flavour all its own) fully justifying its own style designation.

Gulden Draak

Beer Style - Dark Tripel
Alcohol by Volume - 10.5%
Brewed by - Brewery Van Steenberge
Brewed in - Ertvelde, near Ghent, Belgium

Gulden Draak pours with a mahogany rich red-brown colour and a full tan head. Dar malts, brown sugar, caramel, subtle creaminess, Belgian yeast, plums, figs, apples and the promise of alcohol all come through on the aroma. Underlying this is the distinct aroma of wild honey / natural honeycomb.

The mouthfeel of this beer is distinctly interesting. While there is an initial medium to full-bodied mouthfeel to this beer – a luscious and rich initial taste which is both complex and full – the finish of the mouthfeel is notable, and the length of finish in the beer is all connected with flavours in the back of the palate and coming back up to the back of the nose. The beer could not be described as dry – the perfect balance between dry and sweet, delivering an array of malt/fruit sweet flavours on the palate and into the finish, with the complete absence of cloy on the palate, but without a finish that is in any way dry.

Spicy Belgian yeast (in the form of vanilla and nutmeg), soft fruit (apricot) and malty caramel character all come through on the palate. Fermentation develops phenolic and fruit character – aniseed and black liquorice (phenolic) and dark raisins, plums, figs, dates and raisins (fruit). Candi-sugar, toffee and suggestions of molasses all sit on top of a rich organic alcoholic character that is incredibly smooth, and deceptive given the 10.5% a.b.v.

This beer is superbly well balanced, incredibly crafted, delicious and unbelievably satisfying.

Mescan Brewery

Mescan Brewery was established by two vets. One Irish – Cillian O’Morain – and the second Belgian – Bart Adons – these two passionate brewers have combined their distinct heritages to brew beers with distinct influence from both Belgium and Ireland. The name of the brewery reflects this ethos. Mescan was St. Patrick’s brewer – as well as being one of Ireland’s best known historical brewers, it is no doubt that, with the spread of Irish Catholic Monks establishing monasteries across Europe that brewing practices would have been brought with their religious message.

Mescan is established in Kilsallagh, near Westport County Mayo. In a brewing world where everybody is obsessed with hops, Mescan have chosen to take the road less travelled. Merging their love of Belgian beers with a distinct Irish twist, many of the beers from Mescan are brewed to styles that are either distinctly Belgian or distinctly Irish, but with a distinct inclination not to travel too far from a middle ground between Ireland and Belgium. The result is that the beers tend to favour more malt flavours and yeast character – Cillian sometimes jokes that they will never brew an IPA.

Reflecting the adventurous spirit that is a pre-requisite for setting up a brewery, Bart is currently camping in Spalbard – an island in the Arctic Circle. Equipped with explosives and rifles, the area that he is currently camping in has a larger population of polar bears than it has humans. Hopefully he has brought a few of his higher strength beers with him to warm his toes in the Arctic winter nights, and no doubt he will have some great stories to tell on his return.

Mescan Red Tripel

Beer Style - Dark Tripel
Alcohol by Volume - 8.5%
Brewed by - Mescan Brewery
Brewed in - Kilsallagh, Westport, Co. Mayo Ireland

Mescan Red Tripel pours with an amber red colour – this colour tinges the head with a slightly off-white, pale tan appearance. Aromas that immediately come through reflect Belgian yeast character – mild spice with clove, cinnamon and aniseed coming through. This aroma rests on a subtle foundation of caramel malt.

Malt character in the form of chewy toffee is balanced by a toasty roastiness. The malt character is developed into boozy soft fruit (alcohol laden peach, apricot) and a development of the spice character of the beer – clove comes through distinctly on the palate, and it is further supplemented by aniseed and cinnamon. As the flavour opens up further, flambéed soft fruit combines with crème brulee (vanilla and burnt sugar). Cola cube sweetness overlays all of these flavours.

Liquorice and candi sugar contribute to the caramel malt sweetness in this beer, and together these characteristics allow a rich mouthfeel to develop. Mescan Red Tripel has distinct substance on the palate – a luscious, velvety texture befitting a beer of 8.5% a.b.v.

The American craft brewing scene reflects a distinct influence from Belgium in some quarters – many of the most progressive of the American craft breweries are distinctly influenced in their choice of styles, flavours and brewing practices by the eccentricities of Belgium. While Ireland is behind American in terms of the development of its craft beer industry, Mescan Brewery reflects a leapfrogging forward of creativity and innovation – where it took the Americans some time to adopt Belgian styles, it looks like Cillian and Bart have embraced the concept wholeheartedly from the very establishment of their brewery. At the end of the day, craft brewing and craft beers should reflect the passion and interests of the craft brewers. These guys can be proud of their creation – a superb beer!

Gulden Draak and Van Steenberge Beers available in

Blackrock Cellars, Blackrock
Bradley's, North Main St, Cork
Dwans OL, Ballycullen
Eldons, Clonmel
Hollands of Bray
Maguires Bar, Athlone
Martin's OL, Fairview
Mc Hugh's Malahide Rd
Next Door James Street
O'Donovans outlets
O'Neill's Off-Licence, Sth Circular Rd
Probus Wines, Fenian St,
Redmonds, Ranelagh
Rushe Eurospar, Dalkey
Supervalu Tyrellstown, Dublin 15
The Bierhaus, Popes Quay, Cork
The Drink Store, Manor Street
The Irish House, Kilcoole, Wicklow
The Malt House, Trim
Worldwide Wines, Waterford

Mescan Beers Available in

Redmonds of Ranelagh
Martins of Fairview
McHuugh’s, Kilbarrack and Malahide Road,
Select outlets in County Mayo