In Belgium the brewing process is considered artisanal and by extension the brewer is considered an artist. Since the brewer is not bound by any sense of duty to conform to pre-existing beer styles there is a huge variety of strengths, colours and textures all defined as Belgian beer. The one element that unites this class of beers is the distinctive yeast which imparts a unique flavour encouraged by high temperature fermentation. In fact, you can take any wort ferment it with Belgian yeast and create a Belgian-tasting beer.
There are several sub-groups under the broad umbrella of Belgian Beer including Abbey ales, which are similar to Trappist beers but brewed by secular breweries instead of monasteries. Abbey beers exist in greater numbers and tend to stick with the convention of brown Dubbel or Blond Tripel. The Belgian Abbey Tripel originated in Westmalle Abbey in the 1930’s as a reaction to pale-ale trends. The Tripel is characterized by a complex clean maltiness, spicy depth, a touch of sweetness, highly carbonated but dry with a clean finish.
Exportation has always been an important component of British Brewing but the really famous part of the export story starts in the middle of the eighteenth century. During this period there were large contingents of British soldiers, traders and administrators in India who demanded a taste of home, namely beer. In the early 1780’s, a London brewer named Hodgson started exporting casks of highly hopped ale designed for long-keeping; however, after forty years of success the relationship between Hodgson and the East India Company deteriorated largely due to greed.
Meanwhile brewers in Burton-on-Trent had been expanding their shipment routes into Russia trading their signature sweet, dark beer. Once Hodgson’s relationship with India fell through and Russian tariffs curtailed exports the market was wide open for Burton to try it’s hand at creating their own version of an India Ale. Burton’s Allsopp brewery worked out a recipe, in a teacup, to create pale, crisp, highly hopped ale. At some point the local public caught on to this India Pale Ale and it was received with great acclaim replacing porter as the new fashionable beer.
Moving to the New World there is some disagreement out there about whether the American version of the IPA is a distinct variant or an offshoot of the British IPA style but this is not an area I feel qualified to weigh in on so I will just leave you with the following descriptor: The IPA is characterized by fresh hops, bready maltiness and a clean, crisp, bitter finish.
So what do get when you cross a Belgian Tripel with a North West Coast style IPA? Victoria-based Phillips Brewing’s Hoperation Tripel Cross. This is aggressively hopped golden ale that pours with minimal head and a pine like aroma. A malty sweetness also comes through on the nose. There is cloudiness to this beer largely due to the active sediment, which remains suspended throughout the glass. In the mouth the beer has a somewhat sticky character and the strength of the Tripel comes through at the front. The bitterness of the hops tends to linger after you swallow. It is not quite as smooth as a Tripel to drink but the Belgian yeast imparts a unique element to yet another addition to the extensive IPA family. The bottle is a large 650ml format with an ABV of 8%. The label deserves its own blog entry; a cross between a war propaganda poster and an art deco advertisement the label depicts an old bomber plane soaring through the air dropping hop bombs all rendered in a deco-esque palette of reds, teals and greens.
Overall I would give this beer a 4 out 5.
*Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. Storey Publishing North Adams MA.