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Beer Reviews

Sapient Trip Ale

Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Marshall, MI

Style: Abbey Tripel
ABV: 8.5%

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Drinkable, but flawed)

Did I say I was a hangin’ judge when it comes to Belgian-style brews?

In Eddie’s eyes, if you’re going to brew a Belgian—especially the supreme achievement, the tripel—you better get it right. But brewing a Belgian golden ale is deceivingly difficult to get right: it must be golden and delicate, but blindingly strong in alcohol. And woe to the brewer if even a hint of that alcohol touches the taste buds. There is no real hop profile to hide behind, just enough to cut through some of that sweetness. Too hoppy, you’re damned. Too sweet—ditto. A soft but firm body is required, too, yet definitely not too much body. And, ah, yes, those spicy notes, which come from the strains of ale yeast peculiar to the style. They lend a beautiful, extremely delicate dryness to the palate, and all it takes to ruin it is letting the yeast get a little too excited—and warm—during the fermentation process.

But what’s the payout for such grueling work? Money? Fame? Piss on that. We’re talking beer, some of the best beer in the whole damn world: Duvel (again, it’s pronounced DOO-vl), Tripel Karmeliet, Westmalle Tripel—beers virtually without peers. Successfully brewing a great Belgian ale is literally it’s own reward.

Sapient Trip Ale is Dark Horse’s take on the style. I really wanted this one to work. This is a relatively young but great brewery, and I was hoping that they would be the first Midwestern brewer to make me think I was in Belgium (and not Belgium, Wisconsin or Belgium, Illinois). But, alas, despite a valiant try …

Sapient is a deep orange, too dark to call “golden.” Part of this is due to more than a moderate amount of bottle-conditioned haziness. The head is fairly subdued, with a finger’s worth of sticky white foam. The nose is classic Belgian: sharp herbs and coriander-like spices, although not with the strength I was expecting. That spiciness carries through to the front of the sip, but … oops: there’s a shot of fusel alcohols along for the ride. When I’m sipping a Belgian, I don’t want one single hint that I’m on my way to getting hammered on a sometimes 10 percent (or higher!) ABV brew. But Sapient’s alcohol peaks through right away, even before it warms. The next sensation is thick malt with far too much body. With a restrained hop profile that would be normal for the style, the beer’s moderate spiciness and lack of refreshing acidity can’t balance things out. If Sapient were a canoe, we’d be in the water. It’s just too heavy and sweet, and that combined with the alcohol being too far out front dooms this brew.

A good effort, but unfortunately I can’t recommend it. I’m sure you’re thinking I’m a snooty bastard for a guy who hasn’t even been to Belgium, but this style demands a brewer’s absolute best.

The search continues …

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on January 8, 2008.
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