Welcome to round three of the Ohio vs The World series. For those of you who might have missed the earlier rounds, this is a sporadic series that pits Ohio beers against highly regarded beers from other parts of the world in a blind taste test format. In the first round one of Ohio’s most sought after beers, CBC Bodhi fell to Vermont’s Heady Topper. In round two, Fat Head’s Bonehead Red evened the score with a unanimous 4-0 KO over Troeg’s Nugget Nectar.
In this round we leave the hop bombs behind and dive into a completely different style, barrel aged Belgian tripels. The wisdom of putting a fruity Belgian tripel into a bourbon barrel was not obvious until the brewers at Maine’s Allagash Brewing decided to see what would happen when they aged their tripel in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. The resulting beer Curieux, is the standard against which all other barrel aged tripels are judged. It just so happens that Ohio has its own highly touted barrel aged tripel, Rockmill’s Cask Aged Tripel, and today we will find out how it measures up.
The results of a blind taste test are only as good as the palates of the tasters. For this round I’m joined once again by three insiders from the Columbus beer scene. Paul Gardner who writes beer reviews for Drink Up Columbus, and has a knack for picking out the most subtle flavors in a beer and describing them in a poetic prose. Jim Ellison, owner and tour guide for Columbus Brew Adventures, and a man intimately familiar with the inside of just about every brewery in Columbus. The third and final panelist is none other than Pat’s Pints photographer, certified BJCP judge, and Land Grant production manager Mark Richards.
Here is the tale of the tape on the protagonists in today’s showdown.
- Brewery: Allagash (Portland, ME)
- ABV: 11%
- Freshness/Form: Bottled May 30, 2014 (as stated prominently on the label) and thus only a few days away from its first birthday (the tasting was April 26, 2015)
- Price: $17.99 for a 750 ml (25 oz) bottle
- BeerAdvocate Weighted Rating: 4.27 (Holds the #5 spot on the BA list of the top Belgian Tripels)
- Notes: Aged for 8 weeks in Jim Beam bourbon barrels
Rockmill Cask Aged Tripel
- Brewery: Rockmill Brewery (Lancaster, OH)
- ABV: 10.5%
- Freshness/Packaging: Poured from a bottle with a bottled date of 7/29/14 and thus nearly 9 months old.
- Price: $11.49 for a 12 oz bottle!
- BeerAdvocate Weighted Rating: 3.93 (Holds the #51 spot on the BA list of the top Tripels)
- Notes: Aged in OYO Whiskey barrels from local microdistillery Middle West Spirits
Both beers are hazy and golden in color, with Curieux being a little lighter and somewhat less turbid than the Rockmill beer. Curieux also has a more impressive white head that leaves behind a nice lacing pattern on the walls of its glass. On the nose Curieux is fruity with some bready malts and subtle accents of vanilla and oak from the bourbon barrels. On the tongue Curieux begins fruity and tripel-like with flavors of lemon and green apple, bready malts, and a bit of spiciness from the yeast. In mid-palate the bourbon barrel flavors show up adding an entirely different dimension to the beer, in particular the vanilla notes of the bourbon complement fruity flavors of the tripel. The mouthfeel is effervescent, crisp, and surprisingly dry for an 11% beer. The two contrasting flavor profiles work surprisingly well together, with the bourbon flavors complimenting rather than overwhelming the tripel.
As one would expect the Rockmill Cask Aged Tripel shares a number of similarities with Curieux, but at the same time it is unquestionably distinct. As noted above in appearance it’s darker, murkier, and has a smaller head than Curieux. While it may not be able to match the iconic Maine beer in the looks department, it doesn’t take a back seat when we get to the aroma and taste. The aroma is literally like no other beer I’ve smelled, very fruity with pears being the most distinctive fruit in the mix, spicy, topped off with a big dose of vanilla from the Watershed bourbon barrels. It smells boozy but is not overtly bourbon forward, other than the vanilla. It reminds me of some kind of spiced yuletide wassail made from pears and apples then spiked with vanilla forward bourbon. The taste follows the nose with big notes of pear-forward fruitiness complimented exquisitely by the vanilla. There is a pretty healthy kick of bourbon but in this mix it adds spicy accents more than harsh booziness. The mouthfeel is thicker and more coating, not nearly as dry and carbonated as the Curieux.
To be honest I didn’t expect to like this style as much as I did, but vanilla and bourbon are the perfect compliments to the fruity, spicy flavors of the tripel. Allagash Curieux held the edge in the looks and mouthfeel department, but Rockmill Cask Aged Tripel stood out with its bold flavors of pear and vanilla.
It was not easy choosing between these two but when the dust cleared and we counted the ballots it was another unanimous 4-0 win for Ohio. Rockmill Cask Aged Tripel may be 50% more expensive than Allagash Curieux (and quite possibly the most expensive Ohio brewed beer), but to a man all four judges preferred its execution of this unusual style. I can honestly say its unlike any other beer I’ve previously tasted. So after three rounds of Ohio vs. The World, the score is 2-1 for the Buckeye state.
Addendum – To prepare my tasting notes for this review I bought another bottle of Rockmill’s Cask Aged Tripel from the same batch (bottled last July). While the taste was once again unique and delicious this bottle had almost no carbonation making the beer completely flat. Needless to say the experience of drinking the beer suffered as a result. Perhaps it is an issue with correctly dialing in the bottle conditioning, but the lack of consistency is disconcerting for such an expensive beer.