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Beer Here: Kink Belgian Abbey from Ale Asylum

Credit:Robin Shepard

A few years ago, when Ale Asylum was winding down at its original location, one of the last beers I ordered over the bar was a Belgian-style Abbey called Happy Ending. I considered it my personal homage to the brewery as it packed up and moved to its new location on Pankratz Street.

Ale Asylum is now releasing that beer in six-packs statewide, but because the name "Happy Ending" is trademarked by another brewery, it can't be used for bottled products. So Ale Asylum is now calling it Kink, and is hoping the new name and label will attract a lot of attention on the shelf.

What is it? Kink Belgian Abbey from Ale Asylum of Madison, Wisconsin.

Style: Kink falls in a general description of a Belgian abbey single. This not a style defined by competitive industry standards, such as those for the World Beer Cup or Beer Judge Certification guidelines. Rather, it fits within a Belgian beer vocabulary that includes dubbels and tripels, with those names corresponding roughly to beers with higher strength. In Belgium, the term "abbey" specifically means beers made in monasteries by monks. When made by brewers outside of Belgium, the suffix "style" is often applied, as in Belgian-style, Abbey-style or Trappist-style.

Belgian abbey singles are commonly deep golden to deep amber in color, with a rich yeasty fruity flavor profile and light hoppiness. They are usually very bubbly when bottle-conditioned, a process in which the beer continues to ferment after bottling. Those familiar with rich Belgian dubbels will recognize some of the same rich yeasty sweetness; however, the abbey single is little cleaner in flavor and finish.

Background: "When we first started the Ale Asylum, our goal was to open our doors with 10 beers, and I knew I wanted some Trappist-style beers in the lineup," says co-owner and brewmaster Dean Coffey.

The origins of Happy Ending can actually be traced back to when Coffey and his Ale Asylum partner Otto Dilba both worked at the now closed Angelic Brewing Company in downtown Madison. While there, Coffey created versiosn of an abbey single called Monk's Lament and Enchanted Abbey. Those early experiences influenced his recipe of today's Kink.

"This is a fun beer to make," says Coffey. "It's high in alcohol but not over the top; it's big, yet manageable [in the brew house]."

Kink is made with a combination of English Crystal, German Munich and a touch of Belgian dark crystal malts. It also has a light amount of Czech Saaz hops. The beer is fermented with a Trappist ale strain of yeast, similar to what is used by the well-known Brouwerij Der Trappisten van Westmall in its line of Belgian abbey beers. Kink takes about three weeks to make and it finishes at 7.7% ABV.

"This one is magic to me," says Coffey. "Those crazy monks all those years ago managed to corral a family of yeast strains that produce those very unique flavors and aromas, and I just love that".

Dilba says the name "Kink" was chosen because of its distinctiveness. He's not shy about the provocative nature of the packaging, and personally drew the artwork. "There's a dog collar and a zipper, but what else do you see? It's a bit of a Rorschach test; we leave it up to your imagination," he says with a laugh.

However, there's little doubt what Ale Asylum wanted patrons to think when the new packaging was unveiled last Saturday at the Great Taste of the Midwest. The brewery brought in dog collars, paddles and even a rack, on which its fans, male and female alike, took turns strapping up and posing for pictures.

Ale Asylum had to change the original name, Happy Ending, because it's used by the SweetWater Brewing Company of Atlanta for its imperial stout. Dilba says he did ask SweetWater for permission to use the name, and they agreed as long as the beer wasn't bottled and only served in the taproom. Ale Asylum has actually been using "Happy Ending" longer than SweetWater, but Dilba says that early on his brewery couldn't afford the expense of trademarking all of its beer names.

Kink is a late summer into early fall seasonal six-pack release for Ale Asylum. Bottles are expected to be available through October. In the brewery's tasting room, there's a good chance it will be available on tap more often throughout the year.

Earlier this year, Ale Asylum announced plans for expanded distribution into Illinois, but for the time being six-packs of Kink can only be found in Wisconsin, where they sell for $9.50-$10.50 apiece. In the Ale Asylum taproom, Kink sells for $5 per glass and $15 per growler refill.

For fans of Ale Asylum's approach to Belgian beers, more are marking their way into bottles. Currently, its Tripel Nova and Mercy Grand Cru are offered as seasonal brews. But Dilba says that by next spring, the brewery will release Diablo (dubbel) in six-packs, followed by a second Belgian-style release. It's likely to be a Belgian table ale, a beer originally introduced in the taproom last year.

"There are not a lot of Wisconsin breweries doing Belgian-style ales," says Dilba. "Our goal is to always have a seasonal Belgian beer on shelves."

Beyond Belgian beers, Ale Asylum is also gearing up for a dual release in October of its Big Slick Stout and Demento (session pale ale). Both will be available in six-packs for the first time.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light yeasty hints with earthy and spicy tones.
  • Appearance: Reddish-amber body. Slightly hazy. A soft, marbled, tan head.
  • Texture: Medium-bodied, with a round mouthfeel.
  • Taste: This is a beer with layers of complexity. The yeasty sweetness is up front, with caramel maltiness and spicy warmth. There are also hints of raisin and plumb in the background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Tones of stone fruits and a yeasty sweetness combine for spicy warmth. Despite that, the finish doesn't last long and remains clean.

Glassware: The clear chalice or a flared tulip glass lends a nice presentation to the rich brown color while gently holding the soft, tan head and allowing the yeasty aroma to gather under the nose.

Pairs well with: The yeasty tones and overall sweetness of Kink blend with many foods. From the Ale Asylum menu, those qualities are a nice match for the Danny Burger, a veggie patty with avocado and sweet pea pesto. Also, keep in mind that these rich sweet Belgian abbeys are also very nice on their own, as a pre-meal beer to stimulate the appetite.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: 86 (very good) at BeerAdvocate for Happy Ending and not enough ratings to be evaluated for Kink, and 89/95 (overall/style) at RateBeer.

The Verdict: Kink, which will always be Happy Ending to me, is a beer for those who love complex flavor profiles. There is just so much going on -- with every whiff and sip a new sensation emerges. Yet it still manages to finish clean without overwhelming the palate.

Kink is a great beer to keep around for visits by good friends and special dinners. Its rich flavors yet medium body make for easy drinking, and it's an inviting pre-meal beer for conversations. However, it's versatile enough to be more than just an appetizer; I'm planning to stash a six-pack for Thanksgiving because it will be wonderful with rich meats, stews and vegetables. I'm even looking forward to trying it as a dessert beer with a little pumpkin pie or gingerbread.

Don't be afraid to age this beer (within reason). At the 2014 edition of the Great Taste of the Midwest, Ale Asylum served a two-year old version that was soft, smooth and even more complex, with a spicy, dark fruit flavor that gave it a distinctive earthy sweetness.

Dean Coffey and Ale Asylum are known for Hopalicious, Ballistic and Satisfaction Jacksin -- all hop-forward beers. However, it's Coffey's Belgian-style beers that makes sure Ale Asylum stands out from so many other breweries. There aren't many Wisconsin-made Belgian-style beers, and an even smaller number are bottled. So the release of Kink in bottles is a big deal. Just as important, Coffey knows how to make very good Trappist-style beers, and Kink lives up to my expectations of a good Belgian abbey single.

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