Once again, it's time for the Great Taste of the Midwest, and like many other attendees, I'll be looking for two types of beer: those that I've never tried before, and a handful of favorites or seasonal brews, like Tripel Nova from Ale Asylum.
I'm extremely happy to learn that Tripel Nova has just become an addition to the Madison brewery's seasonally released bottled beers. Up until now, you could only get it at the brewpub in single glasses or growlers, or at festivals like the Great Taste. Four-packs started rolling off the bottling line this week, though, and have found their way to local shelves.
What is it? Tripel Nova from Ale Asylum of Madison.
Style: The Belgian Tripel is a complex beer with yeasty and spicy qualities. Tripels are bright yellow to deep golden in color with a thick, rocky, white head. Their aroma offers moderate fruity esters with some hints of spice such as clove or even pepper, but not so much that it's overpowering. Expect a medium to light body, and bubbly creaminess. The tripel is not a bitter beer; it's emphasis is more on fruity sweetness. Belgian candi sugar is often used to increase fermentable sugars and alcohol content without adding body. Tripels commonly range from 7.5% to 9.5% ABV.
Background: Fans of Ale Asylum know the Tripel Nova is special. "This is our most requested beer; many who have had it have kept asking why we don't bottle it, so now we do," explains brewery co-owner Otto Dilba. "There are certain people who just seem to show up at the tasting room when the Tripel is on." he notes "They just seem to know when it is."
This tripel is a big beer in many aspects, not the least of which is its 10% ABV. Ale Asylum brewmaster Dean Coffey uses authentic Belgian candi sugar, which increases the flavor and strength of the beer without adding mouthfeel. It's also a beer with a history, if not a defining creation for the brewmaster.
Coffey says early in his career, when he was an hourly worker for a brewery in Colorado, he would make homebrew for Christmas presents. "I gave my boss a bottle of this Belgian tripel I had made," he says, "and after he drank it he came up to me and said, 'everyone around here talks about going out on their own; you are the one who should do it.'" That former boss kept the bottle and its self-design label on a shelf in that brewery for several years, even after Coffey left to run his own brewery. And Coffee has since become well known for his ability to make great Belgian-style beers.
Dilba added his marketing talents by developing the label and specifically the logo for the packaging. He admits his graphic design is a little like a Rorschach inkblot; you see what you want to see in the griffon-like depiction of Nova. "If it doesn't pass the tattoo test, something you'd want on you, it doesn't work for us," Dilba laughs. He also designed the logo for this year's Great Taste of the Midwest, which appears on the tickets and the commemorative tasting glasses for the event.
Meanwhile, Ale Asylum packaging is changing, toward a more a unified look. Tripel Nova sells for about $10/4-pack. In the brewery's tasting room it's sold in growlers ($15) or single 10-ounce glasses ($6). Because of the brew's strength, you are limited to only three glasses per visit .
- Aroma: Yeasty and spicy with a light fruitiness.
- Appearance: Hazy, golden-orange with a thick, rocky head.
- Texture: Medium to light bodied, bubbly.
- Taste: Sweet, fruity, with a light lemon background.
- Finish/aftertaste: Smooth, bubbly with light lingering warmth.
Glassware: The tulip glass is the ultimate showcase for the Tripel Nova.
Pairs well with: The spicy and light fruit qualities of the Tripel make it a great companion for herb-crusted chicken and fish dishes. However, this beer also has enough flavor and mouthfeel that it'll also go very well with more assertive entrees such as hams and sausages.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: You can tell it's summer when Dean Coffey rolls out the Tripel Nova. When he made this beer at Angelic Brewing in downtown Madison, it always seemed to appear in mid-summer, in part because there were fewer students in town, allowing him the space and necessary time in his fermenters to make this big beer.
Local beer drinkers should be happy that Coffey continues to make Tripel Nova as a summer seasonal. It is a seductive beer that seems light, with a solid if not robust flavor on the pallet. But don't be deceived: With its high ABV, it's definitely a beer to be careful of. When pressed for a favorite Madison beer, this is always at the top of my list, and now that it's available in bottles -- albeit seasonally -- it's like Christmas in August!