Dubbel Trouble, Tripel Threat: Marble Manchester Dubbel & Tripel
I took (dragged, really) my brother and my father up the rather unpicturesque Rochdale Road in Manchester recently to get to the wonderful Marble Arch pub. Whilst we were there, I couldn’t resist buying Marble’s two new special large bottles, although they set me back about £23 in all. I’ve been impressed by Marble’s previous big bottles, including Utility IPA, Stout Port Stouter Porter Stoutest (or similar), and their version of De Molen’s Vuur & Vlam.
These two new bottles were especially appealing, as their take on a Belgian dubbel and tripel coincided with my increased interest in Belgian beers following my trip to Bruges. Although they were both probably suited to cellaring (shoving in a cardboard box in the spare room), I decided to open them both over the last weekend.
I popped open the Manchester Dubbel (8.5% ABV) in front of In Bruges on DVD, with Colin Farrell mocking “gay beers”, swigging Leffe from the bottle and being fascinated by dwarves. This turned out to be a good version of what I consider a dubbel to be. It had a huge, persistent head, and a really sweet and bitter dark chocolate smell. In the taste, the dark chocolate snuggled down with some licquorice and an obvious booziness to make a warming, comforting beer, especially after the fizziness had subsided. Unsurprisingly this paired well with some dark Belgian chocolate.
The Manchester Tripel (9%) is an interesting one: Pouring again with a large head, this dispersed much quicker than the Dubbel’s. It smells and tastes richly of citrussy American hops with a nice medium maltiness to match the cloudy gold-to-amber colour. The hop bitterness builds up over the course of the drink to a quite acidic taste, and the malty sweetness eventually accumulates as well, suggesting the beer is best drunk with food (cheese) or shared (Kate didn’t like it). Having said that, it hides its 9% well (although I say that so often I may be suffering ABV Shift) and I really enjoyed the beer.
However I really enjoyed it as a US-style double IPA, rather than a “tripel”. As a term, “tripel” does seem to be a bit contentious; style icon Michael Jackson said differing things about the word in different publications, but this is the definition on the Beer Hunter website:
Dutch-language term usually applied to the strongest beer of the house, customarily top-fermenting often pale in colour, occasionally spiced with coriander. The most famous is made in Westmalle, Belgium.
Regardless of this (probably necessarily) rather wide definition, I have a view of what a Tripel is from those I’ve tried, including Westmalle, Karmeliet, Straffe Hendrik, Corsendonk and De Garre. They’re all strong blonde beers with varying degrees of hop flavour.
The Manchester Tripel may or may not be “on-style”: I’ll leave that question for more knowledgeable writers. It isn’t the beer I expected it to be, however, with the powerful New World hop flavour overpowering any noticeable “Belgian” qualities. I wouldn’t have had that reaction to a very enjoyable beer had it been described in a different way, perhaps as a “Belgian-style IPA”. But that’s my problem and many people will enjoy having their expectations defied, or simply appreciating the beer for what it is, rather than what it isn’t.