21st Amendment/Elysian “He Said” Belgian-style Tripel is 8.2% ABV.
I poured all of a 12 oz can into a Belgian-ale glass.
Appearance: The pour gave some nice frothy bright off-white head, which was gone in just a few minutes. This left no lacing, and nothing much else either. The color is a bright and very clear honey with just a touch of orange. It looks like it has light carbonation.
Smell: This has a nice funky and strong-with-yeast aroma. The funkiness has some sour notes, and some earthiness like from a farmhouse ale. This has some spicing to it, but is not so easy to pinpoint. I am not getting very much pumpkin, maybe just a little. Though if you didn’t tell me this had pumpkin in it, I wouldn’t have mentioned it from aroma alone. There is also some white pepper to this. Overall this smells like a yeasty tripel.
Taste: Right off the bat I get a nice yeastiness, and a complex and unique spicing to this one. The spicing is just wonderful, and really interesting. Pumpkin-pie spiced pumpkin ales step aside! This has some woody licorice-like herbaciousness and a sweet wildflower honey character to it. The yeast is still there, earthy and a little bit funky. The yeast is less pronounced than in the aroma, though. There is some vegetal pumpkin to this one, that is noticeable more towards the end. The flavors are way more complex than the aroma gives them credit for. This finishes to let the spice quality give way to more of the sweet and smooth honey, with a bit more coarse candi sugar thrown in. The aftertaste has some light bitter notes from the spice and earthiness that stay with you for quite a bit.
Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate carbonation. It has great character and structure: some yeastiness, pepper, bold sweetness, astringent pumpkin, and unique spice. So the feel is dynamic. Moreover, despite the bold spice in this, it doesn’t drag on the palate. Good marks here.
Drinkability: This is a bold beer, with a lot of complexity. So naturally, it is not super sessionable or easy-drinking. Even so, the 8% doesn’t advertise itself. The spicing and sugar really helps that here. And nothing is over-done or detracting. So decent marks here.
Overall: This has really interesting flavors. I love the complexity, the use of spice, and the overall balance. It has nice sweetness, some pumpkin, and good earthiness. I love farmhouse ales and lots of Belgian-style beers. So this one is a great one for me. I do wish the pumpkin were more present. If this had a bit more front and center pumpkin, it would be even more wonderful alongside the deep flavors and unique spicing. So I say, anyway. In any case, I am certainly going to buy some more of this once it hits markets. It was a real pleasure to drink.
Overall Rating: ***1/2
21st Amendment, Elysian, and this beer: I had the privilege of joining a webinar (21st calls these their “weBEERnars”) this past Tuesday to taste and get some information about how this beer came about. This is one of two beers that is part of a new pumpkin beer collaboration 4-pack between 21st amendment in San Francisco, California, and you guessed it, the mecca of pumpkin beers, Elysian Brewing in Seattle, Washington. Both of these pumpkin collaborations are called “He Said” (with the other being a Baltic-style porter). The collaboration project is named after the beginnings of a relationship between Dick Cantwell, master brewer of Elysian, and Shaun O’Sullivan, master brewer at 21st Amendment. Though the guys disagree about when they first met, and when the idea of doing a pumpkin beer first got aired seriously, they agree that there were some drunken conversations about the prospect of 21st joining the pumpkin beer movement more seriously with a collaboration. Dick says he has to work hard to get breweries to brew a pumpkin beer, and that they initially don’t like the idea. He even claimed that he wants to get every brewery to make a pumpkin beer. This is serious and good commitment to a great cause. Dick Cantwell is now something like the pumpkin king of professional brewers, brewing more pumpkin beers than any other brewery in the world. The original idea between Dick and Shaun was to do something that no one else had done before, some unusual styles that they could pair together: a darker and a lighter pumpkin ale in a mixed package.
I asked Dick what started all of this enthusiasm for pumpkin beers, and all the work that goes into his giant pumpkin beer festival that is now in its 9th year. He had a funny story. He said is was partly boredom, as he was looking for something that was funny to brew. He brewed a pumpkin beer that sold really quickly, and decided to brew an imperial pumpkin beer for the 1000th batch of beer at Elysian. This was apparently the first imperial pumpkin beer on the market. Apparently, when he was trying to recreate that beer on his smaller system, he missed the gravity. After realizing he then had 3 pumpkin beers, he thought that if he brewed 3 more, he could have a small festival. As he said, from there it just kind of snowballed.
This Belgian-style tripel is brewed with 2-row and Aromatic malt, with some Belgian Candi sugar thrown in. They use both pumpkin puree and pumpkin juice in the mash and boil, which is then made very interesting and tasty with spice additions of galangal and tarragon. I’ve never before had tarragon in a pumpkin beer before. I don’t think I would have thought to use that (or galangal, for that matter); but they work great! Shaun and Dick talked about using a huge 4 and 1/2 foot by 2 foot sack of these spices for the whirlpool. They showed us some blurry but still somewhat informative picture of this overgrown mutant tea bag that was captured from someone’s camera phone. The hop profile in this beer was intentionally restrained to let the pumpkin and spice shine through, and consists of German Norther Brewer, US Golding, and Sterling.
This beer is certainly one of the most interesting pumpkin beers I’ve had. It has great flavors, a respectable pumpkin presence, and is just an artfully crafted beer. Once these 4-packs have seriously hit market, I expect they’ll be gone pretty quickly. See my thoughts on the partner “He Said” Baltic-style Porter.