The foundation of the abbey goes back to 1648 but beer production only really got under way when it became a Trappist monastery in 1871. Beer production ceased during WW1 and was only resumed in 2001 when Achel 8 blonde and brune, were released.
Back in December 2013 I featured the brune; I liked it, but not as much as the stronger Chimay blue. Competition for the blonde with the other Trappist beers depends largely upon how you classify the blonde, tripel or strong pale ale.
As a tripel it would be nigh impossible to beat Westmalle, but maybe it could equal Chimay. As a strong pale ale there is no competition, I would have to compare it to a non Trappist beer; my favourite, Duvel.
But first the question; what is the difference between Tripel and Strong Pale Ale? I suppose I could answer by simply saying all tripels are SPAs but not all SPAs are tripels but perhaps the best way is to go back to the origins at Westmalle and Moortgat (Duvel).
Duvel came into existence as a dark strong beer in 1923. It had to wait until 1970 to become the beer we know today!
The first tripel was created at Westmalle in 1936, fifteen years after brewing had become commercial., and at a time when strong ales were dark. Were they influenced in their decision by the early success of Duvel, I wonder?
One thing is probably sure, however; Moortgat were influenced to change their beer by the success of the monastery tripel beers and the increasing post WW2 popularity of lager beers.
Both styles are strong in alcohol and golden in colour. The main differences come from the yeast strains used (tripels generally develop more ester tastes) and the formulation (tripels have more body and are usually a bit sweeter). Bitterness can vary according to the amount and type of hops but generally the tripel will be the slightly more bitter.
So what about our Achel blond?
With 8% alc. vol. it stands at the bottom of the strength range. It has a golden colour with a medium white head which receded to leave some lacing on the glass. The aroma showed yeast and a mild fruitiness so still no real direction.
The taste brought out peach and apple, grass and fresh herbs followed by a not unpleasant smoky phenolic element. The bitterness was light but well balanced and the feel was crisp an medium bodied.
My verdict? A strong pale ale with a hint of tripel! Will keep a place for it in my cupboard between the Westmalle tripel and the Duvel.