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Classic Beer of the Month October 2009: Brakspear Triple

Brakspear Triple, 7.2% (UK)

The old Brakspear brewery at Henley-on-Thames may be long gone, but its beers will never be forgotten.

Brakspear TripleLocal drinkers still murmur nostalgically about the glory days of Brakspear’s Bitter, one of the greatest beers England has ever produced – an amber ale teasingly light in alcohol but stunningly complex in its biscuity malt and tangy hop flavours, with just a suggestion of salt and a distinct note of butterscotch adding to the layers.

Although the beer, in name at least, has survived the brewery closure, produced at a new Brakspear brewhouse that has been built alongside Wychwood Brewery in Witney, it has never quite reached the high standard of the original. But, there again, how can you match perfection?

However, one good thing has come out of the brewery move. When the new brewhouse was completed (fitted out with vessels from the Henley site) in 2005, the brewers decide to mark the occasion by launching a new beer bearing the Brakspear name.

Celebration Ale

They made it a celebration ale in every respect. It was strong (ABV 7.2 per cent), bottle conditioned and brimful of quality. Echoing the monastic brews of Belgium, they called the beer Triple, but there the similarities end.

This is no pale, hoppy beer. Instead it is rich, dark and fruity. The name may have Trappist connotations but the new Brakspear brewers cited two different sources.

Firstly, the beer is ‘triple hopped’, which means that Northdown hops go early into the copper for bitterness, Cascade hops go late in the copper for aroma, and then more Cascades are added to the fermentation tank.

This trans-atlantic combination of rounded bitterness from the British Northdowns and juicy citrus fruit from the American Cascades brilliantly offsets the sweet, nourishing grist of Maris Otter pale malt and nutty crystal malt that also includes a little pinch of black malt to deepen the colour.

The second reason for the name is the fact that the beer is ‘triple fermented’ – once in the fermentation vessel, then in the conditioning tank as the beer slowly matures after fermentation, and finally in the bottle.

It’s good to see the role of fermentation recognized in this way, as here it brings an important dimension to the brew, with evocative tropical fruit notes conjured up by the yeast.

The net result is an immensely satisfying, rich, relatively sweet beer with deep malt flavours yet also a zippy fruitiness for contrast.

Throw in those tell-tale Brakspear salt and butterscotch notes and you have a beer that not only does justice to the memory of the old Henley brewhouse but, with its citrus and tropical character, is very much in the modern vogue as well.

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