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Hot off the heels of the last Apocalypse series beer comes Backlash's newest; the third brother, Famine. The label jokes around a bit about the supposedly-upcoming and nigh-on-unstoppable bacon shortage, but this seems like a pretty serious beer overall. Nothing out of the ordinary -- this brewery has a weird dedication to both the grim and the humorous. The label claims this is a "single malt single hop tripel." Let's discuss SMASH (single malt and single hop) beers. I find this minimal approach quite interesting; simplicity in terms of recipe can produce strikingly complex results when all of the chemical processes involved in brewing beer are accounted for. Let's see how Backlash handles a distinctly-Belgian style; will it be awkward like the second horseman or will it rise above its recipe's seeming simplicity?

The color of this beer is very pale yellow with some golden highlights, though the body is impenetrably cloudy and sports a thin crown of bone-white foam that leaves spotty, inconsistent lace. The color doesn't seem deep enough to be a tripel... definitely seems too faded and not deep enough. Regardless, my first whiff from the initial pour was nice, with notes of baked bread, apples, musty yeast funk from the brewery's typical strain, hay, crackery grains and earthy/herbal hops. There's a tiny bit of estery strangeness, but this seems very reigned-in. The scent is sort of stiff and doesn't contain much in the way of clove or the sugary sweetness found in a lot of better, bigger tripels, but I think this is probably more of a Belgian pale ale in style. I'm always a little weirded out when breweries miscategorize their own beer, but there's not much that's tripel-like about this. As a BPA, this is pretty great, however! High-activity, spritzy carbonation and well-rounded pilsner malt dissolve into a spicy, herbal hop finish that cleans the palate dry. Though the body is on the thin side, the amount of malt present is perfect in context of a BPA, with just the right amount of rounded breadiness fighting back a fruity and white pepper-ish middle and the distinctly dry and alcohol-laden finish.

One of my main issues with this when I first picked it up was its low-ish ABV for something being marketed as a tripel; it's only 7.5 percent, whereas tripels are typically within the realm of 9-10 percent. This alone raised a flag for me, but I was curious. Simplicity in American brewing at times feels to me like a lost art (given all the high ABV crazy beers and barrel-aged everything), but I definitely had a feeling this beer was not going to deliver on its stylistic promise. Backlash's Belgian IPA is absolutely awesome, but I think this particular Apocalypse Series might be them just trying weird recipes without fear of the repercussions to their "main" line of beer. This beer is not without merit; it's a quite good Belgian pale ale that's being marketed either pretentiously or disingenuously (neither of which being particularly good ideas), but if you can look past that fault, it has a lot of flavor for being such a simple beer and can definitely compete with a lot of staple Belgian pale style ales, though it's not particularly out of the ordinary, nor is it funky enough to compete with the stuff actually made in Belgium.

The official breakdown:

  • Style: Belgian Pale Ale
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Appearance: Very pale, milky yellow with some darker gold around the edges, especially as yeast is poured in. Thin and cloudy white head
  • Scent: Cut grass, apple, lemon, crackery pilsner malt, earthy and spicy hops with some light esters thrown around
  • Taste: Very crisp with cracker-like malts and sweeter esters teaming up with white pepper spiciness and herbal hops in the finish. Nice balance
  • Mouthfeel: A bit on the sharp side (but not acidic) due to carbonation. Thin-ish and could use fuller body if attempting a true tripel
  • Drinkability: Not bad here. Though the carbonation is active and biting, it combines well with the smooth pilsner malt and delivers thoroughly

From http://blogs.lowellsun.com/beer/.