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Karmeliet, an affordable gourmet starter (and finisher)

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I’ve written before that high quality beer is the cheapest of the gourmet indulgences. That goes especially so for the strong beers of Belgium. One of the countless excellent Belgian beers is a somewhat unusual one, and it is easy to find in Houston, Karmeliet Tripel. At least it is seemingly always at the main Spec’s in Midtown and the bigger of the area H-E-Bs. It should be found a many local beer bars, too.

I drank a bottle of the golden-colored beer recently, and I was very impressed yet again by quality of this beer. I don’t drink it enough, seemingly once a year for some reason, enough time to forget how good it is. Featuring subtle aromas and a fairly crisp and complex taste with a touch of sweetness – like a muted bit of honey – it concludes with an extremely long, dry finish. It is both easy-to-drink and immensely satisfying with layers of flavor. Late beer guru Michael Jackson wrote, “Karmeliet has great finesse and complexity.” Wonderfully balanced, it is delicious beer, with a smoothness and delicacy masking its 8.4% alcohol by volume.

Karmeliet is also a different beer, even in the amazingly wide-ranging Belgian beer universe. It is made with three grains. Not just the familiar barley malt – from 3-row barley in Karmeliet’s case – but also wheat and oats. This is typical for the lighter Belgian white beers like the once-great Hoegaarden White and its offspring Celis White, but not for the stronger beers. But, Karmeliet does even more; the three grains are used in both malted and unmalted forms. This grain mixture, a restrained use of the central European Styrian hops and a well-suited house yeast helps make for an interesting and multifaceted beer.

The use of three grains – actually six types of grains if you count both malted and unmalted versions – is not what makes Karmeliet unusual, though. It is unusual because it is so very good and so very approachable. It is a beer that can appeal to a wide range of drinkers, even those who might usually drink mass-produced light beers. This is because of its relatively light and subtle flavor that can be easily appreciated. Karmeliet is not just for beer aficionados, but it is perfectly situated to be a gateway for those to become one. Karmeliet should be a maintstay, too. It is a terrific beer.

Karmeliet Tripel is $12.09 at Spec’s for a 750-ml bottle and $7.26 for a 11.2-ounce one.

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