Beer Review 0513: Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel

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Longmont, Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company was started in 1990 after Dick Doore received a home brewing kit for Christmas. For three years, Doore passionately made batch after batch, eventually getting his college buddy Eric Wallace involved.

Doore brewed the beer while Wallace brought along travel experience of being exposed to great beers all around the world. After passing their home brew around to friends and neighbors, becoming more confident in their craft, Wallace had an idea while drinking a stout they had made. “Let’s start a brewery.”

The original brewery was called Indian Peaks Brewing Company, but after finding another company was using the name for a style of beer, they changed to Left Hand, in honor of Indian Chief Niwot, whose tribe lived in the local area. ‘Niwot’ is an Arapahoe word for left hand.

Left Hand Brewing is situated near the St. Vrain River, which you might recognize from recent news headlines. While marketing material from the brewery says that this Belgian-style Tripel is named for the “usually peaceful” St. Vrain, flooding that occurred in September halted production at the brewery and nearly washed it away. We’re happy to report the brewery was spared, but other business and homes were not, prompting Left Hand to take up donations to support the community.

St. Vrain Tripel, which was released about the time the flooding occurred, is 9.3% ABV and is brewed in the style of a classic Belgian Tripel. You’ll see this beer once per year in bottle shops, so grab it up while you can. The malt bill contains Pilsner and Two-row pale, while the hops used are CTZ and Celeia.

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Out of the bottle, St. Vrain produced a small, fluffy and foamy white head that didn’t linger for very long. Color of the beer was yellow-golden, more yellow than gold, but it was a couple shades darker than your typical macro lager. The first pour was hazy; the rest of the bottle, which contained the yeast dregs, made this a very cloudy beer, but free from any noticeable particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving behind thin sheets that covered the glass nicely. And although this beer produced a small head, swirling it in the glass made for a nice effect.

On the nose, this is a fairly typical Tripel — lots of doughy yeast and spice up front. There’s clove, banana, and orange peel, and it mingles with biscuit and grainy malt. The hop presence is herbal and lemongrass, and I was surprised to find a nice vanilla note as the beer warmed. Very good.

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The taste very much follows the aroma, offering up fresh cut grain and orange peel, with a peppery wash of spice and clove. There’s a small transition near the swallow that hits with some banana and an unexpected vanilla presence; the orange peel turns candied-like and this beer is quite sweet initially, but it has a very mild bitterness that builds as you continue to drink it. The other factor on the finish: alcohol. I’d hesitate to label this brew as being overly boozy, but the 9.3% is here and saying hello, for sure. St. Vrain is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy, and slightly gritty mouthfeel.

There are really nice flavors here, especially how the sweet vanilla plays with the orange peel and spice, but I felt like the alcohol decreased drinkability and might be too heavy here. Maybe that’s why the river is called “usually peaceful,” because this beer does deliver a bite you’ll feel after several sips. Unfortunately, it’s not masked very well within the palate. I’m not sure age would do this good, but Left Hand stamped a best before date of 5/20/2016 on the shoulder of the bottle.

Left Hand St. Vrain Tripel, 87 points. Price: $8.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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