Trois Pistoles: The special occasion sipper
Lately, Unibroue shelves have been turning up in more and more decent beer shops. Outside the coolers, somewhere beside the imports, there's often a slightly pretentious-looking rack of beer in artsy, craft-brew looking bottles. I'd give them a glance every once in a while, but opt for something else. Part of it was my mistaking Unibroue for one of the evil empire conglomerates buying up many of the old, quality breweries. Also, I generally don't go for fruity beers, and every bottle seemed to proudly proclaim one fruity flavor or another. I also believe beer that feels the need for an eye catching label generally just wants to catch eyes instead of taste buds. I was wrong on all counts. Though it was bought in 2006 by Sapporo, the brewery remains in Quebec and still holds true to the standards of its original Belgian brewmaster. It's not the evil empire, at all. Ready for something different, I grabbed their most manly looking bottle, Trois Pistoles, and hoped for the best.
It may not be the best, but it turned out to be very, very good. And easily exceeded all expectations.
In a glass, it looks masculine enough. Very dark brown, with a thick head that quickly fades to lacing. It is bottle fermented, so there are some chunks of yeast floating around if you look hard enough into the darkness. It's obviously malty, and the promised fruit comes from that in both flavor and aroma. The hops are clearly taking a back seat in this beer. It's almost a cross between beer and wine—and leans toward the wine. It smells of all sorts of ripe, tart fruit such as cherries and plums, and maybe a melon or two, but with a little bit of earthy, roasted malt wrapping around it all.
Even though this strong dark ale boasts a hefty 9% alcohol content, you'd be hard pressed to find any. The flavor is dominated by those same fruits found in the aroma, and the alcohol is undetectable except for the bit of warmth it lends. Even the full body seems lighter since the carbonation makes it dance on the tongue. I'm not one for sweet beers, but all the fruit is kept in check nicely with enough tartness to give it a puckering snap. The finish is more wine-like than beer. In fact, the whole experience is more like a wine. This is a sipping after-dinner drink, and the complex flavors are similar to the ones you'd find in a glass of port.
I suppose you could have a glass during dinner. It would be best with something wild and gamey, though. The cheese course would pair even better, and it's one of the rare beers that is dessert compatible. Especially with something consisting of fresh fruit or berries. Or chocolate. However, I think it's made to sip in place of a cognac or coffee after the meal. This is certainly not a session beer. You'll probably just want the one. Slowly enjoy the flavor and complexity and call it a night.
Trois Pistoles isn't the hair on the chest, manly man beer I was hoping for when I grabbed the bottle. Its true place in the beer hierarchy is as a special occasion beer, when something different is desired to wrap up an evening. It would be a perfect ending to a heavy meal on a cold night. It might also suit wine drinkers looking for something that's closer to what they're used to swilling. I should not like this beer. Fruity. Malty. Heavy. Wine-like. A sipper. Those terms don't usually describe my favorite beers. But I was wrong for looking past those Unibroue shelves so quickly. Trois Pistoles is a fabulous beer. It'll probably never be anyone's number one favorite, but it's good enough that those rare occasions it is absolutely perfect for, should be made much less rare.