For roughly fifteen years (probably more), the Oaken Barrel in Greenwood, Indiana has brewed up an Abbey-style Belgian Trippel (Tripel) that they release seasonally around the holidays. It is called Epiphany and, with an ABV of 9.0 percent (more, some years), it certainly carries the ability to be a real mind-bender.
Overall, the Oaken Barrel's Epiphany has received ratings of 3.8 out of 5 stars on Untappd, a 3.4 stars out of 5 on Beer Advocate, and a 67 percent out of 100 on RateBeer.com. The 2016 batch of Epiphany has been released and, well, frankly, the reaction so far is mixed.
Abbey-style tripels are described (at least by ratebeer.com) as “strong, yeasty-malty beers. But they are also pale, and have a notable hop profile. Hop bitterness may be higher than a typical abbey ale, up to 45IBUs. But the finish is where the hops really shine, as tripels should finish fairly dry. Otherwise, maltiness is still essential to the style, and the assertive yeast note typical of all abbey ales will be more apparent in tripels, since they do not have the rich dark malts to distract the palate. Alcohol flavours feature more prominently in Tripels that in just about any other style.”
The 2016 Epiphany, Tripel or Trippel*, is definitely yeasty and strong, alcohol-wise. But traces of malt and hops are completely absent. I found the finish dry but thin and, well, I didn't find an overwhelming alcohol taste in it, not that I didn't look. So, compared to the textbook Trippel? The Epiphany is clear and pale, definitely yeasty, sorta aggressively, so…I guess.
What's really notable about this year's Epiphany is how ridiculously sweet it is. All I could think of while drinking it was “pie crust” or “heavily-buttered, very-white and cheap dinner roll.” For past iterations of Epiphany, the Internet has reviews that mention “honey,” and “banana;” they say things like “very lemony in the middle with a little too sweet finish. Kinda weird.” “Fruity, smooth, sweet and rich…[with] hints of clove, banana, and peppery spice.”
The 2016 had Barrel regulars tonight saying things like: “it's like a lemon cream pie;” “it's really sweet…and why do I taste clover?” “Not much nose, is there?” And, from one who I don't think liked it very much: “it tastes like balls.”
So there you have it: honeyed balls with no hops and very little nose, but definitely a clove finish. And So! Much! Honeyed! Yeast!
(Like drinking pie crust or dinner rolls. In a glass. And with a very high ABV. Which may or may not compel you to order another glass to see how you really feel about it.)
If Epiphany 2016 is receiving mixed reviews (and it is, so far, kids. It really is.), the service at the Oaken Barrel remains superlative; the environment warm, woody, and welcoming.
And what's more fun than a seasonal beer, freshly brewed, locally? Great to try and evaluate, whether you fill your mug with it or not. For my part, I'm sticking with Gnawbone, but just love that the seasons can be marked by epiphanies and buzzes and small batches.
*There is currently an argument at the Oaken Barrel's wonderful bar as to which spelling is correct. I blame the beer.