THE DISTINCTION IS a strange one: broadly known, oft-cited, and popular, but not especially well-liked. Such is the case with Victory’s Golden Monkey, which ranks behind only La Fin Du Monde as the most-rated tripel at BeerAdvocate (Chimay’s White is third). It is also one of only four American brands mentioned by the BJCP in commercial references for the style (of a total close to 20). And yet it seems to lack for the vociferous cheerleaders that La Fin or Chimay’s White enjoy, much less any of the other authentic Trappist efforts. Distribution may be the cause—Victory’s spans more than half the nation and even across the globe to Japan and Australia. But let’s solve the puzzle of popularity another day; the ‘not especially well-liked’ part of the picture is rather easier to piece together and requires much less conjecture.
Unsurprisingly, Victory’s Golden Monkey takes its Belgian basis and hops it up considerably via their staple ‘whole flower’ method. This technique is applied across their entire product line, and while it may set them apart in the market it is rather uncalled for in a Belgian tripel. Whereas many other styles can benefit (or at least survive) America’s heavy hop-hand, a tripel’s best features can easily be undermined and overpowered. As we see here.
After a fairly traditional aroma—some floral esters, yeast, coriander, faint pale malts—Golden Monkey applies its heavy twist in the flavor. The initial pleasing zest from the yeast phenols and some medium floral notes are flattened by a body too heavy with honey. The finish contrasts with high carbonation and lingering impressions of alcohol and a hint of sour fruit (cherry, maybe) that’s overtaken by leafy bitterness back on the palate. This whole hop character comes to define the beer, despite any best intentions on the front end , and dwells too long on the tongue. Those who feel that hops are to beer as bacon is to food (i.e. the former always improves the latter) may gladly come sip of the Golden Monkey. Those in quest of an American tripel with more balance had best look elsewhere. And that need not be far.
Served: On Tap (Yard House, Glenview)