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Call it a cardinal sin, but recently…well, I’ve not been buying Kernel.
I know, I know, it seems like some absurd torture, but I genuinely found myself passing them up in favour of others. It’s nothing to do with them per se, but I just got used to what they were about. Great IPA’s*and strong Pale Ales – in particular – were the reason for my Kernel fatigue. I knew what I was going to get; almost tasting the beer before it was poured. Sure, Kernel do what they incredibly, incredibly well, but for me it was either the Stouts and Porter or something else. The Kernel Honeymoon period was over.
At some point last summer, I felt the first twinges of this as I wished for something else. Kernel flavour – but in a less ruinous package. My cries must have*traveled*further south than I gave them credit for as, not long after, Table Beer arrived. Weighing in at 3.3% abv, it seemed like the ideal package and although it took me a while to, I actively sought it out. I’m glad I did; uber-pale and massively refreshing, it uses a pic’n'mix of new world hops (Topaz, Apollo, Pacific Jade), mixes it with good ol’ Columbus and delivers a session beer of mighty flavour. Apricot conserve on the nose, more stone-fruit peachiness throughout alongside grainy malt, and managing to finish fruity then sharply clean, it’s everything that’s good about Kernel without the alcohol.
Even calling it ‘Table Beer’ seems perfect, stamped onto that now-iconic grocer’s-paper label, hinting a tradition and setting it apart from the term ‘Session Beer’, which is what it is. It’s pitch-perfect and after seeing other people for a while, Kernel and I are an item again.
Duvel falls into a similar category without the expectation of new flavours as there’s always only been one, if you know what I mean. Supremely versatile and still a benchmark for the style, Duvel is one of those ‘store-cupboard standby’ beers, to use an unflattering term. Somehow it seems right for there only to be one beer, so well-brewed it is.
This year, however, I get my hands on my first Tripel Hop (9.5%abv), and again, it manages to confound expectation and almost redefine my long-set opinion. Instead of the usual silky, smooth body and rich, pear notes that I’m used to, Tripel Hop is light – almost spritzy – and loaded with fresh, cutting Lime and Grapefruit aroma, courtesy of the judicious use of Citra hops in it. That familiar Belgian funk loiters in the background, reminding you you’re drinking something new yet rooted in tradition, and – if you close your eyes – you can taste the brewers flexing their muscles. *God knows where the alcohol is hidden, too.
Familiar and yet entirely alien to me, it left me with a smile on my face and -*alongside the Table Beer – with a new-found respect for the brewer.