Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde Tripel Ale goes 15th century on your taste buds

By Emily Brightman

Flickr/Bernt Rostad
Flickr/Bernt Rostad

Like many arts writers, I have a bit of a penchant for the dramatic (in case the weekly bombast of this column wasn’t enough of an indication). The aesthetic of melodrama permeates the crevices of pop culture with ubiquitous force, as evidenced by the increasingly bizarre antics and wardrobes of entertainers, and the daytime programming travesty known as “reality television.” While the culture continues to vacillate between farcical extremes of conservative and outlandish, the post-Cold War era has given rise to few tropes as exaggerated as notions of the “end of the world.” Though the much-fretted-about year of 2012 came and went without so much as a blip on the apocalyptic radar, our collective conscience remains haunted by phantom mushroom clouds and hyperbolic visions of natural disasters, seeping into our paranoid collective conscience with all the fury of George Orwell’s dystopian prophecies.

Histrionics of my vocabulary aside, these were my thoughts upon discovering Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde Tripel on a recent boozing expedition. Given the ominous implications of the beer’s name, my inner literature nerd was all a-twitter with excitement to pen a heated diatribe rife with apocalyptic metaphors and at least one reference to the 1931 Abel Gance film of the same name. Upon further investigation, however, I was slightly disheartened to learn that “La Fin du Monde,” as it relates to the beer, is not actually a theatrical ploy aimed at melodrama, but rather a proverbial tip of the hat to an ancient brewing tradition. Although augmenting my wealth of beer knowledge is always a welcome experience, my marginal disappointment at having to restrain my apocalyptic rhetoric is worth mentioning, if not just for comedic purposes.

“La Fin du Monde,” literally translated from French as “the end of the world,” is one of Unibroue’s most popular year-round brews and, according to the brewery’s website, has won more domestic and international awards than any other Canadian beer. First introduced in 1994, La Fin du Monde’s name derives from the 15th century, when confused European explorers, who upon discovering North America, believed that they had reached the literal “end of the world.” Featuring a haloed map of Quebec, a nod to the brewery’s province of origin, the label on this brew conveys an almost sepulchral seriousness, as if to say “Consider your worthiness before you drink.” Perhaps this is merely just my overly-reverent interpretation of events, but then again, I have been known to hyperbolize every now and then when it comes to beer.

This historical gem of a brew is billed as a “Tripel,” based on the Belgian style of Trappist beer brewing and so named for its use of triple the amount of malt in a standard Trappist beer. While this specific brewing practice originated in Belgium, there are currently ten Trappist breweries perpetuating the style: six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Austria and the most recent one established at Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer last year. Though Unibroue is not explicitly a Trappist brewery, many of its beers are brewed in traditional Belgian style, and their inspirations derive from Trappist brewing practices. According to Unibroue’s website, La Fin du Monde was specifically brewed to mimic the style of beer created by Trappist monks in the mid-15th century, making it the first Trappist-style ale to be brewed in North America at the time of its initial release.

Poured from a 750mL bottle into a tulip beer glass, La Fin du Monde’s hazy golden hue begets an inch-thick white head that retains its creamy consistency in the lacing. A solid layer of sediment swirled up from the base of the bottle mix with champagne-like carbonation creates a hearty mouth feel belied by its medium body. Citrus notes in the nose are readily apparent, layered over a distinctly sweet malt component mixed with aromas akin to floral scents. The most prominent flavor element in the first sip is a honey-like sweetness that is almost syrupy in consistency, but is subsequently balanced out by the marriage of bitterness and alcohol in the finish. Hints of banana and spice mingle in the aftertaste for an overall smooth drinking experience that, surprisingly enough, is not tainted by a higher percentage of alcohol. This seamless merging of tart citrus and sweet malt makes for a drinking experience that is equal parts delicious and unexpected.

There is certainly something to be said for the delicacy of pairing craft beer and food, an art form I like to pretend I have some skill at, but, given the limits of my food budget as a student, can really only halfheartedly ham-fist my way through. Unibroue’s head brewer recommends pairing La Fin du Monde with salty cheeses or seafood dishes, but for those of us who subsist on a diet of Ramen Noodles and General Mills cereals, I recommend this ale as a complement to Mexican dishes or any meal that relies heavily on spice. Through exhaustive research, I’ve also found that La Fin du Monde is an excellent companion to Thai food, in that the sweetness of the beer meshes deliciously with the heat of exotic spices in typical Thai cuisine. Of course if all else fails, there is something to be said for the consistently happy marriage of pizza and beer, as college students are well aware.

La Fin du Monde may not exactly tickle your sardonic sensibilities of foreboding doom, but the kitsch of the beer’s history warrants praise on the merit of preserving an ancient brewing practice still held in highest regard. This is a beer for the history buff as well as the brewing geek, as it satisfies both obsessions with equal measure without buckling under the weight of its own unique crafting. It may not come equipped with a Doomsday Survival Kit, but you can still have a hearty laugh at the expense of some long-deceased Europeans who lacked some critical map-reading skills. And if we can’t laugh at our own history, then we might as well drink to it.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]