3.5AROMA 7/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 7/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 14/20
As a critic of many mediums for almost 20 years now I’ve come to realize that not everything is everyone’s cup of tea. Certain things can be outstanding examples of whatever it is they represent, but only to specific audiences.
But there are also certain items which are indeed “acquired tastes” but also transcend to the mainstream as at least a quality product. Unibroue’s “La Fin Du Monde” is a perfect example of this in the world of beer. It’s a French-Canadian take on a Belgian Trappist “tripel” style – now if that description alone doesn’t indicate how niche of a beer this is, I don’t know what will.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
The name of this beer literally translates to “The end of the world,” and considering that name you might expect something dark and bloody like an amber ale, but the opposite is actually true. Perhaps they should have called this “The beginning of the world” since the color is a golden maize hue like the rising sun on a hot summer day.
The body itself is very hazy to the point of actually being opaque despite its light, apricot-skin color. Since this beer is bottle-fermented there is noticeable carbonation due to the heavy yeast addition although the bubbles are tiny. The head is surprisingly fizzy and evaporates quickly and leaves very little lacing on the glass.
The aroma is very spicy with hints of banana and clove not unlike a hefeweizen, but not quite as strong. There’s also a bread-like component and maybe a bit of dryness, as well as some alcohol. It’s inviting, but the scent alone tells me this is no light brew.
The hardest part of being a beer critic is describing flavor since language and the human sense of taste are vastly different things. Some flavors are difficult to describe and I’d say La Fin Du Monde is a great example of this. But to state it as plainly as possible, I’d say this beer is very spicy. I do get a bit of banana and clove but they take a back seat to a mélange of spices. In fact, there’s so many of them I don’t think I can detect or distinguish any individual flavors (nutmeg and cinnamon perhaps).
I do appreciate the fact this beer has such a complex palate because the overall taste did indeed change as I drank. It starts out rather light with a slight fruity/citrusy taste which quickly retreats as the spices take over. There’s also some vanilla to the palate which gives the beer a sweet taste. However, once the yeast makes itself known, the palate then becomes much drier and words like bready, powdery, and doughy come to mind.
La Fin Du Monde is all about the malts, but even more so the yeast (it is triple-fermented with live yeast added to the bottle, after all). As I hop head I’d probably prefer something more bitter, but because it’s so tasty I found it enjoyable. The only caveat (and this is a biggie), is that it’s so spicy it can be overwhelming. Not that the spices are bad, just that they’re a lot to take in all at once. This is an example of where having the proper acquired taste would make the beer seem even better, but it’s at least enjoyable.
Trying to describe the ease of drinking this beer may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s not. There are two distinct factors here: the mouthfeel itself is soft and gentle and for such a potent beer does not warm as it goes down. However, it is the spices that dance on the palate and the yeast leaves a dry, powder-like aftertaste which I don’t care for. I almost wanted to follow every swig with a sip of water. The spices also pack such a punch that it’s difficult to drink this beer in anything larger than medium sips (and for a beer geek like me who usually drinks by the gulps that’s really saying something).
I’m not a fan of “big beers,” since the alcohol tends to outshine the palate and the potency can make a beer too filling too fast. For a beer that is quite heavy at 9% ABV, Unibroue’s tripel does a great job of masking it in both the flavor and the weight. Really, the only thing heavy about this beer is the palate, but otherwise it’s fairly light on its toes.
As a budding beer connoisseur I was able to enjoy Unibroue’s “La Fin Du Monde” for what it was. As much as I understand and appreciate the craftsmanship and the distinction to a beer of this style and by a brewery with such a good reputation, I wouldn’t honestly consider it among the best of the best. It’s a very good beer, though. What I do like is its ability to perform that rare feat of satisfying the pedestrian drinker while also working as a connoisseur’s delight.