While on a trek to our more southern climes (Grand Rapids!) I bumped into a couple of Big Rapids beer aficionados at one of my regularly visited beer hook-up stations.

It’s always nice to meet other beer lovers from the area who are surveying the wide and varied offerings on the market a bit further afield.

While chatting, I was asked, “So what is this ‘quadruple’ stuff mean?”

Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer. I just kinda assumed Quadruples (correct spelling) were stronger than Tripels.

Hmmmmmm ...

So, I did a bit of investigating.

Quadruple was originally a specific style of ale produced by a very few breweries in Holland — strictly monastic brewing operations. Later, the name came to more generally describe a strong, dark ale that was really quite seasonal in design and production.

As its name would indicate, Quadruples are indeed meant to be stronger than Tripels (correct spelling) and almost always have an ABV level above 10 percent. Still, there is really quite a bit of argument in the brewing world as to whether Quadruple is a style on its own, or if the name of a specific brew was kinda highjacked.

Most brewers would simply call their stronger ales, “strong ale.”

Makes sense.

Barleywines are strong ales. There are some pretty hefty Scotch Strong Ales on the market, as there are English and Irish Strong Ales. Some (if not most) Imperial Stouts can easily be considered Strong Ales, although they might not be considered Quadruples.

A person on a beer journey might be pretty sure that an ale with “Abt” or what is called an “Abbey Quadruple” is a hefty strong ale.

The real monastic “quads” are fermented four times (somewhat like the three “X” on a moonshine or liquor bottle. The number of “X”s” indicates how many times the stuff has been run through the still). Quads are often barrel aged.

In really simplistic, and very general terms, the quad fermenting is not too unlike the idea of “reducing” in cooking. It makes any brew richer, stronger and more flavorful.

While the alcohol content by volume may increase in this style of production, the ale itself generally takes on a more creamy, velvety quality rather than having a biting boozy taste.

For those who enjoy more malt-forward brews, quads are certainly one way to go. There is virtually no hoppiness at all in quadruples.

The good folks at Beer Advocate have complied a list of the best selling quads in the U.S. Notice that a good portion of them are imports.

St. Bernardus Abt 12 — Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV

Trappistes Rochefort 10 — Brasserie de Rochefort

Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend (Quadrupel) — Brewery Ommegang

Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII) — Brouwerij Westvleteren (Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren)

The Sixth Glass — Boulevard Brewing Co.

Pannepot — De Struise Brouwers

La Trappe Quadrupel (Koningshoeven / Dominus) — Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven B.V.5

The Reverend — Avery Brewing Company

Christmas Ale — Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV

Bourbon Barrel Quad (BBQ) — Boulevard Brewing Co.

Number three, Three Philosophers, is one of my favorites ales, and one I heartily recommend at the drop of a hat.

Number four is produced at a brewery that many of those in the know consider to be producing the absolute best beer in the world.

And now ... for this week’s reviews.

Fortunato

Tri-City Brewing Company

Bay City 

Fortunato is quite a taste treat, and certainly well recommended for a nice sip on a cold winter’s day.

This complex, yet ever so delicate, brew pours an inviting brown color with flecks of red sparkling out. There is little head.

There is a well defined yeasty scent that one often finds in Belgian-style ales. Fortunato has something of a musky aroma, but this is balanced with the scent of some darker fruits — a touch of plums.

This is one of those beers that benefits from sitting and warming in a chalice or deep wine glass. The taste starts off a bit fruity with a touch of lemon zest tartness. Then, as it warms, there is a hint of spiciness and more of the dark fruits. There are certainly earthy elements in the background.

Fortunato has a bit more “muscle” than some might expect, with a touch of boozy bite. This is not necessarily a bad thing — if you’re sitting in front of a fire and pondering on “The Big Question.”

The immediate question, however, is “Does this really rate as a Belgian Strong Pale Ale?”

Honestly, I’m not too sure.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this brew tremendously after a session of cutting wood in the yard. It really was just what was called for with a light snow drifting down, and a touch of a kick in the bottle.

I enjoyed Fortunato A LOT. But ... having said that, it’s a bit of a stretch to compare this to most of the Belgian brews I so admire (Chimay and the like). Still, you ought to give it a try.

Pumpkinhead Ale

Shipyard Brewing Co.

Portland, Maine

While this pumpkin offering was pretty decent, I would be less than honest if I wrote it was one of the best in its genre.

It’s not.

Nevertheless, Pumpkinhead is refreshing and does offer up the pumpkin pie tastes so many people are looking for in a brew of this style.

It pours a lightish yellow. Honestly, I would expect a bit of deeper color — especially considering the proposed star-of-the-show ingredient.

There is a good bit of head that lasts and leaves a healthy lacing.

This brew has all the almost inherent scents one would expect from a pumpkin ale — very cinnamony, with nutmeg, hints of ginger and just a touch of the pumpkin squash aroma. It’s nice, to be sure, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The taste is not subtle. There is a lot of the aroma carried through to the tasting process — cinnamon, pumpkin pie spicing. To be honest, it tastes a bit fake — almost TOO pumpkin pie-like.

This is a decent seasonal beer, but just a bit too ... I guess, artificial. I have had some great, well-balanced, subtle and exciting pumpkin style beers.

This, sadly, just isn’t one of them.

Overall, Pumpkinhead isn’t bad. It’s simply a bit disappointing considering what we’re waiting for from good, upstanding pumpkin ales at this time of year.

I would drink it again, but I probably wouldn’t buy it again.