Golden Monkey is a contradiction in a bottle. Described by fans and Victory Brewing co-founder and brewmaster Bill Covaleski as being its own style, it also had early influence over the American-made Belgian Tripel style.
“I find that fans seldom mention its style designation,” Covaleski said. “It has, essentially, become accepted as the style ‘Golden Monkey.’ That is a proud accomplishment as I see it now having a very positive social impact.”
Maybe Golden Monkey doesn’t have a defined category, because it was a name and a playful idea before it was ever a beer. Victory co-founder and brewmaster Ron Barchet said in a press release, “Bill really cracks up when he sees monkeys, and somehow he came up with this clever and strange name.”
Barchet created a celebration beer of sorts, a Belgian-style tripel, to fit the whimsical name.
Golden Monkey is almost as old as the brewery itself. Victory was founded in 1996 and the tripel debuted in 1997. Back then, more than two decades ago, Belgian beer was distributed to the United States but there weren’t many American breweries crafting Belgian styles.
“Excellent Belgian imports were well represented on shelves in the United States. then and we felt we had a great one to offer discerning customers,” Covaleski recalled.
Other American brewers seemed to notice the growing appetite for Belgian flavors in the U.S. Allagash Brewing Company, another East Coast brewery, put a tripel on the market around the same time that Golden Monkey was released. Covaleski said the two late-1990s brews compare “favorably.” He went on to say, “That is a compliment to both breweries as we love and admire what Rob Tod and Jason Perkins and crew create.”
The team at Victory wasn’t done tinkering with the Belgian style when Golden Monkey was first offered to the public in 1997. The recipe was subtly tweaked over the next few years to repress sweetness and enhance dryness as well as to bring forward the playful flavors exuded by Belgian yeast.
“The recipe has been evolved over time,” Covaleski said. “These have been small, but methodically pursued changes aimed at making a great beer better.”
A major breakthrough for the beer came during Barchet’s 2004 trip to Belgium. While sampling the country’s native brews he was inspired by a strain of yeast that did exactly what he wanted for Golden Monkey. “That yeast worked so well to maintain flavor and make it a dryer, less sweet beer,” Barchet said about the alternate Belgian yeast strain.
Could we meld the worlds of tripel and sours?”
Since then, the beer—for the most part—has remained unchanged. That dialed-in status was confirmed in front of the whole industry when Victory won the Belgian-Style Tripel category at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. Golden Monkey took home that gold medal more than 15 years after hitting the market and ten years after a change to its yeast strain.
The win gave the co-founders a sense of affirmation according to Covaleski. “We all knew how great the beers was and so it felt both wonderful and proper to have our peers validate that belief,” he said.
Another milestone for Golden Monkey occured in 2014, as it became Victory’s top seller, beating out beers the brewery was found on, including the well-known Hop Devil.
Victory’s brewers appeared to take notice of Golden Monkey’s popularity, because in mid-2015 the first Monkey spinoff beer, Sour Monkey, hit the market. Victory had opened a new facility in 2013 that provided the ability to experiment with sours and various bacteria. Creating riffs on the Golden Monkey base beer was a natural undertaking for the team.
“Sour Monkey flowed from our natural curiosity as brewers,” Covaleski said. “Could we meld the worlds of tripel and sours?”
The public answered with a resounding, “Yes,” and it became clear that consumer demand could support more Monkey spinoffs. The signature tripel is now soured, aged in rum barrels, soured and aged in oak barrels and aged in wine barrels.
“My personal favorite variant of Golden Monkey is White Monkey [aged in white wine barrels] as the beer becomes dessert-like and richer on many levels,” Covaleski said. He also hinted that more experiments are being conducted on the base beer by the brew team.
The public can expect to see Golden Monkey and its spinoffs continue to grow in variety and availability. Both Golden Monkey and Sour Monkey are now available in cans, a move made by the brewery to reach more drinkers in more situations.
“We want delicious Golden Monkey to go wherever our consumers want to take it along,” Covaleski said.
At a hefty 9.5% ABV, the style-less yet very Belgian style tripel makes for an ideal camping or tailgating beer, because contradiction is what Golden Monkey is all about.