The Belgian Abbey TRIPEL beer style is for you if you:
- want to drink a rich, complex Belgian pale ale that secretly packs a punch
- are curious about a relatively modern, distinct beer style with genuine origins in a Belgian Trappist monastery
- are keen to explore the limits of what brewers yeast is capable of when fermentation is mastered to perfection
Pale ales have been brewed in Great Britain since the early 18th century, but it was not until the invention of the Pilsner in 1842 that a light blond beer took the world by storm. Blonde beers gradually became popular in Belgium too, albeit top-fermented versions, brewed with the more expressive yeasts that lend many Belgian ales their complex character.
There are a few stories about the origins of the name ‘Tripel’, but most of these appear to be apocryphal. What is undeniable, however, is that a series of beers were brewed in abbeys with varying strengths: a single, a Dubbel (double) and a Tripel (triple). These could all be light or dark ale recipes. The name merely denoted the gravity and/or alcoholic strength.
The Westmalle brewery, a Trappist-run brewery in the northern part of Belgium, started to produce a strong golden ale in the 1930. This recipe was adapted over the next quarter century and with the addition of more aroma hops in 1956, the beer was finally branded a ‘Tripel’. This name stuck and the style is associated most with Westmalle today, although there are more imitators every year.
An Abbey Tripel beer is usually brewed just with pilsner malt and 15-20% sucrose, in order to boost the alcohol, while keeping the body relatively dry. (This is a crucial part of the recipe, often ignored by German brewers attempting this style, even though sugar is allowed in top-fermented beers!). Continental hops such as Saaz are often used. The right Belgian yeast strain is perhaps the most important aspect of brewing this style, along with the careful fermentation management to allow the yeast to work overtime to produce the fruity esters and spicy phenols that make this delicious beer style so unique.
Beer Style Guide
|Appearance:||Light golden in colour. Should be clear from the long bottle-conditioning and high flocculating yeast.|
|ABV:||Typically 8.0-9.5% ABV|
|Aroma:||Pear and banana esters, spicy phenols reminiscent of coriander, continental hop spiciness and sometimes a mild vanilla note.|
|Flavour:||Fruity esters with a long, complex flavour evolution, from herbal/spicy European hops to notes of bitter orange, with a long distinctive finish. Bitterness stands out for a Belgian pale ale. Alcohol adds some sweetness, but should be balanced overall.|
|Body:||Low to Medium body, in spite of the high starting gravity. A percentage of sucrose (simple sugar) ensures that the alcohol is pushed up without adding to the body of the beer.|
Recommended Abbey TRIPEL beer examples
- The original: Westmalle Tripel – Abdij der Trappisten van Westmalle (BE). An original strong blonde beer was created in the 1930s and this variation has had a consistent recipe since 1956, when the hop character was emphasised and the beer was given the name ‘Tripel”. Available in 330ml or the corked 750ml bottles, this is a world class beer and the author’s favourite.
- The little Brother: Achel Blond – Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis (BE). Set up with the help of Brother Thomas from Westmalle, this brewery produces the slightly dryer, crisper Tripel called “Blond”, that still maintains a lot of the clean esters of the Westmalle.
- The transatlantic connection: Golden Monkey – Victory Brewing Company (U.S.A). Although many young craft beer breweries have tried to tackle this style in the last five years, few have succeeded with the complex fermentation management required to pull it off. Golden Monkey is a rare exception – brewed with coriander, it is a touch spicier than the genuine Trappist articles, but an excellently balanced beer nonetheless.