by Luc De Raedmaeker
Author of The Belgian Beer Book
In the mighty world of beer there are a few styles that are considered true classics: the Tripel is undoubtedly one of them. You may already be familiar with the Westmalle, Chimay and Sint-Bernardus Tripels, but what exactly is a Tripel?
What exactly is a Tripel?
The answer to this question is not as clear-cut as you might think. Officially, it’s usually described as a heavy, top-fermented beer with a colour that ranges from blonde to amber. In terms of alcohol content, Tripels tend to contain between 7 to 9.5%ABV, but they can go substantially higher. The flavour is malty, with sweet and bitter elements and a strong fruitiness.
This definition isn’t set in stone, however.
In fact, there is much disagreement among beer lovers and drinkers on what constitutes a Tripel. In short, there is lots of variation within the Tripel beer style. The description above is not by any means definitive and is purely based on subjective observations.
Let’s start with some context.
The name ‘Tripel’ was perhaps originally used to differentiate these beers from ‘Dubbel’ beers. In Belgium, a ‘Dubbel’, or ‘Double’, is a beer in which two times as many ingredients are used as in a standard beer, resulting in intensified flavours. This category largely consists of brown beers with around 7.5% alcohol. Good examples of such beers are the Affligem and Grimbergen Dubbels.
Tripels take it one step further. They’re top-fermented beers that have been re-fermented in the bottle to create a flavour that’s even more dense and intense than a Dubbel. Still, that doesn’t mean that the flavour is three times as intense or that three times as much malt or hops are used. Such high proportions would actually be impossible to brew.
“There are ‘Tripel’ beers on the market that are poles apart from the Belgian Tripels”
The Tripel is a hard one to define, primarily because some brewers use the term Tripel purely as a marketing tool. It’s not generally the Belgian brewers who do this, but rather brewers in other countries, where they have less of a problem bending the definition of the Tripel. Consequently, there are ‘Tripel’ beers on the market that are poles apart from the Belgian Tripels.
Modern Tripels are fruity, dry, and have plenty of carbonation and a nice bitterness. They are sometimes known for being dangerously easy to drink.