tripel

Tripel: A Holy TrinityWhat exactly is a Tripel?

In the world of beer there are a few styles that are considered true classics. The Tripel is one of them. You’re probably already very familiar with the Westmalle, Chimay and Sint-Bernardus Tripels. But what exactly is a Tripel?

The answer to this question may seem obvious. Surely any self-respecting beer expert should be able to answer this question at the drop of a hat. But it’s actually not as clear-cut as you might think. If you search for the official definition of a Tripel, you get the following: “a heavy, top-fermented beer that is re-fermented in the bottle. The colour varies from blonde to amber. A Tripel usually contains between 7 and 9.5% alcohol (%ABV), with some Tripels containing up to 11%.” The definition of the Tripel is not set in stone. In fact, there is much disagreement among beer lovers and drinkers on what constitutes a Tripel. The flavour of this popular style is described as: “Malty, somewhat sweet and bitter with a strong fruitiness.” In conclusion, there is lots of variation within the Tripel style. The definition above is not, by any means, definitive and is purely based on subjective observations.

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. 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. However, 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.

So do Tripels contain more alcohol? Yes, but the alcohol content is not only dependent on the amount of barley that’s used. Sugar is often added (in glucose form) to create beers with a high alcohol content and higher carbonation. Where does the Tripel come from? We’re not entirely clear on that either. Some say the style originated in the Westmalle Abbey. The Westmalle monks brewed their first Tripel back in 1934. Other sources point to the Middle Ages. Supposedly, barrels of weak beer intended for the poor were marked with a single cross. The barrels for the monks and their paying guests were marked with two crosses. And the barrels for the abbot and his privileged guests were marked with (you guessed it!) three crosses.

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, have plenty of carbonation and a nice bitterness. Tripels are sometimes dangerously easy to drink.

The Westmalle Tripel is the mother of all Tripels and is often considered  as the ultimate reference beer for the Tripel beer style. In 1933, the brewery at the Westmalle Abbey was renovated and expanded. The monks then used their upgraded brewery to concoct a beer called ‘Superbier’, which was later renamed ‘Tripel’. However, the first Tripel was actually launched by Henrik Verlinden in 1932: the Witkap Pater. In 1956, the Superbier recipe was modified at the Abbey by Brother Thomas and the Westmalle Tripel was born.

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