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.