The Tripel is one of Belgium’s best known beers. The roots of the style are in old monastic brewing traditions, but the style was first commercially sold as a “Tripel” by the Monks at Westmalle in 1956. Here’s an important note… Tripel is not necessarily Trappist. Trappist Ales are brewed by Trappist monks in Monasteries or Abbeys. Commercial breweries make Abbey Ales; brewed in the Abbey style, but not by monks.
Tripels may have similar flavors to Dubbels, but the big differentiators are color and alcohol content. Some Tripels pour hazy because the style is bottle conditioned (secondary fermentation in the bottle to carbonate the beer). In the aroma you’ll notice spices, fruit, sweetness and maybe a touch of alcohol. With some, you’ll also get hop bitterness. You’ll taste pepper, citrus, malt and Belgian candi sweetness that fades to a creamy, dry finish. The beers are highly carbonated compared to most American ales. They are surprisingly easy to drink yet push 9.5% ABV; a dangerous combination, indeed. Tripels are best warmed to at least 50 degrees. Never serve one fresh out of the fridge. They are very complex and serving them cold dulls your ability to taste all the goodness.
Ironically, Tripels are lighter in color than Dubbels, from pale gold to pale amber, measuring in at 4.5-7 SRM.* Hop bitterness may be apparent, but it is often overshadowed by rich sweetness. IBUs* range from 20-40. Tripels are big beers, ranging from 7.5-9.5% ABV.* You may put a few away after mowing the lawn, but you’ll be taking a nap soon after.
It’s hard to talk about Tripel without mentioning Westmalle. The good brothers at the Westmalle Abbey make the classic style-defining Tripel. It’s sweet, dry, spicy, fruity, bitter and floral. It’s one of the most balanced beers you’ll ever drink. A good modern US interpretation of the style is New Belgium Trippel. While lighter is every way from the Westmalle, it’s delicious in its own right. It’s less spicy and you’ll notice coriander and floral hop aromas and flavors.
Besides Westmalle and New Belgium, be sure to try the classics from Chimay Cinq Cents, St. Bernardus Tripel, De Koningshoeven La Trappe Tripel, Unibroue La Fin du Monde, Tripel Karmeliet, Victory Golden Monkey, Allagash Tripel and Anderson Valley Brother David’s. And it may sound sacrilegious, but one of my favorite Tripels comes in a tall-boy can, Velvet Rooster from Tallgrass.
Tripels are big and complex which provide a variety of choices to match intensity with bold foods. It works well with spicy dishes like Cajun or Thai, but is versatile enough to go with a simple margherita pizza. Tripels are one of the best beers for game birds like pheasant and quail. Roasted venison would is delightful too. Tripel is a great beer for cheese pairing, try Bleu, Gorgonzola, or a more adventurous washed-rind cheese. Not all beers do desert, but Tripel will, especially with your mom’s peach cobbler.
The perfect choice for Westmalle Tripel is a Westmalle Chalice. Most Belgian breweries have their own custom glassware. If you don’t have brewery glasses, tulip glass are perfect. The New Belgium glass is ideal for their Trippel too. Ask your friendly neighborhood Beer Ranger to hook you up. Cheers!
*Standard Reference Method (color)
*International Bitterness Units (hop alpha-acid utilization)
*Alcohol by Volume
All quantitative specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide