Counting In Dutch Made Easy: The Tripel

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If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen a beer or two labeled as a “Tripel” and thought to yourself, “Triple the what? Alcohol? Hops? Fun? And why is it spelled so strangely?” Being the curious person I am, when I first saw this I immediately purchased one, and got straight on the internet to find out what this Tripel style was all about. That was 3 years ago, while I was still a student in college. Since that day, I have come to love this style for its well rounded malt flavor, exciting spice additions and yeast character, and, most of all, its versatility.

The Tripel is another Belgian style developed by the monks and popularized by the Trappist monastery at Westmalle. The name is in reference to the strength of the wort used to make the beer. In beer production, the brewer soaks the barley or other grains in hot water (a process called malting) to germinate the kernels and then stops the germination by blasting the barley malt with hot air (a process called kilning). How much the malt is kilned gives the beer its color. The palest lagers’ and hefeweizens’ wort is very, very lightly kilned while the darkest stouts are fully roasted to give the black color and roasty flavor. The malting process converts the starches of the barley into sugars while the kilning stops the barley from eating its own sugars to germinate and grow. This ensures the optimal levels of sugars remain in the malted barley for fermentation. Once kilning is complete, the malted barley is now called wort (pronounced wurt) which contains all the fermentable sugars the yeast will feast upon later in the brewing process to create the final beer. The Belgian monks devised a system of beer production based on different strengths of wort with gradually increasing fermentable sugars, achieved by using more and more barley in the production of the wort. They named their different strengths Singel, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel in the native Dutch tongue.

The Tripel style, therefore, is among the strongest of the Belgian monastic brews. Usually ranging between 7.5%-9.5% ABV and 20-40 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), the Tripel is a golden and effervescent drink that embraces exotic spice and white sugar additions as well as aromatic and flavorful Belgian yeast fermentation by-products. Tripels are often display well rounded and soft pale malt body, with subdued hop bitterness and highlighted spice and yeast flavors like crushed black pepper and clove, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, or bananas, and floral or perfumy hop aromas. Because of white sugar additions to the wort, the ABV is always surprisingly high for the medium body and easy drinkability. Most Tripels have a satisfyingly dry finish, especially among the Trappist versions, and are bottle-conditioned for added flavor, freshness, and durability. Overall, the Tripel style is a happy marriage of spicy , fruity, and alcoholic flavors supported by a soft pale malt character.

Tripels To Try

Chimay Tripel (White)
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Pouring a golden amber-yellow with a thick, white, fizzy head and slight haziness, the Chimay Tripel exhibits banana and clove aromas and flavor with a soft pale malt backbone. Overall a fine Tripel but not quite as complex or deep in flavor as the Westmalle.

St. Bernardus Tripel
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A delicious and easy drinking Tripel, that showcases spicy, fruity, and biscuity notes with a balanced finish. The St. Bernardus is more drinkable than some other Tripels but also not as complex. This beer makes for a perfect companion to food.

Westmalle Tripel
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The original and, in my opinion, the best. Bearing a definite banana and clove flavor enhanced by a biscuity pale malt profile and spicy yeast phenols, the Westmalle deftly balances fruity, spicy, malty, and alcoholic flavors. Showcasing a dry finish but with some residual maltiness on the tongue, this beer is an experience all to itself.

Tripel Karmeliet
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A great example of a finely crafted Belgian Abbey Tripel, exhibiting notes of clove and banana with soft pale malt character and heavy malt mouthfeel. Crisp, cleansing carbonation revives the palate for next gulp. The Karmeliet’s complexity coupled with its overall well-rounded-ness make it beguiling brew.

Allagash Tripel
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Light, zesty, fruity, and bubbly, this Tripel defies logic in its light-bodied-ness and supple flavors. Less malty on the drink but slowly building in prominence in the finish, the honey, light spices, and citrus flavors shine. Overall the Allagash is a nice and strong Tripel, but displays much more refreshing quality than most. It is very close to a Saison in body and citrus character.

Victory Golden Monkey
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A nice quaff, very drinkable and exhibiting tasty peppery/clovey Belgian yeast notes with medium pale malt biscuity-ness. It falls a little short of Trappist and Abbey Tripels by not incorporating as much traditional Belgian yeast character and a little too much citrusy-ness. However, the citrus notes displayed resonate well with the spice notes to make this a successful American interpretation of the Belgian classic.

Beer and Food Pairing
The Tripel style is magnificently versatile with food because it balances vastly different flavors. Because it exhibits citrus fruit, spice, pepper, and biscuit notes, the Tripel harmonizes with many different meats, grains, and pre-meal nibbles. If you are a seafood fan, try a Tripel with grilled or broiled swordfish, sea urchins, or octopus or with a hot bowl of bouillabaisse. Tripels also pair well with land creatures such quail, duck, goose, and rabbit, especially if dressed in a Tripel-infused sauce and served with lightly spiced risotto. If you think that wine is the only thing that can pair with pasta, you’re wrong! Tripels make delicious companions to cream based pasta dishes like Fettucini Alfredo or Pasta Carbonara, as well as pesto sauces. Continuing with the Italian themed meal, olives make terrific pre-meal nibbles when served with a Tripel. So the next time you are hosting big seafood, poultry, or pasta night, consider giving the tired white wines a break and try a Tripel!

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