The Tripel is a Belgian style of beer known for being golden in colour, complex, and quite strong. Many assume that this is an extremely old style of beer, however, while it does have its origins in traditional Belgian brewing, the first and most famous example of this beer didn’t come about until the 1930’s, with the name coming about in the 1950’s.
This name came about from the Westmalle Tripel which, while it may or may not have been the first of the style, was the first to use the name and is therefore the example used today.
The biggest “problem” (if you can call it that) with the Tripel is its strength. Typically ranging from about 7.5-12% ABV, thanks to tons of malts and the use of candy sugars, the beer is actually quite light in body. With all the complexity in this type of beer, and with the lighter body, it’s hard to notice that sheer amount of alcohol in a Tripel, so they can get a bit dangerous.
At up to 40 IBUs, Tripels also have a decent amount of IBUs considering the lightness of the style; keep in mind that and American Pale Ale ranges in IBU from 30-50. However, IBUs aren’t about the perceived bitterness of a beer, but rather the amount of actual bitterness in a beer, even if it’s masked by other things. So while a Tripel won’t stand up to a big Double IPA in terms of bittering units, it’s actually a pretty bitter beer, whether you can taste it or not!
Why is it Called Tripel?
So why did the monks at Westmalle decide to call their new beer Tripel? After all, they had been making strong ales for a very long time. According to Michael Jackson, Westmalle weren’t first to create this beer style, but they were the first to make it popular.
The name may go back to days when they simply put an X on the bottle to indicate strength. This may or may not be the case, but, as noted in the linked article, the X was used for a variety of reasons in a variety of cultures. And it also doesn’t answer the questions as to why the name “Tripel” wasn’t used until the Westmalle started using it in the 20th Century.
Other sources suggest that the style is called Tripel because it uses three times the amount of malt than standard Trappist recipes. This seems to be the more likely answer as its easily traceable and accounts for the name popping up more recently. Or maybe there’s something the monks aren’t telling us?
And the Dubbel and Quadrupel?
Unfortunately these three beers are quite different from each other. Logic would suggest that they’re all similar styles but with varying strength. However, all three have different colours, flavours, and profiles.
The Dubbel and Quadrupel have their own story, one that also involves monks and a fair bit of history into Belgian brewing. However, those two are a story for another time. At least we know about the Tripel for now.