What exactly is tripled in a tripel? The short answer is nothing! The style’s name is a nod to, but not a precise calculation of, the stronger alcoholic content in this delicious style of beer.
More than ever, there is confusion about beer styles. While they may sound-related, styles like dubbel and tripel have no relationship to double or triple IPA’s. Tripel is a beer style with roots in the Belgian Trappist beer tradition; only beer brewed by a protected and certified order of abbey monks may be called Trappist. Secular breweries will use the moniker “abbey-style” to reflect beers brewed in the Trappist tradition. The name tripel was generally used for the strongest beer in a monastery’s repertoire. The story goes that barrels were marked with X’s to signify strength, so three X’s would be for that abbey’s tripel.
Generally, a lineup of Trappist beers would consist of a few styles: a singel, a dubbel, and a tripel. At some breweries, you’ll even find quadrupels, also known as “quads.”
Pronunciation note: we pronounce all these beers the same way you would in American English. A tripel is pronounced the same way as you’d say “triple.” Dubbel is “double.” Singel, “single.”
Singel, also called patersbier, which translates to father’s beer, is like a refreshing Belgian session beer. Singles were very low in alcohol and brewed for the monks themselves to drink—these beers rarely left the abbey. Though there is a range, singels tend to be golden to light amber in color and around 5% ABV or less. They also tend to be rather “hoppy” with fruity and spicy notes from fermentation with classic Belgian yeasts.
Abbey-style Dubbel, deep amber or brown ale at around 7% ABV, was popularized by Westmalle abbey in 1926. Dubbels gain much of their flavor and color from dark candy sugars which provide notes of burnt sugar and raisins. They may perceive a bit sweet but are in fact dry and so excellent food beers for all their complementary pairing flavors.
Abbey-style Tripels are strong golden ales around 9% ABV. Simple in grain profile, Tripels gain their predominant flavors from warmer fermentations with Belgian yeasts. You can expect complex notes of orange citrus, subdued banana, spice, with floral hops. The goal is to make a Tripel that’s easy to drink despite its complexity and strength.
You can find Tripel beer and food pairings here.