Source of Styles #11: Dubbels / Tripels

Source of Style 11 Front

Welcome to the eleventh in our series of “Source of Styles”, with this focus being on dubbels / tripels which are perhaps the best export Belgium has given to the world – besides their Belgian french fries of course! Due to the inextricable link between the two styles of beers, we’ve decided to put them into one category.

The main reasoning for this is that the names refer to the amount of malt used during the mashing process, the stage in which sugars are extracted from the malts to make the wort. As the names imply, dubbel, or double, uses twice the amount of malt than a “regular” beer, while a tripel, or triple, uses three times the amount of malt. The beers themselves refer to a regular beer having an abv of 3%, the dubbel being around 6%, and the tripel being around 9%.

The first brewery to produce these styles of beers was the Westmalle Brewery, located in Belgium. Westmalle Brewery is based on the grounds of The Trappist abbey in Westmalle Westmalle Brewery, which opened in 1794. At the time, there was no brewing occuring at the site, but it was about 40 years later the head monk decided to open the brewery to allow for the production of beers. At the time the monks originally brewed beer for themselves, hence the oft-used term “trappist beer”. It wasn’t until much later that the head brewers at the time brewed the original dubbel beer in 1856, before being marketed to the public five years later in 1861. Over time, the recipe has changed but for most people, if you mention the word dubbel, then the Westmalle Dubbel is the one held up as standard bearer for the style.

In 1932 Hendrik Verlinden produced a golden strong pale ale for his own brewery, the Witkap Pater. It was a strong blonde ale which was based on a blonde beer the monks had been brewing sporadically since 1931.In 1933, Westmalle released a beer under the name Superbier that was similar in appearance and taste to Verlinden’s. In 1956, the recipe was modified by the head brewer of Westmalle, Brother Thomas with the addition of extra hops and at that point, it became known as Tripel. In 1956, Westmalle renamed their effort Tripel. However, the popularity of the brand ensured the name is still strongly associated with the Westmalle brewery even though both the term and the style of beer existed before 1956. This change in the name of the beer also led to the Westmalle Tripel changing one other important factor – the colour. In the past, tripels were much darker than they are now.

American breweries have also dabbled in the dubbel and tripel market; however, rather than making them Americanised – thinking of American pale ales and IPAs having a stronger focus on hops than malts and yeast. Belgian beers have been popular in Japan since the 90s, with the big brands of Chimay Red, Westmallle, and Trappistes Rochefort 6 found on some of the beer shelves in Japan.

Dubbel / Tripels Appearance, Aroma and Taste

Here’s the guidelines from the BJCP for what makes a dubbel a double, and a tripel a triple.

Dubbel

  • Appearance: Dark amber to copper in color. Generally clear. Large, dense, and long-lasting creamy off-white head.
  • Aroma: Rich-sweet malty aroma, possibly with hints of chocolate, caramel and/or toast. Esters sometimes include banana or apple. Spicy phenols and higher alcohols are common. Alcohol, if present, is soft and never hot.
  • Taste:  Rich, complex medium to medium-full rich-sweet malt flavor on the palate yet finishes moderately dry. Complex malt, ester, alcohol and phenols. Balance is always toward the malt.
  • Characteristic Ingredients: Belgian yeast strains prone to production of higher alcohols, esters, and phenolics are commonly used. Traditional versions are typically Belgian Pils malt with caramelized sugar syrup or other unrefined sugars providing much of the character.

Tripel

  • Appearance: Deep yellow to deep gold in color. Good clarity. Effervescent. Long-lasting, creamy, rocky, white head.
  • Aroma: Spiciness, moderate fruity esters and low alcohol and hop aromas. Generous spicy, peppery, sometimes clove-like phenols. Esters are often reminiscent of citrus fruits such as oranges, but may sometimes have a slight banana character
  • Taste:  Low to moderate phenols are peppery in character.  A low to moderate spicy hop character is usually found. Alcohols are soft, spicy, and low in intensity. Bitterness is typically medium to high from a combination of hop bitterness and yeast-produced phenolics.
  • Characteristic Ingredients: Pilsner malt, typically with pale sugar adjuncts. Saazer-type hops or Styrian Goldings are commonly used. Belgian yeast strains are used – those that produce fruity esters, spicy phenolics and higher alcohols – often aided by slightly warmer fermentation temperatures.

Japanese Dubbels / Tripels

Daisen G Beer Dubbel

Locobeer Tripel

Songbird Moderne

Recommended Dubbel / Tripels from Overseas

Let’s be honest – if you’re going to try a style of beer, then it’s also worth trying out some of the overseas beers. Here’s some foreign dubbels and tripels we also recommend. Check out the label on the bottle to see when the beer was bottled, and also ask how the beer was imported. Was it in a cold chain from start to finish? Was the beer stored in a chilled environment in store? If the shop assistant can’t, or doesn’t know the answer, then give it a miss.

  • Westmalle Dubbel (Belgium)
  • Chimay Red (Belgium)
  • Westmalle Tripel (Belgium)
  • Chimay White (Belgium)
  • Maredsous 10 Tripel (Belgium)
  • St. Bernardus Tripel (Belgium)
  • Unibroue La Fin du Monde (Canada)
  • New Belgian Abbey (USA)
About the Author

Rob

Been drinking beer since longer than I can remember. You can find me in a bar, on the slopes, or doing DIY. I enjoy porters, imperial porters, golden ales, and amber / viennas.

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