Friday, April 17, 2009

Talking Head: Style Sheet: Belgian Tripel

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2009 at 4:32 PM

click to enlarge The original Superbier: Westmalle Tripel
  • The original Superbier: Westmalle Tripel

The Belgian-style tripel ale makes a great springtime beer, savored on a breezy patio with your trusty laptop, or paired with fresh spring salads. Spring tends to make me feel a little bit drunk, so I have to be careful of the velvet hammer of the tripel's strength, typically 8-10%, especially since they are so easy-drinking. The monks of Westmalle Abbey in Malle first to brew the tripel in 1934, dubbing it "Superbier." The current name refers to the use of three times the malt of a standard abbey-style ale.

Tripels are characterized by a relatively light color, fruity flavors, and a flowery, spicy character being more prominent than hop bitterness. Candi sugar (dextrose) is typically used to increase the alcoholic strength while keeping the body light. Belgian yeast strains contribute to the style's complex aromas and flavors. Fruity esters of orange, banana and pineapple are commonly present. White pepper and clove spiciness from the yeast is complemented by floral hop aromas. Here are three excellent examples of the style, all widely available, one each from Belgium, Canada, and the United States.

Westmalle Tripel (Trappist Monastery of Westmalle, Malle, BEL, 9.5% ABV) is the original animal. Yellow-gold and glowing like an egg yolk, it sports a fizzy head of stacked beads that is fed by a steady stream of bubbles. The aroma is slightly sweet and floral, with notes of brandied fruit and a faint funkiness. The taste is bright and loaded with orange zest, pineapple, medicinal phenols, lemon drops, and just a hint of the underlying pale, powdery malts. The firm bitterness is countered with a quinine sweetness that is anything but cloying. Dry and quenching, think of it as a tonic for what ales you.

La Fin du Monde (Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec, CAN, 9% ABV) pours a hazy, orangish-gold with minimal head. The aroma is full of citrus, tropical fruit and hibiscus, along with a bit of floral soapiness. It smells like Florida. The taste is balanced and refreshing, with orange and pineapple fruitiness and earthy, soothing spices. A honey sweetness is tempered by a moderate bitterness that comes in late, tongue-tickling and peppery. It's clear why this is so well-loved among craft beer enthusiasts. Exotic and etheral, it rises above the level of mere beer.

Allagash Tripel (Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, ME, 9% ABV) is a deep, brassy gold with a thick, globby, 3-finger head that settles oh-so slowly. The nose is spicy and floral with a hint of lemon. On the tongue, a honey sweetness, light bready yeastiness and banana hit first, followed by mild herbs and spices like clove, lemongrass, and an earthy bitterness from the tangy yeast. Nearly full-bodied, but very smooth.

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