Belgium is famous for its strong beers. Tripel might be the crown jewel of the small country’s diverse stylistic range. Golden, spicy, fruity, and oh-so smooth, Belgian Tripel is a luxurious and delicious beer.
Belgian Tripel is a strong pale ale, between 8 to 12% ABV. It’s defined by distinct notes of bready malts, herbaceous and floral hops, and complex fruit and spice from the yeast. The original and arguably best, Tripel Westmalle, is a work of art. The archetype of the Tripel style, Westmalle’s version serves as an inspiration for brewers around the world.
Tripel is a traditional and delicate beer style. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity. Breweries from Belgian and around the world brew some interesting and delicious takes on the classic genre.
Highly carbonated, with distinctive notes of spice, banana, and candied sugar, Tripels range between 8 to 12% ABV. They remain deceptively drinkable, despite this elevated alcohol content. A light and very smooth body carries notes of bready and sweet malts blended with spicy, European hops. Specially selected yeast drives the flavor profile. Distinct esters and phenols create fruity and light clove-like aromatics.
Tripels are a traditional Belgian beer, originating from Catholic monastic brewing tradition. The first use of the term Tripel dates back to the Trappist brewery, Westmalle, in 1956. We’ll come back to Westmalle Tripel a bit later…
Belgian Tripels can approach an alcohol content as high as 12% ABV. The best examples hide this through careful fermentation control.
Tripel is a unique genre in that it’s not bitter or overly hoppy, but still very pale in color. Most of the flavor comes from the fermentation. Yeast selection and fermentation temperature play vital roles to create tasty esters and phenols. It’s a strong beer that leaves almost no room for error in masking fermentation derived off-flavors. Hot alcohols, fusels, diacetyl, or solvent-like flavors have no place in well-brewed Tripels.
Rich, full-bodied mouthfeel should be balanced with a delicate hop bitterness. Some examples may exhibit accentuated hop flavor, but this is more the exception than the rule. A refreshing, dry finish amplified by very spritzy carbonation are hallmarks of the style.
Yeast character is pronounced in great Tripels. It leans towards fruity esters, like banana, pear, or bubblegum, blended with light spicy phenolics.
The Belgian Tripel style is open to interpretation. In Belgium and around the world, brewers make calculated ingredient choices to define their own Tripels. Only a handful of breweries have mastered the difficult skill of Tripel brewing – here are the 10 best examples.
Trappist Westmalle is the second largest Trappist brewery in Belgium. It’s located in a serene and picturesque setting in North Eastern Belgium, not far from Antwerp. Since 1836, the monks at the Westmalle Abbey have brewed beers for the monastery, and eventually the world.
Westmalle Tripel is considered the archetype for the Tripel style.
Pouring a slightly hazy golden yellow with a puffy white head, fine carbonation rolls through the glowing body. Estery banana notes from the yeast and spicy hoppiness immediately fill the nose. A full mouthfeel and a delicately fine balance of sweetness and hoppy bitterness coat the tongue. A warming 9.5% ABV creates a luscious, comforting experience without a trace of alcoholic bite.
American legends in Belgian-style brewing, it’s no surprise that Allagash makes one of the country’s best Tripels. Launched along with their now discontinued Dubbel, the classic Belgian pair was unique in the American market. The high drinkability and uniqueness of their Tripel has made it a staple in their lineup for years.
A unique Tripel, marked by its mixed-spice nose and flavor profile. Coriander, black pepper, and clove lead into banana and honey-like sweetness. Balanced bitterness keeps the 9% ABV drinkable, with a nice, long dry finish. Yeast-forward, but delicate, this is the type of perfection we’ve come to expect from Portland, Maine’s Allagash.
Artisanal beer in the Canadian province of Quebec has flourished since the early days of the craft beer movement. Among its pioneers is Unibroue – specialists in Belgian-style ales since 1992. Their most popular beer, Fin Du Monde, is an outstanding example of a Belgian Tripel. It’s introduced countless North American beer drinkers to the world of Belgian beer.
An intense mix of complex esters – banana, pear, even bubblegum – fill the nose, mixed with spicy cloviness. Citrus, from the yeast and hops, mix with subtle floral notes and clean malt. The mouthfeel is full, but with a perfectly dry, lingering finish. Fin Du Monde is easily a top-three Tripel in the world.
As the smallest Trappist brewery in Belgium, Achel focuses on just two beers: a Tripel and a Dubbel. This limited and unique simplicity sets their brewing apart from their Monastic counterparts. Achel Blond is a straightforward and very easy drinking Tripel. It has a rustic and exceptionally well-crafted balance.
Light maltiness provides a crisp backbone that feeds their unique yeast to produce a spicy and fruity complexity. Hoppy for a Tripel, Achel 8° Blond is modern but never loses touch with its traditional roots. A very delicious and special beer from this small North Belgian monastery.
Nestled at the end of the narrowest street in Bruges, De Garre is a historic pub in one of the world’s great cities. Inside, you’ll find beer loving locals and tourists indulging in goblets of Tripel De Garre. House rules state that you’re only allowed three glasses in one sitting. At 11% ABV, that’s usually plenty – especially for eager tourists not used to Belgian beer.
Pouring a beautiful golden-yellow with a dense, sticky head, Tripel De Garre is packed with spice backed by biscuity malts. One of the smoothest Tripels in Belgium, it has a cloud-like mouthfeel that is refreshing but begs to be sipped slowly.
A one-of-a-kind Tripel served in one of the great beer establishments in the world. Luckily, a small amount is also sold in bottles – definitely worth seeking out if you can’t make it to Bruges.
Even under the scorching Florida sun, Tripels can be refreshing and appropriate. Especially when left in the hands of one of Tampa’s best breweries, Coppertail Brewing Co. They’ve taken the traditional Belgian style and added their own Floridian touch.
Unholy is one of the best American-brewed Tripels. Distinctive Belgian yeast character meshes perfectly with a heavy hand of pungent American hops. They manage to push the classic style toward IPA level hoppiness without hindering the Belgian yeast complexity. The delicate nature of the Tripel style is preserved and the balance is refreshing and unique.
De Dolle’s take on Tripel is definitely in line with their irreverent, laissez-faire brewing style. Chilled in a coolship before pitching their house yeast, a magic mix of airborne yeast and bacteria is allowed to mix into their cooling wort. Despite this element of unpredictability, De Dolle’s beers are consistently delicious.
Dulle Teve pours on the darker end of the Tripel color spectrum, especially if aged. The slightly orange body is opaque, but allows light to easily pass. Billowing foam, typical of the brewery, soars above the rim of the glass. On the nose, there’s spicy yeast, assertive European hops, and light citrus funk. The flavor is deep, rich, and refreshing. A fun, slightly funky, and very unique interpretation on a Tripel that only De Dolle could produce.
St. Bernardus is one of Belgium’s most internationally acclaimed breweries, famous for their divine Quadrupel, Abt 12. In fact, their entire repertoire is outstanding. And their Tripel is one of the world’s best.
Classic, balanced, and perfectly brewed, St. Bernardus Tripel is bright golden with a puffy, dense head. All the fruity and spicy yeast notes you’d expect are intertwined with a light floral hoppiness. At 8% ABV, it’s svelte for a Tripel, with a quaffing drinkability.
St. Bernardus also makes Watou Tripel, mainly for the French market, which is also quite good. It’s their classic though, the St. Bernardus Tripel, that leads the way for its dryer finish and amazingly balanced profile.
Most famous for their genre-defining Saison, Brasserie Dupont’s best beer is Avec Les Bons Voeux. Blurring the line between Saison and Tripel, this 9.5% ABV golden amber beer is both thirst quenching and layered with complexity. Spicy and fruity on the nose, a fine carbonation allows a bright white head to float on the sparkling body.
Avec Les Bon Voeux – French for “with good wishes” – is a beer designed to share on a special occasion. Age a bottle and savor the elegant and intricate yeast expression on a holiday or an anniversary. On the other hand, it makes an ideal pairing for even a casual weeknight dinner.
You might know it as Cinq Cents, or simple Chimay White – either way this Trappist Tripel is doughy and complex, yet refreshing and balanced. It’s got a reddish-golden hue with a dense, bright white head contrasting the highly carbonated body. Sweet malts dominate, but spicy phenolic yeasts cut through, blending with a touch of herbal hoppiness.
A full mouthfeel and definite slick viscosity allows this beer to linger with a long finish. The airy lightness from the high carbonation and spicy yeast keep it drinkable and refreshing.
In Belgium, breweries are often loose with beer categorization. Some don’t bother with style names at all.
Generally, a Tripel will be slightly sweeter, smoother, and with a richer mouthfeel. A Belgian Strong Ale will be lighter in color, with a dryer finish. There is a lot of crossover between the styles. If you need a benchmark, think Westmalle for a classic Tripel, and Duvel for a classic Belgian Golden Strong Ale.
Triple IPA is a relatively new style of beer, but it has nothing to do with a Belgian Tripel. Imperial IPA, also known as Double IPA, is a stronger version of the American IPA. The term Triple IPA, was the obvious continuation – even stronger and hoppier than Double IPA.
Belgian Tripel is also considered a triple version of the Abbey beer style Singel, in the same linear fashion as with IPAs. However, Belgian Tripel and Triple IPA are completely different beer styles.