When brewing Belgian-style beer, it’s always fun and challenging to respect tradition while adding your own personal touch. Belgian Tripel – that strong, pale, and luxurious ale – is an elegant style to brew to showcase your homebrewing prowess.
Brewing Tripel is all about the yeast. Choosing a suitable strain and pitching the right amount of healthy yeast makes sure your Tripel ferments properly. Controlling fermentation temperature – starting low and slowly ramping up – ensures a dry beer with limited fusel alcohols. A grist of mostly Pilsner malt is delicately balanced with European hops – a simple base that makes for a complex beer. At 8 to 12% ABV, keeping Tripels dry, refreshing, and drinkable is an art that requires keen attention to detail.
Tripels can be hard to find at your local craft beer bar or bottle shop. Not to worry – the style is one of the most satisfying and straightforward to homebrew. We’ll break down what you need to know to homebrew amazing Belgian Tripel.
Belgian Tripel is a style of pale, top-fermented beer originating in Belgium. Golden yellow in color, these classic ales have a distinctive spice complimented by banana, lemon, and pear-like esters. Tripel is a strong beer style, with an alcohol level between 8 to 12% ABV.
Highly carbonated, Tripels are dangerously drinkable and refreshing despite their elevated alcohol content. A light and very smooth body carries notes of fresh bread and sweet malts. Spice from specially selected yeast blends delicately with pleasant European hoppiness.
Belgian Tripel can be traced back to the Westmalle Abbey. Since 1956, the celebrated Trappist brewery has produced the style’s benchmark example. Balanced, smooth, and full of flavor, Westmalle Tripel is often imitated but never replicated. There are, however, many Tripels from Belgium and around the world that offer unique takes on this classic style.
For homebrewers, the Tripel style leaves plenty of room for experimentation to make your own unique and delicious version.
Delicate flavor balance between bready malts, herbaceous hops, and spicy and estery yeast is the nucleus of a perfect Tripel. With high-strength beers, alcoholic bite is sometimes inevitable. A major key is to control the fermentation, coaxing desirable esters and phenols, while keeping fusel alcohols to a minimum.
There is no single predominant flavor component in a great Tripel. For that reason, all aspects – from malt, hops, and yeast – need to maintain a very fine synergy.
Yeast selection and fermentation control is what makes or breaks brewing a great Tripel. Pitching a large amount of healthy, specially selected yeast is crucial to success.
Tripels should be made with mostly Pilsner malt to give a golden yellow appearance. Beer clarity is not a priority for the style – many Tripels have a light, pleasant haze.
There are a few keys to brewing a great Tripel:
- Aim for an original gravity (OG) of 1.075 to 1.080
- Pitch lots of healthy yeast and closely monitor fermentation temperature
- Use Belgian yeast with moderate ester and phenol production
- Boost gravity with sugar to keep body dry
- Bottle condition to 3.0-3.5 volumes of CO2 and allow beer to cellar for at least 1 month
Tripels are normally made from a base of 100% Belgian or German Pilsner malt. Sugar – either clear Candi sugar or regular table sugar – is often added at the end of the boil to boost the gravity but ensure a dry finish. Use about 1 to 2 pounds of sugar per 5 gallon batch.
Along with the Pilsner malt, Wheat, Munich, or Vienna malt can be added (up to 10% total) for color and body. Most Tripels have a color between 4-7 SRM.
A traditional decoction mash is used to produce a highly fermentable wort with a beautiful, deep golden color. For homebrewers using well-modified malts, this isn’t necessary.
For practical purposes, we prefer a single infusion rest between 146°F and 147°F to produce high fermentability. To make up for the deeper color normally resulting from the decoction, use a bit of Light Munich malt, up to 10%.
Tripels are mainly brewed with European hops such as Styrian Golding, Tettnang, or Saaz. American substitutes are also great choices like Sterling, Mt. Hood, or Willamette.
Bitterness should be balanced, which is about 35 to 40 IBU given the hefty gravity of this beer style.
Tripel has a balanced hoppy character, but a significant hop flavor is not needed. Unless you’re brewing an exceptionally hoppy version, don’t add any boil hops after 15 minutes.
Yeast has a starring role in Tripel beer. Light to moderate banana, bubblegum, and pear-like esters combined with a bit of phenolic spice is the target. Many Belgian strains will work well, such as:
A big and healthy yeast starter is required for this style. Normally you’d need about a 2 Litre starter for a 5 gallon batch.
Many Belgian strains will work to produce the desired fruity esters and light clove phenolics. The key is to keep the fermentation temperature under control during the first few days. Then, slowly ramp up the temperature to ensure full attenuation. This limits hot fusel alcohols while producing a dry finish.
Pitch a healthy starter into 64°F, well-oxygenated wort. Ramp the temperature up by 2°F every 2 days until 76°F. Hold at 76°F until gravity is stable, about 7 to 10 more days.
To accentuate particular flavors, many brewers choose to add spices to their Tripel. Try complimenting esters and phenols with bitter orange peel, coriander seed, or black peppercorn. Adding spices is the exception rather than the rule. Most Tripels don’t need extra flavoring to be fruity and spicy if using expressive yeast strains.
If you choose to spice your Tripel, use each addition sparingly. About a half ounce to an ounce per 5 gallon batch is all it takes – and add them to the end of the boil.
Honey can also be used to add a complex sweetness and richer mouthfeel. Added at the end of the boil – or during bottling for re-fermentation in the bottle – honey compliments the malty base of a Tripel. Using specialty honey, like lavender or orange blossom, can also add another layer of herbal, floral nuance.
Tripel, like most Belgian styles, is heavily carbonated. Aim for 3.0 to 3.5 volumes of CO2 at least. If bottling, you’ll need to use Belgian-style bottles rated for higher pressures.
Bottling conditioning is the traditional carbonation technique for Tripel, and the tastiest. It’s tricky to achieve the fine carbonation and dense long lasting head when kegging the beer. There’s a reason Tripel Westmalle is only available in the bottle!
After the beer has fully conditioned – for about 3 weeks at 70°F – cellar the bottles for at least 1 month.
This is a go-to recipe for a Westmalle-like Tripel. Mashing low keeps the final gravity dry and drinkable. This recipe is a simple brew day that relies heavily on a closely monitored fermentation schedule.
Final Volume Original Gravity Final Gravity ABV IBU SRM 5 Gallons 1.080 1.010 9.2% 38 4.4
|12 lb||Pilsner Malt||35||1.0|
|1 lb||Wheat Malt||37||2.0|
|1 lb||Light Munich Malt||33||10.0|
|1 lb||Candi Sugar (Clear)||31||–|
For extract brewers, use 9 pounds of Pilsner dry malt extract (DME) and steep one pound of CaraPils for some extra body. Add half of the DME at the end of the boil with the Candi sugar, to promote a lighter color wort.
|2 oz||Styrian Goldings||5%||Boil||60 min||26|
|1 oz||Styrian Goldings||5%||Boil||15 min||7|
|1 oz||Saaz||4%||Boil||15 min||5|
Healthy 2 Litre starter of Wyeast 3767 Trappist High Gravity
- Mash with a single infusion rest at 146°F for 60 minutes. Sparge the full volume into the kettle.
- Bring the wort to a boil.
- Add 60 minute hop addition.
- Add 15 minute hop addition.
- Turn off heat.
- Quickly chill wort to 64°F.
- Transfer cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, leaving behind trub and hop matter.
- Oxygenate wort and pitch the yeast.
- Ferment at 64°F for 2 days.
- Raise fermentation temperature by 2°F every 2 days until 76°F.
- Hold at 76°F until gravity is stable, about 7 to 10 days.
- Package beer and carbonate to 3.0 to 3.5 volumes of CO2
- Cellar carbonated bottles for at least 1 month.
Belgian Tripel is a luxurious and festive style. Given its high alcohol percentage, it’s meant to be savored and appreciated. Whether you’re celebrating an anniversary, birthday, holiday, or just having a nice meal, Tripel is a go-to style to compliment joyous times.
Having Tripel brewing in your homebrewing repertoire is a valued skill. Such a delicate and high gravity style is a challenge to brew but well worth the effort. Following basic best-practices, world-class Tripels can be achievable for all levels of brewers.
Most Belgian Tripels use sugar – either Candi sugar or corn/cane sugar – to boost alcohol percentage. Using sugar raises the original gravity, but keeps the beer dry as it’s completely fermentable.
Add sugar to the end of the boil, with about 5 minutes left. Use 1 to 2 pounds of sugar per 5 gallon batch.
Belgian Tripel is a highly carbonated beer style – usually between 3.0 to 3.5 volumes of CO2, but some examples are up to 4.0. Bottle conditioning is the traditional method of carbonation but kegging is also possible. To avoid excessive foaming, carbonate kegged Tripel to a slightly lower level – about 2.8 volumes of CO2. You can either force carbonate or naturally re-ferment in the keg.