Style Profile: Tripel

Posted on 12.17.07 5:00PM under Style Profile, Tripel

A Belgian TripelBelgium is world renowned as one of the greatest beer places on earth. Beer is highly regarded and truly respected in far more places there than you’re likely to find in the same geographical area here in the US. Their beers range from delicate to robust to funky to big and sweet. Today I am going to talk a bit about a big sweet style, the Tripel.

A tripel is often the highest powered beer in a Belgian brewery’s regular lineup. Tripels are almost always bottle conditioned. This means that the bubbles in the beer are a result of yeast consuming sugar and naturally producing CO2, as opposed to the beer being force carbonated by exposure to CO2 gas. Tripels are often subjected to multiple fermentations. Sometimes this is to add character from multiple yeast strains, and sometimes this is just so that the yeast doesn’t get too fatigued from the stressful high-alcohol, simple sugar environment. Many also consider the conditioning to be a second fermentation.

Tripels are light in color – this is proof that beer color and alcohol strength are unrelated. Tripels are normally highly conditioned (that means they’ve got a lot of bubbles), and show a big rocky head. Due to the bottle conditioning yeast, your Tripel will probably be cloudy – but the flavor of the yeast contributes in a positive way to the overall experience of the beer. The taste will often be marked by sweetness of green apples and other light fruits. This is caused mainly by higher than average fermentation temperatures. This is just one example of the way that Belgians eschew conventional brewing techniques – British and Germans usually like to ferment cooler to limit the contributions of yeast to the flavor of the beer. In Belgium, these fruity esters are loved in high amounts. Beyond that, there is a good amount of hop bitterness and sometimes spices. This all works together to make a deep complex flavor that is very appealing to the palette.

Tripels are also pretty high in alcohol, up to 10% by volume or more (compared to 5% for “normal” beer), so you may have to be careful while you enjoy them – you could find yourself a bit more pleasured than you’d planned. Tripels taste great with a wide variety of foods, from sausage to fried fish to pasta with pesto to quesadillas. Original Tripels are from Belgium, such as Westmalle, but there are plenty of domestic examples on the shelves, too. Allagash is a notable domestic producer.

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