Belgian beer as easy as one, two, three.
Dubbel, tripel, quadrupel. Easy enough to figure out that they translate to double, triple and quadruple, right?
But have you ever wondered what that has to do with Belgian beer?
Originating in French and Belgian monasteries in the Middle Ages, monks would brew beer as a source of income. Each style brewed varies in strength but has similar characteristics because they all use the same type of yeast, now known as Trappist ale yeast.
Trappist Singles (4.8–6% abv), a bitter, pale yellow to gold-colored ale, are often not available outside of the monastery, as they are often served as the monk’s daily ration.
Dubbels (6–7.6% abv) are amber-colored with a rich, malty sweetness, dark fruit flavors and a complementary phenolic spice from the yeast.
Bumping it up a notch, Belgian Tripels (7.5– 9.5% abv) are similar to Belgian Golden Strong Ales (like the classic, Duvel), but are slightly darker in color, more full bodied and have more of an emphasis on the yeast’s spicy phenols than fruity esters. A light honey note is also often present in this style from the malt.
Finally, the Quadrupel, also called a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, sure is strong at 8–12% abv. This fuller-bodied, more malty version of a Belgian Dubbel his rich caramel notes from the malt and dark or dried fruit flavors (like plum, raisin and fig) and peppery phenols from the yeast.
As beer is taxed differently by strength, it’s thought that the names dubbel, tripel and quadrupel derived from the markings on the outside of the keg or case – X for single, XX for double strength and so on.
All Trappist and Trappist-style beers have unifying characteristics:
- high attenuation – meaning the yeast use up all available sugars, producing higher alcohol content (as yeast ferments sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide) and low residual sweetness in the finished beer,
- high carbonation from bottle conditioning – instead of force carbonating the beer, additional yeast is added to the beer upon bottling along with a small amount of additional sugar, meaning the yeast are actively producing the carbonation in the bottle and are still present in the finished beer (so pour slowly when serving!)
- and, most-importantly, Trappist ale yeast character – fruity esters (ranging from citrusy notes in Tripels, to dark fruit notes in Dubbels and Quads) and spicy, clove-like phenols.
While many monasteries and breweries produce Trappist-style beers, there are only 11 designated Trappist monasteries around the world. A protected legal appellation, like Champagne or Roquefort cheese, only beers brewed at these specific monasteries can call theirs Trappist ales (all others are just Trappist-style).
Most often associated with Belgium because it has the highest number of Trappist monasteries (six of the 11), there are also authentic Trappist monasteries in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and the States, too. You can see the full list here.
The best known Belgian producers of these authentic Trappist ales are Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. While their dubbels and tripels are often quite accessible, the quadrupels from these monasteries are often produced in small quantities and are very highly sought after.
So, see what you can get your hands on and give these authentic Trappist ales a try. Then let me know which number is your favorite – one, two, three, or four.
Image by Natalya Watson