This post is part of a mini-series – See all posts in this series
Belgian beers are actually what converted me into the world of craft beer. They have a distinctive “funkiness” to them that I really enjoy. I’ve even been lucky enough to travel to Belgium (aka the Beer Mecca) to experience their beers first-hand. This may not be everyone’s favorite style, but I certainly enjoy it!
#3: Belgian Ales
The Belgian beer genre can be a bit complicated, so stick with me here. There are several varieties, including dubbels, tripels (or trippels), quadruples, and more. Some breweries—most of which are in Belgium—can also be qualified as Trappist, but in order for a beer to be labeled as such, it must meet the following criteria set forth by the International Trappist Association:
- The beer must be brewed within the monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision
- The business practices of the brewery must reflect a monastic way of life and be recognized as having only secondary importance
- The brewery is not for profit: its income can be used to cover living expenses and maintenance costs, with the balance being donated to charity for social work or otherwise to help those in need
There are currently only 11 breweries on earth that produce certified Trappist ales, so when you see a beer with the Authentic Trappist Product mark, you can guarantee its authenticity and compliance with the rules above.
As far as the individual styles go, there is much hearsay about how dubbels, tripels and quadrupels earned their names, but think of it loosely as an indication of strength. To easily mark the beers, Trappist Monasteries would mark the beer with a series of X’s to indicate strength – X for a weaker beer, XX for a moderately strong beer, and XXX for the strongest beer. Alternatively, some historians believe that the names could have come from the corresponding ABVs, roughly 3%, 6% and 9% (yes, technically Belgian singles do exist, but it’s a relatively unpopular style). Either way, let’s not focus on the naming convention. Just know that it generally indicates the strength of the beer, but the styles themselves are very different, so let’s talk about what to expect when you see these names.
The dubbel was first brewed by Westmalle in 1856, and by 1926, they had changed the original recipe and released Dubbel Bruin, a beer which after much success, was imitated by other breweries around the world. A dubbel is typically a deep reddish-brown color, and fairly strong in alcohol content (approximately 6-8%). Classically brewed with caramelized beet sugar, these beers have rich, complex flavors of malty sweetness and can include hints of dried fruit, clove and banana-like spices. They’re smooth, chocolatey and caramel-like and contain minimal hoppiness.
Now you might be expecting a tripel to be a stronger, darker version of a dubbel, but that’s not exactly the case. Like the dubbel, Westmalle pioneered the modern tripel that we have come to know and love today. Tripels can be closely compared to Belgian Golden Strong Ales, and usually have a beautiful golden hue, with an ABV ranging from about 7.5 – 9.5% (although some can exceed 10%). The high alcohol content is usually well hidden, making these beers surprisingly easy to drink. Similarly to the dubbel, tripels are brewed with beet sugar, but without the caramelization. The sugar raises the ABV, but keeps the pale golden color from the lightly kilned malt. Flavors and aromas may include a citrus or banana-like fruitiness, or a clove-like or peppery spice.
Last but not least is the quadrupel, sometimes also referred to as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, plus some additionally being classified as a Grand Cru. Stronger and heavier than the styles above, quadrupels are essentially a ramped up version of a dubbel. With higher ABVs averaging around 10-12%, quadrupels are packed with rich flavors characterized by their spicy, ripe fruit flavors like plum, fig and raisin. The hoppiness is nicely balanced by the malty sweetness, revealing hints of molasses with an underlying bread-like flavor.
No matter which Belgian style you choose, keep in mind that most are traditionally bottle conditioned, meaning the yeast is very much present in the bottle, so remember to pour carefully!
May I suggest…
- Westmalle – Dubbel†
- La Trappe – Dubbel†
- Chimay – Premiere†
- Affligem – Dubbel
- Russian River – Benediction
- Lost Abbey – Lost and Found Abbey Ale
Tripels (Belgian Strong Golden Ales):
- Westmalle – Tripel†
- La Trappe – Tripel†
- Bernardus – Tripel
- Chimay – Cinq Cents†
- Affligem – Tripel
- Huyghe – Delirium Tremens
- Duvel Moortgat – Duvel
- Unibroue – La Fin du Monde
- Victory – Golden Monkey
- North Coast – Pranqster
- Russian River – Damnation
Quadrupels (Belgian Strong Dark Ales):
- Brouwerij De Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren – Trappist Westvleteren 12†
- Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy – Trappistes Rochefort 10†
- St Bernardus – Abt 12
- Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven – La Trappe Quadrupel†
- Brouwerij Van Steenberge – Gulden Draak 9000 Quadruple
- Chimay – Grande Reserve†
- Lost Abbey – Judgment Day
- Russian River – Salvation
†Authentic Trappist Beer
Leave a comment below to let me know which Belgian beers are your favorite!
I’ll be back tomorrow to reveal pick #2. So you don’t miss out, follow me on Instagram or subscribe below!