Dubbel & Tripel
Abbey beers are beers which are brewed in the style first popularised by Belgian Trappist monks, but are not actually brewed inside monasteries. Nowadays, the term “Trappist” or any similar derivate is used as an indicator of origin. As of 2011, just seven breweries in the world are permitted to use the Trappist label, but this was not always the case. Most people are surprised when they hear that monasteries have always brewed alcoholic beverages. Self-reliance is a central principle of most monastic orders and monasteries, combined with the fact that monasteries once had vast land assets from which to sustain themselves, and it makes perfect sense for monks to grow their own food and produce their own drink. In the Middle Ages, as monasteries began to creep into the grain-growing regions of northern Europe, many monasteries shifted to the brewing of beer as a pose to wine as part of their daily sustenance. The earliest of which was the Cistercian Order, which was established in the 1100s. These monks of northern France, known as the Trappists, brewed exceptionally good beer at the time and luckily for the rest of us, exchanged it with the outside world.
After the French Revolution, which resulted in the destruction of monastic life in northern France, the monks became scattered across the nearby countryside, and overtime the monasteries were re-established in Belgium, where the brewing techniques again grew in reputation. Soon there were brewers who were not affiliated to any monastary, yet claimed to be brewing Trappist beer. This brought the need for a law which prohibited this kind of dishonesty, and so here we are today where only seven breweries may use the revered title of Trappist.
Nevertheless, many breweries now just name their beers “St X” and use monk imagery to portray Trappist quality, and Abbey beers now are produced by brewers of all ability, from homebrewers to large corporations. Whilst Trappist beers exerted an obvious influence on brewers across the world, the term “Trappist” does not refer to a single style and the same goes for the term “abbey.” The term is precise enough to be somewhat useful, yet broad enough to be frustrating. They can be pale or dark, some are sweet, but the majority are dry. Some are bottle conditioned, whilst others are filtered. Confusing, right? However, Abbey ales do have some attributes which unite them. They are all top-fermented and generally all of them use very warm fermentations, with temperatures reaching up to 86°F (30°C). When these warm fermentations are combined with Belgian yeast strains, a range of fruity and spicy flavours are produced, typical characteristics of Abbey beers. Most Abbey beers are also strong, generally ranging from 6% ABV to upwards of 9%. As a pose to stouts and other dark beer styles, when Abbey beers are dark in colour, this is through the use of dark candi sugar, instead of roasted malts.
Underneath the abbey ale umbrella there are some well-defined styles. Dubbel or double is one of the most popular beer styles to develop from Belgium’s Trappist monastery breweries. Belgians are not known for defining beers inside clearly defined borders, but the dubbel is one of the few Belgian beer styles which is clearly identifiable. Trappist and secular breweries have been brewing brown ales for centuries, both in Belgium and across Europe. It is believed that beers termed “dubbel” or “tripel” were done so based on the their believed strength compared to these traditional brown ales.
The modern dubbel style was popularised by the Trappist brewery Westmalle in 1926. Prior to this, Westmalle had brewed brown ale together with the monks’ table beer, but the monastery was still recuperating from the effects of World War I. In 1926 brewer Henrik Verlinden visited the Westmalle monastery and worked with the monks to increase the quality of the beer, and the stronger russet-brown “Dubbel Bruin” was developed. Due to its popularity it was quickly imitated and versions of the dubbel are now widely brewed in Belgium and beyond.
As mentioned earlier, unlike British and German brown beers, the dubbel aquires its colour from the addition of a highly caramelized form of sugar syrup, known as “candi sugar”, as a pose to roasted malts. This difference means that the dubbel doesn’t have flavours of coffee and chocolate, associated with roasted malts, but instead possesses aromas which are similar to burnt sugar and raisins. The sugar syrup, which is almost black in colour, is added to golden wort during the boil. All dubbels use warm fermentations, with Belgian yeasts, providing unique herbal, fruity notes. The majority of dubbels are very dry, but due to the lack of hop bitterness, appear slightly sweet. The best examples are bottle conditioned, but they can also be filtered. Most of the time dubbels are around 6.5% ABV, but they can reach as high as 8%. However, unlike tripels, dubbels should not display alcohol upon taste, as they aim to be balanced on the palate.
The tripel or triple is another popular style to arise from Trappist breweries. First commercialized by Hendrik Verlinden at the De Drie Linden brewery in Braaschat, Belgium, it was initially known as Witkap Pater. Tripels are deep gold in colour and ABVs range from 7% to 10%, with the majority staying in and around the 9% range. Conventionally brewed using soft water and around 80% pilsner malt for sweetness, they are enhanced with fermentable sugar to lighten the perception of body. Hopping is done in multiple steps, typically with classical aroma varieties including the much loved Saaz variety; Tettnang, Spalt, and Styrian Golding are also used, with flowers preferred to pellets or extracts. Primary fermentation is done at fairly warm temperatures using Belgian ale yeast and is followed by a cool maturation of around 3 weeks. The best tripels are then bottle conditioned.
Good tripels are low in residual sugar, yet display a sweet-tasting malty fruitiness on the palate. Hop aroma is somewhat low, but balances well and most have a light, sharp bitterness with high carbonation. Tripels should display a dense and mousse-like foam and complex spicy, floral, banana, and citrus notes. Regardless of the high alcohol content, a good tripel is almost dangerously drinkable.
|Buzzwords||Rich, Brown, Sweet||Balanced, Dry, Pale|
|Appearance||Dark amber to copper in colour. Has a large, dense and long lasting head.||Deep yellow to deep gold in colour and effervesecent.|
|Aroma & Flavour||Rich malty sweetness with a dry finish, notes of caramel and toast are common. Roasty or burnt flavours are never present. Dark raisin and prune flavours along with spicy clove and a light finish.||Strong notes of citrus fruits, such as orange, but can have a banana character. Low yet distinctive floral, sometimes perfume hop character is often found. Soft malt character which is often bready, but can be slightl grainy-sweet. The best examples have a seamless harmony between the yeast, hops, malt and alcohol.|
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Pours deep brown with a thick, light tanned head and medium carbonation. Very pleasant aroma of sweet bread and ripened stoned fruits. Has bready/yeasty notes upon tate with a hint of caramel.
Only brewed once a year, which can make it a challenge to find, this is an example of a great dubbel. Pours light and brown, with a white foamy head. Nose is lightly fruity, taste is bready, with feint cherry and hops, with a slight bitter close.
Appears dark brown in colour with attractive beige head. Unlike traditional dubbels, this one is brewed with caramel malt giving it a gentle aromatic caramelised flavour, partnered with a rich malty flavour and a touch of sweetness.
An exceptional beer from a brewery with hundreds of years of history. Particularly smooth with a hazy golden colour and a white head. Upon pouring the aroma is sweet and yeasty and followed up on the taste which is balanced with a dry finish and heavy carbonation.
Pours a rich amber colour with a lovely thick white head. Particularly fruity on the nose which is followed up on the flavour, which has banana, raisin and some grain. Plenty of carbonation and overall an excellent example.
Beautifully golden-light-brown in colour and pours with a large head which dissipates slowly. A grassy, sweet aroma closely follows. The first taste shows the bread flavours associated with light malts and notes of candi sweetness which is finished off with a dry, slightly acidic finish.
Did you know?
The term “tripel” traditionally referred to the malt content within a beer which contains fermentable sugars, essentially the strength of the beer. It is believed that it follows the medieval tradition of using crosses to mark casks: a single X for the weakest beer, XX for a medium-strength beer, and XXX for the highest strength beer. With the triple X becoming the tripel still enjoyed today.
Other Important Varieties
After the dubbel and trippel, designations become blurry. A style which is often referred to simply as “Belgian strong dark ale” exaggerates the character of the classic dubbel, increasing the alcohol content and dark fruit character at ABVs between 8.0-9.5%. Anything higher than this and the situation becomes even more unpredictable, with beers termed “quadrupels” often produced by craft brewers, not usually from Belgium, at ABVs hitting the 14% mark. These quadrupels can have pleasant characteristics, often interesting plum and fig notes, but many are simply hot and very un-Belgian.
At the oposite end are traditional, but rarely seen beers, such as the “abbey single” or table beer. These are versions of the beers which Trappist monks brew for themselves and are therefore usually very authentic; often light in both body and alcohol, rarely reaching even 5%. Despite the fact that the actual Trappist forms are never traded, some secular brewers are lucky enough to have tasted the beers upon monastery visits and aim to replicate them.