While it’s generally beneficial to present a clearly defined style on beer labels, there are exceptions—styles that might cause a bit more confusion. IPAs and stouts are pretty standard these days, and so are the “imperial” or “double” iterations of these offerings. Consumers understand what to expect—that “double” means two times the overall experience in terms of flavor, strength and intensity of profile. So what happens when people come across a tripel? Will it make you combust upon first swallow from sensory overload?
Obviously that won’t happen, but I wonder how many people shy away from the style, thinking that it’s going to be far too overwhelming. It’s a shame, because although these beers aren’t short on strength, they represent some of the most complex and well-crafted beers available today.
Tripel is a classic Belgian Trappist style that has since found respect and interpretation from brewers across the world. The name stems from part of the brewing process in which brewers use up to three times the amount of malt than the standard Trappist beer, resulting in the strongest selection in that producer’s lineup.
These brews are big and powerful, with thick, frothy heads and intense aromas and flavors that are not for the faint of heart. Notes of Belgian yeast and malty sweetness are coupled with balancing bitterness and alcoholic bite. Though the typical alcohol range is between 8–12% abv, the best achieve balance, so it’s not as noticeable as one would imagine. Instead it contributes a subtle warmth and creamy texture to the mouthfeel.
I’ve also included a handful of reviews for another Belgian style, Belgian pale ales. Sometimes labeled as “blonde” beers, they generally offer similar malt-dominant profiles as tripels, but with less intensity and potency, often registering at anywhere from 4–7% abv.
Westmalle Tripel (Tripel; Westmalle, Belgium); $6/330 ml, 98 points. Tripels don’t get more authentic than this classic Belgian brew. It’s immediately attractive, with a rich, golden color and a frothy off-white head that boasts excellent retention and leaves gorgeous lacing behind with each sip. The bouquet is vibrant and esthery, with forward notes of banana cream pie, apricot, baking spice and Turbinado sugar, all framed by an acidic seam of orange essence. The creamy, mouthfilling palate offers more of the same, with additional notes of dried mango, peach and pineapple as well as hints of cinnamon, pepper and lemon rind that carry through to the long, pleasantly warming finish.
Unibroue La Fin du Monde (Tripel; Unibroue, Canada); $10/750 ml, 96 points. Ignore the alarming name—la fin du monde means “the end of the world”—and consider this Canadian tripel a real eye-opener as to the beauty of the classic Belgian style. It pours a stunning, hazy gold color, with a creamy white head that hangs around for a while, leaving sticky lacing behind with each sip. The bouquet is forward, but elegant, with clean, well-defined scents of just-ripe white peach, apricot and banana, all dusted with spicy accents of coriander, clove and white pepper. It’s remarkably balanced, the alcohol barely noticeable save for a subtle warmth on the finish and a delectable roundness to the palate. Flavors of biscuity malt, honey-drizzled banana and more lemon oil carry through to the lingering finish.
Left Hand Brewing Co. St. Vrain Tripel Ale (Tripel; Left Hand Brewing Co., CO); $15/22 oz, 90 points. This rich, full-bodied brew is loaded with dense aromas and flavors of candi sugar, baking spice, just-ripe plantain and Granny Smith. The palate is surprisingly light and bright, offering medium carbonation and a subtle bitterness that lifts the finish. The alcohol is well integrated and barely noticeable, making this a dangerously drinkable tripel that’s best shared with friends and food; pair it with fried pork chops or a good sharp Cheddar.
21st Amendment He Said (Tripel; 21st Amendment Brewery, CA); $10/12 oz 4 pack; 89 points. An interesting take on the style, this tripel is brewed with pumpkin, galangal and tarragon. The result is a unique experience that’s bursting with sweet spice and savory herb characteristics, like a pumpkin pie topped with herbed butter. Medium bodied and sweet, it’s balanced by medium carbonation, keeping the palate lifted and the finish fresh. Notes of pie spice, caramelized pumpkin and soft peppery warmth hang on through the finish.
Belgian Pale Ale
Mons Abbey Blonde d’Abbaye (Belgian Pale Ale; Belgh Brasse, Canada); Price: $11/750 ml, 88 points. An attractive and immediately accessible brew, this opens with light scents of firm stone fruit, digestive biscuit and fresh grass. The palate is dry and slightly dusty, with medium-plus carbonation and flavors of freshly crushed grain, husk and yeast. Yeasty accents develop on the finish, as lingering hints of white pepper and sweet spice unfold on the close.
Leffe Blonde (Belgian Pale Ale; Abbaye de Leffe, Belgium); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 87 points. This is an approachable, easy drinking blonde that’s sure to please a broad range of palates with its smooth mouthfeel and subtle overall character. Faint aromas and flavors of clove, white pepper and fresh-baked bread dance on the nose and palate, lifted by medium carbonation. A lingering malty sweetness lingers on the finish. A nice choice for Asian take-out, especially dishes with a little bit of spice, as the beer’s sweetness will partner nicely with subtle heat.