For a lot of drinkers, the Belgian-style tripel exists in a strange place in the beer lineup. It rests between the Belgian-style Dubbel—a dark, spicy ale of moderate strength—and the Belgian-style Quadrupel—a boozy monster deep in aromas of dark stone fruit.
Tripels are light gold or yellow in appearance and typically pour with a thick head of foam. They are bright and inviting in spicy aromas and can be refreshing, while also packing a sneaky high alcohol punch.
Guidance for beer judges is provided by the Brewers Association, which is used in competitions like the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup. This is also helpful for drinkers still unfamiliar with the style.
Herbs or spices (such as coriander) may be used in subtle amounts to enhance overall aroma or flavor according to the guidelines. Sometimes sugar will be used to lighten the ale’s body, yet brewers should strive for a balance between the grain bill and hops.
Where as many of the other Belgian-origin styles have been played around with in recent years through addition of fruits or taking turns in spirits barrels, tripels have mostly (but with some exceptions) been left unadorned and are allowed to express themselves as its creators intended.
This is a welcome action by many drinkers. While it’s a historical style, it still has not taken off in the United States with great gusto. By staying true to historical recipes or coloring within the lines, brewers are able to hone their skill, but also give the drinker a chance to taste a base beer without bells and whistles.
For now, many breweries are using this as a seasonal offering or occasional release in their lineup, but there are some that offer it year-round. When you pick up some bottles, pair it with grilled fish or fresh shellfish, or experience what an asset it can be to a thoughtfully assembled charcuterie plate.
Allagash Tripel; $13/12oz 4 pack, 92 points. This is a sweet, dry and malt-forward tripel that is simple in its execution which makes all the difference. It’s a jaunty little sipper with a noticeable alcohol heat and slight hop bitterness to keep things interesting. It’s a fun beer to drink and to help the mind wander a bit.
Anderson Valley Brother David’s Triple; $11/12oz 4 pack, 90 points. Showing a honey note that finishes dry, and a sneaky boozy approach, this bronze ale delivers. It’s low on carbonation and has a full, slightly oily body, but feels appropriately Belgian for whenever the mood strikes.
Left Hand St. Vráin Tripel Ale; $11/12oz 6 pack, 90 points. Notes of honey and flowers drive this easy sipping tripel. It is medium in weight, with a depth of sweetness that builds overtime. It’s a beer that fits most drinking occasions, but it would be at home with grilled fish, soft cheeses and cured meats.
Sun King Touched by an Angel Belgian-style Tripel; $20/16oz 2 pack, 90 points. Dark bronze in color, with a full body and medium carbonation, there is no mistaking that this tripel has been aged in spirit barrels. The brewery says it was Bourbon barrels, but there is a coconut and tropical essence to this beer that evokes thoughts of rum. In any case, a turn in the wood takes this otherwise well-executed tripel and turns it up a notch into a cocktail in your beer glass. As it warms it brings out wood tannins in a soft faintly fudgy way.
Coppertail Unholy American Trippel Ale; $11/12oz 6 pack, 89 points. This is a robust, golden strong ale that’s forward in a honey note. With medium-low carbonation but a full body, the alcohol heat shines through in a noticeable way and enhances the drinking experience. It shows tones of fermented apple and pear, with a bit of spiciness including whiffs of raw cinnamon that emerge as it warms.
Lawson’s Finest Liquids 2020 Maple Tripple Ale; $25/500ml, 89 points. This is a rich, flavorful tripel, with an earthy, leathery character alongside a hint of molasses. The brewery says this annual release spends a year in barrels that previously held maple liquor. The tripel character is present in its dry profile but is overwhelmed by a sweet burnt-sugar flavor.
New Realm Third Wind; $15/16oz 4 pack. This offers a fun combination of aromas that are reminiscent of faint incense, vanilla, dried herbs and overripe banana peel. There’s a familiar dried mint and waxy flavor that drives the full-bodied palate.
Victory Golden Monkey; $10/12oz 6 pack, 89 points. This ale offers a pleasing slap of clove and rye spiciness alongside a kick of booze. In a proper tulip glass, this snaps the drinking part of the brain to attention and focuses on the fun. A sweet, dry, honey forward tripel that is reliable every day and a great introduction to the style.
New Glarus Tripel 5; $12/12oz 6 pack, 88 points. A herbal, spritzy concoction that leans heavily on clove and other assertive baking spice. A soapy lavender aroma in intertwined brining a floral sense to this ale that is an iron fist in a velvet glove. The bouquet that emerges from this glass deserves closer attention with each sip.
Transmitter T1; $19/16oz 4 pack, 88 points. With a funky, assertive nose that has some vanilla, wood, and apple character backed by an ample amount of carbonic fizz, this tripel has a lot of the classic hallmarks of the style but with some zing. It feels like it could be at home in a cozy pub filled with small wooden tables that have soaked up more than their fair share of beer over the years. This tripel feels classic and aged well and is mellow around the edges, despite a still noticeable high abv.