What Is a Tripel Beer? And Should You Try It?

On first glance, for those who have never tried it, some might think Tripel is a misspelling. There may be some confusion as to whether it is a reference to a triple IPA. What is a Tripel beer, anyway? Rest assured. The word is spelled correctly, and it is nothing like an IPA. The history of Tripel beer is sordid and steeped in mystery. But what we do know about it is fascinating.

What Is a Tripel Beer?

Tripel beer was first brewed in the early 1900s in Belgium, and it refers to a beer that is strong, usually from 8% to 10%, which is high for beer, and is pale.

In 1930, a Belgian man named Hendrik Verlinden began brewing this strong, pale ale after working closely with Trappist monks on their brewing process and getting permission to continue using their recipe in his secular pursuits.

In 1956, the beer came to be known as Tripel, spreading in popularity throughout Belgium and the lowlands.

Why Tripel?

Speculation abounds as to why it is called Tripel, and two primary theories have risen to the top.

Triple X

It may have to do with the strength of the beer based on casks. Casks were once marked with X’s to certify the strength of the beer – X, XX, or XXX. Tripel could refer to the three X’s as the strongest among the beers being brewed by Verlinden.

Triple the ABV

It could also be a reference to the amount of alcohol being tripled – 3%, 6%, and 9%. Since Tripel is typically between 8% and 9%, this theory works out.

But we will likely never know, even though it is fun to guess.

Not to Be Mistaken for Dubbel

Dubbel beer is another kind of Belgian style beer, so some may speculate the two are connected. They are not.

Dubbel beer, another reference to the strength of the beer, also originates from Trappist monks, who brewed this strong beer to be between 6% and 8%, which could also be a nod to double the ABV.

However, that is where the similarities end.

Dubbel beer is a dark, coffee flavored beverage that ends a bit hazy, a far cry from the clear, pale Tripel.

Also Not to Be Mistaken for Triple IPA

While it can be easy, especially in the US, to confuse Belgian Tripel beer with a Triple IPA, the two have nothing in common.

Indeed, regardless of which theory is right in terms of how Belgian Tripel got its name, there is no doubt that it is some sort of reference to its strength and alcohol content.

The triple in Triple IPA, on the other hand, is a reference to the dry hop process. Triple IPA is very hoppy, bursting with flavor, floral hops aroma and hop bitterness, and can get to much higher alcohol contents than even 10%. Indeed, it starts at 9.5%!

Still, the confusion often persists because the names sounds so similar.

Just be sure if you head out looking for a tripel, that you don’t add “IPA” to the end of your request.

Belgium Beer

Tripel has ventured beyond the confines of that Trappist monastery and even beyond the border of Belgium, but it is still worth noting the history of beer in Belgium is rich, so it is no wonder so many great beers come out of this country.

In Belgium, beer has been around since at least the Roman Empire, circa 200 AD. Breweries and Ale houses have been discovered to be dated from around that time, when brewers used an herb called gruit to cut sweetness and add bitterness to beer, long before the discovery of hops.

Over time, towns in Belgium came to adopt their own special brews, most notably white beer from Hoegaarden, caves of Lier, and uitzet from Ghent.

As the rise of industrialization hit the world in the 1800s, small Belgian batches fell out of favor. Large breweries came into fashion, and name brand recognition became everything.

Fortunately, with the rise of craft breweries, Belgian beer is again making a name for itself, and Belgian Tripel beer is among them.

What does a tripel beer taste like?

Although it is considered to be a strong beer, with relatively high alcohol content, tripel beer is surprisingly refreshing and light. You’ll have to try more than one tripel to get a good idea of what it actually tastes like, though, and you might be surprised by how many different flavors there are out there.

However, tripel beer is typically described as being fruity, flowery, spicy, sweet, malty, and sometimes grainy. The finish can sometimes be slightly bitter or dry, but the fruitiness and spiciness tend to linger.

Tripel is one of those beers to be enjoyed by itself, as you would a glass of wine after a long day, but it can also complement fresh dishes and even certain desserts, such as fruit tarts. It works in summer and it definitely works in winter as well, being as celebratory in flavor as they come.

Tripel Beer Brands

If you’re in the market for Tripel beer, you have plenty to choose from. The Tripel style, strong, pale ale, has made its way across Europe and over to the United States. Here are just a few brands to check out on your journey:

Unibroue La Fin du Monde

Translated to “the end of the world,” this Tripel from Unibroue brewing company in Canada often wins the award for best tasting Tripel.

Westmalle Tripel

No surprises here, this Tripel is from the town where the beer originated and follows the original recipe and style precisely.

Tripel Karmeliet

Flowery and malty, this Tripel out of Belgium claims to follow a recipe that is more than one hundred years old!

Chimay Cinq Cents Tripel

Also out of Belgium, this one is also made in a monastery. It is a spicier version than the original, and qualifies as quite sophisticated for many.

De Koeningshoeven La Trappe Tripel

Malty, sweet, and spicy, this one is out of the Netherlands, and also made by Trappist monks.

Golden Monkey

Out of Philadelphia in the US, this brewery typically brews German style beers, so this Tripel is an outlier. It includes Asian spices among the maltiness. Definitely worth a try.

In the end, you’ve got quite a journey ahead if you plan to explore the Tripels of the world. Try those from various regions, and be sure to try the original, so you know what to compare them all to.


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  1. Eline Poelmans, Johan Swinnen, Belgium: Craft Beer Nation?, Economic Perspectives on Craft Beer pp 137-160
  2. https://www.allagash.com/blog/tripel-vs-triple-ipa/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripel
  4. https://www.craftbeer.com/styles/belgian-style-tripel
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