Belgian Tripel

Westmalle Tripel

 

Introduction

Tripel, a strong pale ale, fits into a larger category of Trappist-style Belgian ales. Light in color, well-balanced in terms of malts and hops, and usually made from Belgian yeast strains, some tripels are considered among the best beers in the world.

The name "Tripel" actually stems from part of the brewing process, in which brewers use up to three times the amount of malt than a standard Trappist "simple" beer. Traditionally, Tripels are bright yellow to gold in colour, a shade or two darker than the average Pilsner. Head should be big, dense and creamy. Aroma and flavour runs along complex, spicy phenolic, powdery yeast, fruity / estery with a sweet finish. Sweetness comes from both the pale malts and the higher alcohol. Bitterness can be up there for a beer with such a light body for its strength, but at times is barely perceived amongst the even balance of malts and hops. The lighter body comes from the use of simple sugars (up to 25% sucrose), which not only lightens the body, but also adds complex alcoholic aromas and flavors. Small amounts of spices are sometimes added as well.

While the word "Trappist" can be used to describe a broader style category of beer, for a brewery to use the word "Trappist" in the beer's name it must come from an actual Trappist monastery. A Trappist beer is only given this name if it satisfies a number of strict criteria:

    • The beer is brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
    • The brewery must be controlled by the monastery and have a business culture compatible with the monastic project (a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work).
    • The purpose of the brewery is not to make a profit. The income takes care of the livelihood of the monks and the upkeep of the abbey site. What is left over is used for charitable purposes, social work and people in need.

Westmalle breweryWestmalle brewery. Image (c) milo-profi.be

There are very few monasteries in the world producing what can officially be called "Trappist" beer. As of late 2019 there are only 14. Westmalle Brewery (official name: Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle) is one of six located in Belgium.

For more than 200 years the Westmalle Trappists have chosen a life of prayer and work. True to the Rule of Saint Benedict, they ensure their own means of sustenance. To accomplish this there is a farm, a cheese dairy, and a brewery inside the walls of the abbey. These three things are deliberately kept to a small scale, and particular care is taken on the impact to people and the environment. The brewery’s income is used to make the necessary investments and changes in line with developments in brewing technology, to support Trappist communities, and to carry out charity work. Profit is not their motive.

The Abbey of Westmalle was founded in 1794 and beer production began four decades later. On the 10th of December 1836 they served their first brew of Trappist beer at lunch. Since then the monks have been able to drink beer (the region's popular beverage) with their meals.

In 1934, nearly 100 years since beer production had started, the brewery was the world's first to brew a strong pale ale of 9.5% ABV giving it the name Tripel - the first modern use of the name. The current formula has stayed practically unchanged since 1956. It is the beer that inspired our recipe.

Westmalle breweryWestmalle brewery. Image (c) milo-profi.be

The review by Jef van den Steen on Westmalle's website describes their Tripel well:

"This beer enjoys considerable prestige among the public and among brewers. Strongly alcoholic, blond top-fermentation beers are not infrequently given the ‘tripel’ epithet, which means no less than the best in the series. The Westmalle Tripel can also be called the mother of all tripels without false modesty - a world classic thus. In the glass, the tripel has a warm golden blond colour. The surprising fine and abundant bubbles are reminiscent of champagne (this beer is also given the pet name of the champagne of the Campine). The head is white, fine, creamy and abundant, and after a few sips it leaves behind a fine lace pattern on the glass. The tripel is a complex beer: in the aroma, fruitiness (overripe banana), fine hop bitterness and soft maltiness fight for attention. The flavour range is just as complex: the beer feels creamy in the mouth, delicately sweet without coming across as sticky, and also fruity with a bitter orange taste. The aftertaste is long, dry and pleasantly bitter. Its hop character gives the beer an appetising nature."

Trappist breweries conjures up images of monks brewing by candlelight with very little in the means of modern technologies but that is not always the case. At the Abbey of Westmalle the bottling plant was modernised in 1956, and in 1968 a separate water treatment plant was brought online. By 1991 the brewing hall was completely computer-controlled. If it improves quality, then the Trappist monks are more than happy to use new technologies. Who knows, they may even be using our Electric Brewery design for pilot / test batches! 😉

Westmalle breweryWestmalle brewery. Image (c) milo-profi.be

Higher-alcohol beers like Westmalle Tripel are brewed with a rather aggressive and alcohol-tolerant strain of Belgian yeast that's famous for producing very smooth, drinkable beers that are both flavourful and boozy. Fortunate for homebrewers, the actual Westmalle yeast is available as White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale or Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity.

This yeast is less fruity and spicy than some other Belgian strains and more alcohol tolerant (up to whopping 15% ABV). Expect fruit flavours (plum, raisins, pear, and apple) that are subdued enough to allow the subtle pilsner malt flavours to come through. Fermentation schedule and temperature plays an important role in creating a perfect Belgian with this yeast so heed the instructions in our process below. Good temperature control will keep the high alcohol from tasting too solventy and control the spicy phenols and fruity esters from overpowering. Given the true top cropping (fermenting) nature of the yeast, make sure to have a good 20-30% of headspace in your fermenter. A blow-off tube is recommended.

Westmalle breweryWestmalle brewery. Image (c) milo-profi.be

To achieve proper attenuation, part of the malt bill is replaced with simple sugars that ferment out completely. For this lighter coloured and flavoured beer, plain table sugar works well as the goal is simply to make a more fermentable wort, not add flavour. Clear Belgian candi syrups are also available for this purpose, but like many brewers we don't find they offer any advantages over something like plain table sugar. Darker Belgian candi sugars are a completely different story however as they add specialized flavours (similar to crystal malts).

This beer is deceptively smooth so be careful: It's very easy to forget that it is over 9% ABV until you start to get closer to the end of your first pour. This is definitely a sipping beer.

Tripel's a style we find can be consumed both fresh (after only a few weeks of lagering / cold conditioning) and after longer term cellaring (aging for many months). It's interesting to taste how the beer changes over time. For a more "authentic" taste similar to the commercial version, age the beer for a few months to mimic import and distribution times. Try the beer over time and see what you think.

Westmalle breweryWestmalle brewery. Image (c) milo-profi.be

For serving, it's best to use a Trappist goblet or chalice (see picture at top). This does full justice to the complex character of the beer and allows room for the rich head. Like any other pour, ensure that the glass is free of any detergents or grease as either will cause the foam to immediately disappear.

For those that like to bottle, it is best to keep the beer in a dark place at a constant temperature somewhere between 46-56F once carbonated. Before serving, let the bottle rest cold for at least a week so that the yeast sinks to the bottom and you will get a nice clear pour. The beer should be brilliantly clear, not cloudy. When pouring, hold the glass at an angle and begin pouring slowly along the side. Continue pouring in one movement and hold the glass vertically at the end in order to end in the middle, producing a perfect head. Leave around half an inch of beer in the bottle. This yeast base (rich in vitamin B) should be consumed separately.

Westmalle breweryWestmalle brewery. Image (c) milo-profi.be

Brew up a batch and let us know how you like it!

 

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Belgian Tripel

Size: 12 US gallons (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 93% (lower due to the high gravity)
Attenuation: 86%
Calories: 275 kcal per 12 fl oz
Original Gravity:
1.084 (style range: 1.075 - 1.085)
Terminal Gravity: 1.012 (style range: 1.008 - 1.014)
Colour: 4.7 SRM (style range: 4.5 - 7)
Alcohol: 9.5% ABV (style range: 7.5% - 9.5%)
Bitterness: 36 IBU (style range: 20 - 40)

Mash:
24.5 lb Belgian Pilsner Malt (1.4-1.8L)* (83.5%) 
7 oz Melanoidin Malt (23-34L) (1.5%)

Boil:
5.5 oz German Tettnanger Hops (4%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [34.3 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc Tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
1 oz Czech Saaz Hops (3.2%) - added during boil, boiled 10 min [2 IBU]
4.4 lb Regular table sugar (15%) - added during boil**, boiled 10 min (add slowly)

Yeast:
9 packs Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast (or an appropriate starter)
- or -
9 packs White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale yeast (or an appropriate starter)

*Can't find Belgian Pilsner malt? German Pilsner malt (1.5-2.1L) will make an excellent Tripel as well.

**It's been said that moving the addition of simple sugars like table sugar to the end of fermentation can help if you have attenuation problems. (We've never had issues so we always add to the boil per our recipe). If you prefer to add at the end of fermentation, heat up some distilled water to near boiling (above 180F) and stir in about 1lb of sugar. Let it cool and add directly to the fermenter. Keep doing this every 2-3 days until all of the sugar is used up. Why is this said to help with attenuation? Yeast likes to eat simple sugars (like table sugar) first before it attacks the more complex ones produced by the grain. By giving the yeast only the 'less tasty' stuff (complex sugars) first they're more likely to finish it all before moving on the 'tasty stuff' (simple sugars). Giving them both at the same time is like giving your kids dinner and desert at the same time. They'll eat desert first and then be too full to eat their dinner. Given them dinner first, and there's always room for desert. 😉

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Notes / Process

  • Add 500mg potassium metabisulphite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required).
  • Water treated with brewing salts to our Balanced flavour profile: Ca=50, Mg=10, Na=16, Cl=70, SO4=70 (Hit minimums on Ca and Mg, keep the Cl:SO4 ratio low and equal. Do not favour flavour / maltiness or bitterness / dryness. For balanced beers.). For complete details on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
  • 1.25 qt/lb mash thickness.
  • Start the mash at 131F and hold for 10 mins (high end of the protein rest range).
  • Ramp up to 149F and hold for 90 mins (beta rest).
  • Ramp up to 155F and hold for 30 mins (alpha rest).
  • Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
  • If your system does not allow for step mashes, try a single infusion mash at 150F for 90 mins, followed by a mashout to 168F for 10 mins (if possible).
  • ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature). Collect 14.9 gallons.
  • Boil for 90 minutes, adding Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately.
  • Cool the wort quickly to 62F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
  • Aerate well. Pure oxygen from a tank may be used at a rate of 1 litre per minute for 120 seconds per 5 gallons.
  • Pitch yeast and ferment at 64F (wort temperature), allowing temperature to rise to 70F over one week (raise 1 degree per day). We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges.
  • Allow yeast to continue until finished. Do not allow temperature to drop. If yeast seems to be stalling, do not be afraid to raise temperature as high as 75F to ensure proper attenuation. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days.
  • Rack to a brite tank (we use 5 gallon glass carboys) that has been purged with CO2 to avoid oxygen pickup, add 1 tsp of unflavoured gelatin dissolved in a cup of hot distilled water per 5 gallons of beer, and allow to clear for 2-3 days.
  • Package as you would normally. Though some will argue that a Tripel should only be bottled, if we still had to bottle we wouldn't be brewing beer. 😉 We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2. We chill the kegs to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve. In a hurry? Feel free to raise the CO2 pressure temporarily to 30-40 PSI to carbonate fast over a 24 period, and then turn back down to serving pressure. 
  • Carbonate this beer to higher than normal levels, around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of CO2.
  • The beer will improve greatly if conditioned just above freezing for 4 weeks before serving and will continue to change over time. Sampling is recommended.

For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.

Enjoy!

Questions? Visit our Belgian Tripel forum thread

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