Greetings and salutations fellow beer lovers!
I come to you with a bold proclamation of what I believe to be the actual champagne of beers; the Tripel. (Full disclosure, I live in the heart of Miller country, only a few miles away from the official plant, so I feel I am qualified to borrow their moniker from the High Life.) While I don’t believe I’ll be able to sway all, my only hope is I’ll leave you thirsty for more knowledge and more suds, so with that, let’s crack open a cold one, friends.
Our story starts within the walls of sacred grounds. The Tripels origin can be traced back hundreds of years in the monastic brewing of the Trappist order of Monks, they themselves being an order of the Cisterian branch of Catholicism. (Fun fact, there’s only one Catholic order that currently brews beer, and that’s these fine folks in Belgium.) While monastic and secular brewing goes back hundreds of years and are the ancestors of the Tripel, the style itself is relatively modern, triple strength beers didn’t show up on the map until about the 1920’s. (There’s a long and fascinating story of these Trappist monks and what that means when it’s on the label, but that will be for another article, for now I’d like to focus on the beer itself.) How these monks came to making this beer was as a means of camaraderie with the locals and any passers-by to spread the good word when they were in the area. Back then the water was contaminated and unsafe to drink so it was actually safer to serve strangers and friends beer, not so bad right? Much like champagne, it has a celebratory nature and is used as a way of building bonds and friendships. Beer does it all, doesn’t it friends?
Now as for the beer itself, it is quite deceptive. As an avid fan and practitioner of all things martial arts, the best way to describe this beer is like a tiny blackbelt kickboxer. Oh sure, you may think due to the size, there’s no way they could pack a punch, and land a haymaker, right? Let’s just put it this way, the beer is named for its triple strength, the Tripel. So even though it has a sneaky light body and golden hues throughout, the hallmark strength of this beer is in the higher end of the ABV spectrum, hovering usually around the 7 – 10% range. So yes, it sure can land that haymaker! Another way this brew uses deception lies in its flavor and color as briefly mentioned above. These beers are mostly brewed with adjunct sugars, that obviously helps with the sweetness, but also with the crisp, effervescent, champagne-like body. The sweetness comes through with many fruity and floral notes throughout, including banana, clove, and coriander. The golden colors it has usually are associated with lighter beers, and you may let your guard down thinking you can handle it but for being so light on its feet, it sure knows how to smack you and leave an impression.
As a Wisconsinite, a rite of passage here is the Friday night fish fry. Restaurants around here can quickly become an institution with the aid of a fantastic fish fry. What can really elevate a fish fry to epic delicious heights? A tasty brew to pair it with, and for that, we have our friend the Tripel. Pairing food with beer is essentially an art form with many subtle nuances. I don’t mean to sound snobby or high and mighty here, so basically a good rule of thumb is matching intensities. If the food is intense, the beer should be too. Just like how you wouldn’t want to match Bruce Lee with a brand new white belt student, you wouldn’t want to match a salad with a high alcoholic imperial stout or you’ll essentially cancel flavors out as one will easily overpower the other. What also helps is getting a good balance of the flavors and that’s why our pal the Tripel works so well with some greasy or grilled fish. The high carbonation of the beer helps cut the through the fish oils and rich fatty foods. Also, the sweetness of the beer is a nice balance to the salty fish fry. With these counteracting flavors and textures, they aid in helping cleanse the palate between bites instead of just loading you up on one particular taste.
So next time we’re all in a celebratory mood, we should all reach for the bottle conditioned ale with the champagne taste and high ABV punch we affectionately call the Tripel. With enough interesting history and complex tasting notes, there’s something we can all enjoy and love among friends and thirsty beer drinkers alike. Stay thirsty and stay classy everybody!
Tripels to Try
The Classic: Westmalle Tripel
The one that put the Tripel on the map straight from Belgium. While it may not have the boldest of flavors, one can appreciate it as the originator and setting the standard for all the Tripels to come.
The Modern: Unibroue La Fin du Monde
If you find yourself in a fancy beer spot, chances are they’ll have this one if there’s any sort of Tripel selection from outside the local area, and with good reason. Although Canada may be more known for its whiskeys, Unibroue brewery has quite the reputation for delicious beers, too. This has all the best features of a Tripel with its sweet coriander flavors and crisp finish leaving the head on the beer long after its poured.
The Local: Sprecher Abbey Tripel
I have quite the sweet tooth personally and this beer is one of my all time favorites because of that. Brewed only a few miles away from me here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this beer as all the sweetness I crave in a beer without being too overpowering to enjoy it through the whole bottle.