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Beer Styles - Abbey Ales

Dubbel, Tripel, Abt/Quadrupel
Styles & Seasonals June 30, 2005      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

Abbey Dubbel

The idea of abbey styles is based on the examples set by the five Trappist abbeys that brew in Belgium. Strangely, though, four of the abbeys themselves do not use style designations. Only Westmalle does (since about 1836 in the case of the Dubbel), but the popularity of their examples and the easy-to-understand paradigm of “double=dark”, “tripel=pale” has led to numerous imitators in the US and Belgium making use of these designations.

That, as much as any other reason, is the basis of this beer style; a set of beers with similar characteristics using the same name to identify a beer with those characteristics. It’s a little fuzzy at what point the beer-drinking public came to specifically understand what differentiated a dubbel from any other strong, dark Belgian ale, but we’re here today and that’s what counts.

There are of course, strong dark Belgian ales at pretty much every point along the flavour spectrum. Simplistically, an association with a monastery (that association need not be more than a fanciful fiction on the label) would be required to make sure in the consumer’s mind that Abbey Dubbel was indeed the style. However, American microbrewers don’t bother with this quaint superficiality.

Abbey dubbels are brown in colour, and fairly strong at between 6-8%. They possess a complex range of yeasty esters and phenols, along with strong dark malts that take toffeeish or brown sugary form. The use of candi sugar as an adjunct sometimes results in a raisiny note, which has become of the style’s signatures. The profile is sweet, and hop bitterness and flavour are minimal. The majority of any dryness that may happen to be present will come from alcohol. Dubbels are full-bodied.

Most popular examples: Chimay Rouge (Belgium), Westmalle Dubbel (Belgium), Corsendonk Pater (Belgium), New Belgium Abbey (USA), Leffe Brune (Belgium)

Some of my favourites: La Binchoise Brune (Belgium), New Belgium Abbey (USA), Slotskällans Kloster (Sweden), Burton Bridge Tickle Brain (England), Rochefort 6 (Belgium)

Colour: 3.5 – 4.5
Flavour: 2.5 – 4
Sweetness: 3.25 – 4.25

Abbey Tripel

The Abbey Tripel style is credited to the Westmalle Trappist monastery, in the year 1934. It was introduced as a big brother to the Dubbel, which had been around for almost 100 years at that point.

As with the Abbey Dubbel style, Abbey Tripel developed as imitators of the Westmalle product adopted the name (and the overall paradigm for abbey beers of dubbel-tripel-“extra”). Broadly speaking, there isn’t much to choose between Abbey Tripel and other types of strong, golden Belgian Ale. A strong case could be made that the two classic strong golden ales in Belgium (Westmalle Tripel and Duvel) are merely at different points along the same spectrum. As to whether a beer is officially considered a tripel, the name does have something to do with this, but even that would depend on to whom you were talking. A beer like Fin du Monde, for example, is considered by some to be a Tripel, but without an abbey reference or Tripel reference, others are less compelled to give it that categorization.

Overall, Tripels are strong (8-9%), pale and hazy. They are much drier than dubbels, with generous hopping, lots of dusty or floral yeastiness, and a strong, peppery alcohol note. Complex, hefty and intense, Tripels are a noble in the world of beer.

Most popular examples: Fin du Monde (Canada), Chimay Blanche (Belgium), Victory Golden Monkey (USA), Westmalle Tripel (Belgium), Tripel Karmeliet (Belgium)

Some of my favourites: Victory Golden Monkey (USA), Affligem Triple (Belgium), Tripel Karmeliet (Belgium), Moinette Blonde (Belgium), Charlevoix 8er Jour (Canada)

Colour: 1 – 2
Flavour: 3 – 4.25
Sweetness: 1 – 3


This is the broad category for those oversized abbey ales. These are, in theory, based on the Trappist twosome of Westvleteren Abt and Rochefort 10. Former Trappist ale La Trappe Quadrupel also had a hand in shaping this style.

It should be noted that Abt or Quadrupel is not universally recognized. The Belgians don’t view these beers are being of any particular style. However, American brewers are doing to the ultra-strong Trappists what they’ve done with a lot of types of beer – aped the beer, borrowed the name and when enough people do this you have a beer style. Even proponents have to concede, despite the popularity of the originals, the style is still in its infancy and whether or not enough examples exist to define with certainty such a style at all is in the eye of the beholder.

Those who do feel that there are enough examples say that the style is very strong (10-12%), rich, alcoholic, and malty. Colour is usually dark brown, but can range into light golden brown. Sweetness is to the fore, in the form of toffee, other malt notes or raisin from the use of candi sugar. Flavours are intense. Hop character is minimal at best. Esters and phenols should be plentiful. It is big, serious beer, for dessert or a nightcap.

Most popular examples: Rochefort 10 (Belgium), Westvleteren Abt (Belgium), St. Bernardus Abt 12 (Belgium), Ommegang Three Philosophers (USA), La Trappe Quadrupel (Netherlands)

Some of my favourites: Dieu du Ciel Rigor Mortis Abt (Canada), Westvleteren Abt (Belgium), Rochefort 10 (Belgium)

Colour: 3.75 – 4.75
Flavour: 4 – 5
Sweetness: 3.5 – 4.75


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