Brewing the Belgian Tripel

by Mike Retzlaff

The Belgian Tripel is one subset of the “Trappist” category of beer.  The Tripel was originally produced as a commercial product by Westmalle in 1934.  They tweaked the recipe in 1956 and it has not changed since.  Several of the monastic brewers produce a Tripel along with a number of secular breweries.  To qualify as a Trappist beer, it must be produced by or under the supervision of Trappist monks.  Abbey beers are brewed in the Trappist style but aren’t associated with a monastery.  Achel, another brewer of Tripel, recently lost the “Trappist” designation as the remaining monks have either retired or have passed on to their final reward.

Tripels are generally made with Pilsner malts and light candy syrup and are well hopped. The hopping focuses on flavor and aroma in lieu of bitterness, although the bitterness is definitely there.  

A similar style is the Golden Strong Ale.  Some Belgian beers seem to meander back and forth across “fuzzy” style boundaries.  The Belgian Golden Strong Ale is a little lighter in color with a slightly drier finish.  The typical Tripel is a bit sweeter, smoother, and has a richer mouthfeel.  A classic example of the two styles are Duvel and Westmalle Tripel.  They are quite similar beers but have their own fine qualities. 

A Tripel is not a daily drinker or Session beer!  There are a number of beers that simply seem too strong to be the single beer on tap at home.  I normally bottle my Tripels and other “big” beers for drinking over an extended period and only keg if the beer is destined for a festival.

The bulk of my grist bill is Pilsner malt.  I usually add a bit of dark Munich or Belgian Biscuit.  I use invert syrup along with plain white table sugar.  Sugars are necessary to increase the ferment-ability which will “dry” out the beer and lighten the body by reducing the FG.  If I were to increase the OG toward the top of the range, I would use more invert and less sucrose.  My experience is that plain table sugar will produce a solvent-like ester when used exclusively at the higher OG level.

The BJCP parameters are: 
OG 1.075 – 1.085,   FG 1.008 – 1.014,   IBU  20 – 40,  SRM  4.5 – 7,  ABV  7.5% – 9.5%
The BA parameters are:
OG 1.070 – 1.092,   FG 1.008 – 1.014,   IBU  20 – 45,  SRM  4 – 7,  ABV  7.1 – 10.1%  

By comparison, you can see the small differences between the two “guidelines” for the same style.

Tripels can have a floral, herbal, and/or citrus aroma from the hops.  I use Tradition and Sterling hops but Styrian Goldings and/or most any noble hop will work.  I aim for 32–34 IBU.  The yeast provides esters which are banana, spicy, peppery, and phenolic.  

Yeast: Wyeast 3787 or WLP530 or OYL-028  (Westmalle)  
            Wyeast 1388 or WLP570    (Duvel Moortgat)   
            Wyeast 1214 or WLP500    (Chimay) 

  • With any of these yeasts, pitch @ 62o & let rise to 72o.  Fermenting too warm makes it solventy. 
  • Use a blow off tube! – most of these yeasts are top cropping.
  • As with any yeast, especially for a big beer, MAKE A STARTER.

The sugar is nearly 100% fermentable and is NOT included as a percentage of the GRAIN BILL but a percentage of the FERMENTABLES.  Add the sugars during the boil. see Brewing With Sugar for a better explanation.

To brew a batch @ 1.078 and deliver 5.1 gallons to the primary with 80% efficiency, we’ll need:
10#  4 oz. European Pils malt  (91% of grist)
1#  Dark Munich @ 9oL           (9% of grist)
14 oz.  Lyle’s Golden Syrup  (by weight)
8oz.  White table sugar  (sugars are 15% of the fermentables) up to 20% is acceptable
This will produce a wort of 5.3 SRM

I prefer the lower end of the standard range of OG.  If you want to go bigger or you get a substantially different efficiency, you’ll need to recalculate the numbers.

Mash-in at 130o for 20 min.
Raise to 144o for 20 min.
Raise to 152o for 20 min.
Raise to 158o for 60 min.
Mash-out at 170o for 10 min.

  • Sparge with 172o water (acidify the sparge water to 5.8 pH to alleviate astringency.)
  • Boil for 90 min.
  • Tradition hops with 60 min. left in boil.
  • Sterling hops with 10 min. left in boil.  (target 32 – 34 IBU)
  • Chill wort to 62o, oxygenate, and pitch yeast starter.
  • As the krausen falls, let the temp rise to 70o – 72o and ferment flat.
  • Batch prime between 2.4 – 2.6 vol.  Can carbonate to 3.5 vol. if using cork finished, champagne, or European ½ liter style bottles.  You don’t want grenades!
  • Bottle condition for at least 3 weeks.
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