A fellow participant at the American Craft Beer Fest asked me about the difference between styles of Trappist beers, particularly dubbels, tripels and quads. I did know that what these beers have in common is that they are all ales, meaning that they are top-fermenting, and bottle-conditioned. Beyond a vague notion of “strength,” I did not know the exact difference between the three, so I thought it would be helpful to do a little research for the blog.
I found that the different styles have their origin in the amount of malts added to the beer: twice the amount demanded from the basic recipe for a duppel, three times for the tripel and four times for the quad. However, that characterization is no longer accurate in brewing these beers today; they are now distinguished by alcohol content and to a lesser extent by color.
I will start with the Enkel, which means “single.” The Enkel was the lightest beer produced in the monastery and consumed by the monks themselves. Today these beers are rarely offered for public sale, and the term Enkel is used more often to describe the basic recipe for a Trappist brewer.
Dubbels are relatively strong beers, with about 6-8% ABV. They are considered brown ales, with slight bitterness, fairly heavy body, and balanced roast and dark fruit flavors. Dubbels have a very small hop profile but a pronounced dry malt character. Examples include Westmalle Dubbel, Chimay Red/Premiere, and Rochefort 8.
Tripels are cleaner and crispier than the other styles, with 7-10% ABV, but they tend to be more pale or blonde in color. The aroma and flavor tend to involve powdery yeast and fruit notes with a sweet finish. Tripels are on the complex side for a light-bodied beer, and involve a fair amount of hops and bitterness, spice, malt and fruit flavors. Westmalle Tripel and Chimay White/Cinq Cents are two examples of Tripel beers.
Quads are similar to dubbels, but the alcohol is the most important part of flavor profile, giving quads a sweeter quality than dubbels. Quads sit at 9%+ ABV, and range from amber to dark brown in color. Quads are full bodied, allowing for a rich malty palate with low bitterness and pronounced fruit flavors. Some examples include St. Bernadus Abt 12, Three Philosophers, and Pretty Things Baby Tree.
I have given you the basics. However, the best way to discern the difference between these beers is to taste them, and to feel the difference in their effects. So treat yourself to a taste test, and decide which one is your new favourite beer.