Catawba Beer 101 – Belgian Tripel
The Belgian Tripel is a strong ale, bright yellow to golden in color, with a distinctively complex aroma and flavor. Its geographical origin is known, however, the history behind the style name is a subject of debate.
The Tripel originated in Belgium approximately 80 years ago. It is part of a family of Belgian ales defined, in part, by incrementally greater alcohol content – a series that includes the lesser-known Single, and the “Holy Trinity of Abbey Ales”: Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel. The naming convention is thought to correspond to each beer’s approximate ABV: 3% (Single), 6% (Dubbel), and 9% (Tripel) – or possibly the marks on casks (X, XX, XXX) used to signify the relative strength of the liquid. At the time, it was customary for brewers to label their beers in this manor rather than with actual names.
European monastic brewers have spent centuries perfecting their craft. The Trappist Order, a specific group of European monastics that settled in Belgium in the early 1800s after being driven out of France, are believed to be the most influential in the evolution of several classic Belgian beer styles. Their dedication, craftsmanship, and belief in self-sustenance made them exceptional brewers. Today, only beer made within a Trappist monastery can carry the “Trappist” moniker.
In the early 1930s, pilsners and pale lagers were all the rage in Europe. Hendrik Verlinden of the Drie Linden brewery decided that he wanted to create a strong pale ale that could compete with the lagers. So, he responded with a new beer called Witkap Pater in 1932 – now known as Witkap Tripel. Verlinden, who was a highly accomplished brewer and expert in yeast science, had worked as a consultant at the Trappist brewery, Westmalle, in the 1920s.
Westmalle had also begun developing a strong golden ale around the same time, introducing their Tripel in 1934. Though Verlinden’s influence in the Westmalle Tripel recipe is unclear, it was this Trappist beer that became the standard-bearer for the new style. A couple decades later, the head brewer at Westmalle tweaked the recipe by adding more hops, lending subtle earthy notes to provide balance to the malt sweetness. Since then, the recipe has remained unchanged, and the Tripel has lived on as the newest addition to the pantheon of classic Belgian abbey ales.
(Pictured here: Spencer Brewery in central Massachusetts; it is the only certified Trappist brewery in the United States!)
Catawba released its homage to the strong golden ales of Belgium on Black Friday. True to style, LD’s Belgian Tripel is innocently yellow in color, deceptively light in body, and bursting with fruity yeast esters and spicy phenols – and a hint of warming alcohol. It was fermented with abbey ale yeast, and features an addition of Belgian candi sugar. Flavor descriptors include apple, pear, lemon, banana, clove, peppery spice, and noble hop earthiness – all combining for a culinary-quality complexity.
According to Belgian tradition, strong golden ales are named after forces of evil. So, we thought it only fitting for this beer to share initials with the meanest little guy in the Catawba Family…the infamous LD, a.k.a. Long Dawg, a.k.a. Little Devil. LD himself has been making guest appearances at Catawba tasting rooms in support of his namesake beer, hosting a series of exclusive “meet & greet & bite” events.
LD’s Belgian Tripel is now available at all locations and in 5-state distribution. Find it on draft and in 4-pack cans, wherever Catawba beers are sold.