Craft Beer 101: The Trappists

There are, generally speaking, three European countries upon whose beer tradition the US Craft Beer Industry is built. Actually it's less about tradition so much as it is about yeast. Germany has it's crisp, refreshing lager yeast, England has it's fairly clean, malt forward Ale yeast, and then there's Belgium. Think of Belgian yeast as the fun uncle of the beer yeast family. Belgian yeast releases more aromatic and flavor compounds like esters, phenols, and fusel alcohols than either of it's relatives. This leaves the beer with complex fruit and nut flavors that is accentuated by it's dry finish. Belgian beer is diverse but the most famous styles of Belgian beer come out of Monasteries and the robed monks that inhabit them. Well not really anymore, but it's more fun to think of them that way.

Trappist Single

This style is murky at best, in fact, t's not really a style at all. Monasteries have a tradition of brewing lighter, low-alcohol beer as the daily ration for the monks, but any kind of specific style is basically a modern invention. They're essentially non-existent in the craft beer industry and rarely seen outside the monastery. So why include them in this list? Because it just seemed wrong to do a list with Dubbel, Tripel, and Quad without at least mentioning the Single. 

Belgian Dubbel

The Dubbel ranges from reddish-copper to very dark in color. It's dry, malty, and like all the beers on this list, has prevalent fruit flavor and aroma. You might smell cherries, raisins, or even banana (esters) and notes of clove, pepper or perfume like notes (phenols) are common as well.

  • Malt: Chocolate, Caramel, Toast
  • Hops: Hop aroma and flavor are not perceived to low. Hop bitterness is medium-low to medium
  • ABV: 6.5-7.5%
  • Pair With: Apple Smoked Sausage, Milk Chocolate, Taleggio Cheese

Belgian Tripels

Lighter in color than it's sister the Dubbel, the Tripel is higher in alcohol and more complex. Both styles use beet sugar in them but while the Dubbel has it's caramelized, the Tripel's isn't. This is a complex style with a fair amount of spiciness (Think spices like clove, not spicy like chile peppers) but remains dangerously drinkable for how strong it usually is. These are usually bottle conditioned which means the carbonation comes from yeast still active in the bottle after bottling. 

  • Malt: Low Sweetness from very light malt
  • Hops: Hop aroma and flavor are not perceived to low. Hop bitterness is medium to medium-high
  • ABV: 7-10%
  • Pair With: Roasted Turkey, Brie, Bananas Foster

Belgian Quad (Belgian Strong, Dark Ale)

A Belgian is essentially a Dubbel taken to 11. More of everything. Rich malt, tons of fruit, spice and way more alcohol than anything that light in body has any business being. They age very well.

  • Malt: Caramel, dark sugar and malty sweet flavors and aromas can be intense
  • Hops: Hop aroma and flavor are not perceived to very low. Hop bitterness is low to medium-low
  • ABV: 8-12%
  • Pair With: Duck, Aged Gouda, Bread Pudding or literally anything with caramel sauce