This goes without saying, but the Belgians got it right when they began brewing beer many a' centuries ago. Three of the greatest (IMO) and most complex styles ever brewed originated in this crazy, waffle-loving-land o' plenty.
It is rumored that when the Trappist monks began brewing beer, they set out to brew three distinctive styles of beer (Enkel, Dubbel, Tripel) to incorporate the symbolism of the Holy Trinity into their beer making. The names also characterized the alcohol present in each style, with Enkels containing the least amount and Tripels being the strongest. Although Enkels are no longer brewed, the symbolism of the Trinity remains present today in several monasteries with the addition of Quadrupel style beers, which categorically just beat out the Tripels, and contain the highest amount of alcohol. Jarrod took care of the monster Quadrupel beers, and now I bring you my favorite Dubbel and Tripel style beers.
Dubbels are dark in color, and tend to have malt flavors dominating over hops. Whereas the Quadrupels have more of a fruit presence, the Dubbels tend to be a bit spicier with strong caramel flavors. This is very present in the aroma of the beer as well, as Dubbels typically have a warm caramel and brown sugar smell. Some Dubbels have rich creamy heads and others will have little to no head with slight lacing. They can be unpredictable as some breweries balance the flavors perfectly and others brew a very mediocre Dubbel beer. But, man, when they get it right it is an exceptional beer.
Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 6.5-9.0%
My top 5 Dubbel Beers:
1. Trappist Westvleteren 8 - It is hard to describe this beer. Westy's are by far the hardest to get and most sought after beers on the planet. The remarkable part about them is that they live up to the hype. It is by far the best Dubbel and one of the best overall beers known to man.
2. Westmalle Trappist Dubbel - This is the best readily available Dubbel. It tends to be pricey (roughly $5/11.2 oz bottle at your local bottle shoppe) but it is well worth it.
3. Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale - Although classified as a Dubbel, it tends to be less complex than some of the others I have tried. That aside, it is incredibly drinkable, very smooth, and just an all around great beer.
4. St. Bernardus Prior 8 - Some people debate this beer over its sister, the Pater 6, but for me, the Prior 8 "takes the cake". The Pater has more a sting to it up front whereas the Prior is more balanced and there are so many flavors present in this beer (including some crazy fruit undertones) it's hard to describe it accurately.
5. Maredsous 8 - I have only tried this beer once, but it was outstanding. I remember thinking it is exactly like a Dubbel should taste. Complex, spicy, dark, manly, etc.
I go back and forth deciding which style of beer is my favorite. One week it is Quadrupels, the next it is Belgian Strong Darks, but the style that remains tried and true for me (and the style I have sampled the most), is the Tripels. The Tripels probably deserve their own blog entry as I could ramble on and on about this style of beer. The beer is so well balanced and perfectly combines everything that is great about beer - malted barley and hops. It tends to be spicy and fruity and hoppy and malty all at once. The appearance of these beers can be quite deceiving to the novice beer drinker as they tend to be lighter in color, and unfortunately many people think the lighter the beer color, the less alcohol. Not true. Although Tripels are typically bright yellow to gold in color, their appearance is distinctly different from say, a pilsner, or lager. Mainly due to the fact that most Tripels are bottle conditioned, making for a cloudy appearance and a slightly different flavor depending on when it is opened/enjoyed. The best beers, after all, are the ones you cannot see through. Speaking of appearance, to me, there is not a beer style that exists that is more pleasing to the eye. When enjoyed in the proper glassware (tulip, snifter, goblet), with that cloudy golden color, and that large white head, it is a site to behold!
Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 8.0-12.0%
My Top 5 Tripel Beers:
1. Allagash Curieux - One of the few Tripels I have seen that is not yellow/golden in color. This one is aged in bourbon barrels, which might explain its dark amber color. The bourbon flavor is very present, but unlike bourbon, this does not burn your throat on the way down. It is incredibly smooth and just a crazy hybrid beer. I love it.
2. La Fin Du Monde - This beer is responsible for my love of Tripels and it is the standard, for me, to judge all other Tripels against. It is widely available and from one of my favorite breweries, Unibroue. There are flavors ranging from strong yeast to mild banana. Awesome.
3. Tripel Karmeliet - Although the color is more transparent than I would like (joking, kind of) it looks beautiful when poured properly, with its large white head and carbonation bubbles emitting from the bottom of the glass. This Tripel tends to have more of a peppery taste and also has more carbonation, which makes for an interesting mouthfeel.
4. Westmalle Trappist Tripel - Much like the Westmalle Dubbel, this one can be pricey, but it is also well worth the money spent. It is very smooth and drinkable and leaves a lot of lacing on the glass, which I love. It has a bit of spice to it, but levels out towards the end.
5. Green Peppercorn Tripel - I was lucky to get my hands on this beer thanks to a trade negotiated online. Much like the name suggests, the peppercorn dominates the palate. It is very spicy and there are (at least in mine) yeast balls floating in the beer which balances the spiciness as it goes down. I believe this beer is only available at The Brewers Art in Maryland, which is on my radar to visit in the near future.