Can someone offer a quick explanation of Dubbel, Tripel, Quad, Abbey?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by D-Nice, Dec 3, 2013.

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  1. D-Nice

    D-Nice Initiate (0) Nov 22, 2013 Illinois

    I'm just getting into these Belgian beer styles. For some reason, I always thought they were some sort of dark, heavy beers, similar to stouts, but they're, obviously, not. So far, I've only had Dubbel and Tripel, and I really am intrigued by what's going on - how they can vary from rather light and crisp to more full-bodied and earthy. And, they often seem to taste significantly lower in ABV than what they actually are.

    But, are these actual beer style names? All of these are variants of a Belgian Ale? I read something about how Dubel, Tripel were coined simply because the monks were using double or triple of some ingredient in the brewing process or that the end result was double or triple in alcohol. If that is true, do the names today really describe what you're going to get? In other words, if you order various Tripels, would you expect them to have well-defined common attributes in addition to the small things that make them unique? Or are terms Dubbel, Tripel, etc., meant to denote a broader range of taste profiles and the commonness is simply the result of technique, not necessarily taste.

    I've been having fun getting to to know these beers, and would like more info as I move forward. Thanks.
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  2. WillemHC

    WillemHC Initiate (146) Jun 21, 2013 Utah

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  3. angrygrimace

    angrygrimace Initiate (0) Apr 11, 2011 California

    Generally speaking they are well defined, recognized styles. As a general rule, all dubbels and tripels and quadrupels (quads) will be the same general beer style. "Abbey ale" is generally a vague or meaningless description, however. It can describe any beer patterned after a Monk brewed beer, and could be a dubbel, tripel or even a quad. The same goes for the term "Grand Cru," which sometimes means the beer is a quad, but sometimes just means its a more special brewing of a specific beer. (The term "Grand Cru" is a French word meaning "great growth" and has no concrete accepted meaning in beer or even in wine, where it originated).

    There's a lot of folktales about where the names "dubbel," "tripel" and "quadrupel" came from. You often hear stuff like "dubbel is double fermented" or something odd like that (which if you brew, know makes no sense) or that dubbel is "twice as strong." The reality is that "dubbel" just means its the second beer, and "tripel" means its the third beer. There's not necessarily a relationship between them. Dubbel came about because the Westmalle Trappist abbey had long made a single beer, but then they made a second type of beer, which happened to be much stronger (but not necessarily twice as strong). They called this beer "dubbel" to denote it was their second beer. Today, a dubbel is almost always a strongish, sweet brown ale with noticable Belgian yeast character.

    The "tripel," however, is a very dry, golden beer which has its origins in the early 20th century; generally speaking, the tripel is very similar to a beer it was allegedly patterned after: the Belgian Golden Strong Ale (e.g. Duvel).

    "Quadrupel" is not actually a style name; its a genericized brand name for a beer made by the De Koningshoeven abbey called "La Trappe Quadrupel." The real name of the style is "Belgian Dark Strong Ale," and the actual characteristics of this style category can differ greatly. These beers can really cover that gamut of tastes and styles; some of them involve a lot of spices and flavors (e.g. Rochefort 10) and some of them are very straightforward (St. Bernardus Abt. 12/Westvleteren 12).
    #3 angrygrimace, Dec 3, 2013
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2013
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  4. drtth

    drtth Initiate (0) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    "Abbey Ale" describes the origin of the beer in that when used accurately it is a beer brewed by and/or for Monks in an Abbey. Some commercial breweries also brew Abbey-style Ales, with "Abbey-style" indicating that they are secular but brewing a style that originated in some Abbey. Although not every commercial brewer is as careful as they ought to be to use the term Abbey-style rather than Abbey.

    Trappist Ales are Abbey Ales brewed in Trappist Monasteries and either by or under the supervision of one or more of the Trappist Monks. There is a carefully defined/regulated network of Trappist Monasteries that are members of the association and allowed to use Trappist in their name or on their beer labels in some way.
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  5. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Poo-Bah (1,874) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    If you want to learn more, from a source that traveled to Belgium to research the topic, please read "Brew Like a Monk", by Stan Hieronymus.

    Duvel was developed in the 1920s, but it was a dark beer until about 1970. Most say that Tripels were developed a to compete with Pilsners, and the first was Witkap Pater in 1932.
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  6. tkdchampxi

    tkdchampxi Initiate (0) Oct 19, 2010 New Jersey

    BA lists Quad as a separate style from Belgian Strong Dark, and I tend to agree. Gouden Carolus' Cuvee Van de Keizer Blue is listed as a Belgian Strong Dark, and I find that it (and other beers in the style) tend to have less of the floral, spiced, or plum/prune qualities found in quads.

    The BJCP lists Belgian Strong Darks as a distinct style, whereas quads are lumped in with Belgian specialty beers.
  7. HenryAdams

    HenryAdams Initiate (0) Apr 22, 2013 New York

    For a truly great tripel, IMO, check out the Tripel Karmeleit. God, I love that one, though I don't think I've ever met a tripel I didn't like.

    Dubbels on the other hand...not sure I've ever met one I liked. Weird.
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  8. angrygrimace

    angrygrimace Initiate (0) Apr 11, 2011 California

    Actually, the example beers provided by the BJCP under Belgian Dark Strong Ale are: Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap), Rochefort 10 (blue cap), St. Bernardus Abt 12, Gouden Carolus Grand Cru of the Emperor, Achel Extra Brune, Rochefort 8 (green cap), Southampton Abbot 12, Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Brasserie des Rocs Grand Cru, Gulden Draak, Kasteelbier Bière du Chateau Donker, Lost Abbey Judgment Day.

    Most of us would recognize these as "quads." The thing is, BJCP Category 16E is a catch all for any specialty beer that is brewed in Belgian style; e.g. with Belgian yeast, the same way Category 23 is a catch-all for anything at all. Orval is an example of Belgian Specialty Ale, but so is La Trappe's Quadrupel. The way the specialty category works in that realm is that in reality, you can enter almost any beer into both categories.

    I personally think trying to draw a distinction between Quads and BDSA is essentially arbitrary. They are all Belgian, they are all dark, they are all strong and they are all ales. I think the fact that nobody can agree on what certain beers, e.g. Abt. 12, actually are (BA and BCJP already disagree) is testament to this.
    #8 angrygrimace, Dec 3, 2013
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2013
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  9. tkdchampxi

    tkdchampxi Initiate (0) Oct 19, 2010 New Jersey

    Long post here. I'll highlight a few things from the BJCP guidelines that I think are helpful in the way I think about the Belgian styles. Quotes are all from the BCJP: I am not an expert by any means, however, and I do not brew, so I am speaking only from experience as a drinker of beers.

    I haven't had any Belgian brewed Belgian Pale Ales, so I won't speak as to them.

    I think Belgian Strong Pale Ales (or Belgian Golden Strong Ale) and Belgian Trippels are similar styles. Duvel is probably the most iconic representation of the BSPA style, and the flavors in the style are described as a "Marriage of fruity, spicy and alcohol flavors supported by a soft malt character." Moreover, "Esters are reminiscent of pears, oranges or apples . . . A low to moderate spicy hop character is often present. Alcohols are soft, spicy, often a bit sweet and are low-to-moderate in intensity." I describe this as a "floral" quality often found in BSPA. I don't really love the style, but I understand that Duvel is important to know as a point of reference.

    Trippels are similar - BJCP says that the style "Strongly resembles a Strong Golden Ale but slightly darker and somewhat fuller-bodied. Usually has a more rounded malt flavor but should not be sweet." I would describe Trippels as somewhat smoother than BSPAs, due to the more rounded malt flavor which detracts from the slight booziness that is sometimes found in BSPAs like Duvel. It is important to recognize that Trippels are not necessarily more or less alcoholic than BSPAs - they exist within the same ABV range. Both BSPAs and Trippels are generally lighter in color than Dubbels, Quads, and Belgian Strong Dark Ales. I recommend Trippel Karmeliet, although I think Chimay Cent Ciquante (2012 limited release) is the best beer of the style - BA generally doesn't agree, but IMO.

    I'd like to think that Dubbels and BSDAs are more similar in style. Dubbels are often "Dark amber to copper in color, with an attractive reddish depth of color" although they are not necessarily opaque, such as is found with some (many?) BSDAs. Dubbels have an aroma and flavor of "Complex, rich malty sweetness; malt may have hints of chocolate, caramel and/or toast (but never roasted or burnt aromas)." I would say that Dubbels are sometimes a little sweet, fruity, or floral, but always very smooth - BJCP comments that "raisiny flavors are common; dried fruit flavors are welcome; clove-like spiciness is optional," but "balance is always toward the malt." They are a little less alcoholic than BSPAs, Trippels, and BSDAs. This, combined with the maltiness, make them the easiest to drink, as opposed to sipping. I really like St. Bernardus Prior 8.

    BSDAs are my favorite style (even more than DIPAs). Where Dubbels have an ABV in the 6-7.6% range, BSDAs have an ABV in the 8-11% range. Nonetheless, I do not think the alcohol affects the aroma, flavor, or smoothness of the style in any way. There is no boozy quality or astringency, despite the higher ABV. The BJCP notes that BSDAs are "Moderately malty or sweet on palate. Finish is variable depending on interpretation (authentic Trappist versions are moderately dry to dry, Abbey versions can be medium-dry to sweet) . . . Almost all versions are malty in the balance, although a few are lightly bitter. The complex and varied flavors should blend smoothly and harmoniously." I don't know much about the difference between Trappist and Abbey versions of BSDAs, but I think the last sentence is the most important. The fact that BSDAs can be so hugely, complicatedly flavorful, but still be smooth and harmonious speaks to the quality characteristics of the style. My favorite BSDA is Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van de Keizer Blauw (Blue). Not only is the beer excellent, but it smooths and deepens as it ages - a two year old Cuvee Blue is my favorite beer that I've ever had.

    Finally, Quads do not have a distinct BJCP entry. They are described by BA as an inspired Belgian style ale "of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles." ABVs are in the 9-13% range, so they are certainly stronger than Dubbels, although Trippels can be in the 7.5 to 10.5% range, according to the BJCP. I would describe Quads as a stronger sibling to Dubbels, with the floral qualities of Trippels, but more fruity. As opposed to Dubbels, where the balance is always towards the malt, Quads sometimes skew the other way, where the balance is towards the fruity flavors or sweetness of the beer. Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad and Ommegang Three Philosophers are American-made, great, and not hard to find at a good price. Trappists Rochefort 10 and St. Bernardus Abt 12 are better, but a bit more expensive.

    That's my two cents (and a whole lot more).
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  10. tkdchampxi

    tkdchampxi Initiate (0) Oct 19, 2010 New Jersey

    That's a good point. In my mind, I characterize Quads as more sweet and fruity than BSDAs. But that's probably arbitrary, just like what you're saying.
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  11. Immortale25

    Immortale25 Poo-Bah (3,430) May 13, 2011 North Carolina
    Society Trader

    So what is a single beer? This came up at the brewery where I work. They called one of their beers a Belgian Single and I have never heard of another beer categorized as that. They told me that it's just a Belgian Pale Ale. After a quick Google search, I found this:
    So now my questions are: Are all Belgian Pale Ales also Singles? Or are all trappist pale ales referred to as Singles? The beers given as examples of singles in the above link (Orval Petit, Chimay Doree, Westmalle Extra) are all classified as Belgian Pale Ales on BA but I noticed from the reviews of all three that none seem to be distributed to the US. Why is that? Low alcohol resulting in short shelf life and therefore shouldn't be exported? Or is it because it's these monasteries' session beers that they drink the most of/most regularly and they want it all to themselves? Sorry if some of these questions have been answered in above posts but some of them I skimmed because they were tl;dr
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  12. whiterabbit

    whiterabbit Initiate (0) Jan 24, 2010 Ohio

    THANK YOU to all that answered, and to D-Nice for asking. Nice informative read. Appreciate it!
  13. Shroud0fdoom

    Shroud0fdoom Initiate (0) Oct 31, 2013 Maryland

    This is real talk, so listen up.
  14. fredmugs

    fredmugs Initiate (0) Aug 11, 2012 Indiana

    Abbey Ales will getcha drunk. Dubbels twice as fast, etc, etc.
  15. CalgaryFMC

    CalgaryFMC Initiate (0) Aug 2, 2013 Canada (AB)

    Not all trappist pale ales are so-called singles ... Orval is the classic example. Most deem this a Belgian pale but its ABV and other characteristics seem to preclude a single designation. My understanding is that historically, a single was a low ABV (less than 5%) brew made specifically for the monks to imbibe themselves, not for distribution to the general public. I suppose modern examples might be Chimay Doree or Orval's little brother Petit Orval.
  16. JohnSnowNW

    JohnSnowNW Initiate (0) Feb 6, 2013 Minnesota

    You mostly listed them in magnitudes of < ness
  17. Smakawhat

    Smakawhat Poo-Bah (8,229) Mar 18, 2008 Maryland

    Tripels are one of my favorite styles, but don't get hang up on pigeon holeing and grouping beers. In fact one of my favorite things about them is they are diverse, many are not also golden but amber in color, as just one example never mind flavor profiles.

    Long story short don't get hung up on styles so much, drink a bunch and find what you like about them. I like tripels cause of their incredible diversity.

    happy drinking...
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  18. CalgaryFMC

    CalgaryFMC Initiate (0) Aug 2, 2013 Canada (AB)

    As an aside, I recall reading that the term "single" in fact came along after the other three designations. Historically the monk's table beers were not called this.
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