The Belgian tripel is among the most delicate of beer styles. Curiously, American craft brewers — despite their reputation for aggressive, strong ales that eschew any sense of subtlety — have gotten very good at making them.
Light in color, usually hazy, and often pouring with a pillowy head, the tripel is typically a dry, well-hopped ale with an aroma suggesting bananas, cloves, and light grains. Its full body and complex, fruity taste make it intensely satisfying. With an alcohol content that hovers between 8 and 10 percent, one glass of these — certainly no more than two — is usually enough for the night.
The name is derived from the relative amount of ingredients, and thus strength, of the beer. “The term ‘tripel’ refers to the amount of malt with fermentable sugars and the original gravity of the wort prior to fermentation,” according to Derek Walsh’s entry on the subject in “The Oxford Companion to Beer.” “One theory of the origin is that it follows a medieval tradition where crosses were used to mark casks: a single X for the weakest beer, XX for a medium-strength beer, and XXX for the strongest beer.” (Of course, Americans have invented the term “quadrupels” for extra-strong beers that, in Belgium, might be classified as dubbels or strong dark ales.)
For some reason, Americans have gotten really good at brewing Belgian tripels. There are very good US-made dubbels and quads, too, but the tripel is the abbey ale style in which craft brewers in this country have distinguished themselves. It is the only abbey style, in fact, in which the Americans have matched the Belgians in quality. Allagash Tripel, Boulevard Long Strange Tripel, and Samuel Adams New World Tripel can go toe to toe with those made by Westmalle, Val-Dieu, and Chimay.
And they keep coming. The Boston area is suddenly wash in excellent tripels, and they’re all so different from one another. Here are three worth trying:
Fluffy White Rabbits
It would be a challenge to anoint any of the beverages made by Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project as its best, but Fluffy White Rabbits is surely a contender. The annual spring release from the Somerville-based brewer is a magnificent beer.
Straw colored with a quickly dissipating head, it emits an aroma boasting citric hops, bananas, apricots, and Belgian candi sugars. This is a generously hopped tripel. Grapefruit and floral notes spill forth on the tongue, along with a tinge of sweetness. Despite all the hops, it’s not one iota bitter. Superb.
Fluffy White Rabbits is 8.5 percent alcohol. A 22-ounce bottle costs about $8.
Triplication, the new beer from Idle Hands Craft Brewery in Everett, is a major success. It’s an interesting and unique take on the tripel style — an unexpectedly dry, citrusy variation on the theme.
Cloudy orange with a billowing head that lasts for a long, long time, Triplication has an subdued aroma and a tart taste that are somewhat at odds. The beer has a muted scent of citrus and sweetness, but it’s strong on the tongue. Oranges, pink grapefruits, and pepper intermingle with the grain bill. An atypical tripel — and an excellent one.
Triplication is 9 percent alcohol. A 750-milliliter bottle costs about $9.
The Somerville Brewing Co.’s tripel shows an independent streak as well. The latest offering from the outfit known as Slumbrew looks like no other tripel — bright orange, crystal clear, with no head. And it smells almost exactly like bubblegum.
It is sticky sweet, too, with bubblegum, grapefruit, and lemon poking through the taste. Trekker Trippel is so far from the norm — so far from traditional Belgian tripels anyway — that it stretches the definition. It’s quite good, but anyone who expects a beer to adhere strictly to style might be disappointed.
Trekker Trippel is 9.5 percent alcohol. A 22-ounce bottle costs about $8.Steve Greenlee can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGreenlee.