We learned something by tasting 19 different Belgian-style tripels: If there’s such a thing as a bad tripel, we haven’t had it. You can’t hardly go wrong in ordering a tripel—a strong pale ale, such as those brewed in Belgium.
Though strong Belgian pale ales have existed for centuries, the “tripel” name wasn’t used until the Trappist monks at Westmalle Abbey changed the name of what they’d called Superbier, their heaviest pale ale, in 1956. Tripel is thought to denote the strength of the beer, though dubbels and quads are entirely different styles of dark beer.
Light in color, well-balanced in terms of malts and hops, and usually made from Belgian yeast strains, some tripels are considered among the best beers in the world.
City: Ipswich, Mass.
A bit of history: Only three years old, Clown Shoes Beer has quickly moved beyond the bounds of Massachusetts into 23 states with creative beers.
The verdict: The hoppiest of the the 19 we tried tastes more like a tripel blended with an IPA. This is the hop heads’ tripel.
City: Kansas City, Mo.
A bit of history: The 24-year-old brewery launched its Belgian-inspired Smokestack Series in 2007.
The verdict: Slightly soapy, the Long Strange Tripel couldn’t distinguish itself from the pack.
City: Nantucket, Mass.
A bit of history: Cisco began as a winery in 1981, adding beer in 1995 and then liquor two years later.
The verdict: There once was a beer from Nantucket, whose beer didn’t quite suck it. It wasn’t the worst; it was far from first. Extremely malty…oh, f—k it. Decent beer.
City: Boulder, Colo.
A bit of history: As you might have guessed, Avery Brewing Company has been around for 19 years, but this beer is brand new.
The verdict: Avery is one of our favorite breweries, but their anniversary beer has a little funkiness to it. We’re still looking forward whatever they’ve got in store for their 20th.
City: Breendonk-Puurs, Belgium
A bit of history: The family-owned Flemish brewery, Duvel Moortgat, has been around since 1871, and is best know for its pale ale, Duvel.
The verdict: One of the spiciest tripels out there, Maredsous starts creamy with a kick at the end.
City: Opwijk, Belgium
A bit of history: The Op-Ale Brewery in Opwijk licensed the rights to the Affligem name from the nearby 900-year-old abbey. The brewery is now owned by Heineken.
The verdict: Tangy on the palette, but smooths out on the finish. A fine but unremarkable version of the style.
A bit of history: The king of the craft brewers earns that “craft” distinction with series like their Barrel Room Collection. The New World Tripel came out in 2009.
The verdict: Belgian yeast and Saaz hops make for an admirable tripel with plenty of fruit notes.
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
A bit of history: The brewery turned 21 this year. Now it can legally drink its own beers.
The verdict: Big flavor for the lowest alcohol by volume of any tripel we tasted—drier but spicier than most. Great value, too, as this was significantly cheaper than the rest.
City: Portland, Me.
A bit of history: Allagash, founded in 1994, specializes in Belgian-style ales and bottle-conditions all its beers.
The verdict: Very smooth, the Allagash goes down easy with sweet malty finish.
City: Steenhuffel, Belgium
A bit of history: The brewery’s history begins in 1914, when Benedictine of St. Peter began brewing beer for their personal use in Steenbruge, a suburb of Brugge. Their mugs went dry in 1943, though, when Germany requisitioned their kettles to melt down for copper. Now owned by Palm Brewery, production moved to Steenhuffel in 2004.
The verdict: The Bruges herbal mixture called gluut gives a pleasant spiciness to the mild hops and malt.
City: Aubel, Belgium
A bit of history: The Val-Dieu Abbey has been destroyed four times since its founding in 1216, most recently during the French Revolution. But monks remained until 2001. In 1997, laymen continued the Abbey’s brewing tradition with a blonde, a brown and this triple.
The verdict: Mild with a hint of sweet fruitiness, the laymen may not be reaching the glory of God delivered by some of their peers, but a solid version of a Belgian Tripel.
City: Boonville, Calif.
A bit of history: Though the town only has roughly 700 people, Boonville, Calif., boasts its own folk dialect, Boontling (a rabbit is a “beeljeck,” and a cup of coffee is a “horn of zeese”). The brewery was launched in 1997, and now the town swells by 6,000 every year during the Boonville Beer Festival.
The verdict: Caramel-y malts make this a darker, sweeter beer than most. Still slightly spicy and very tasty. Or, “This dulcey is perfect for your next tidrick, especially during a log lifter.”
City: Downingtown, Pa.
A bit of history: Founded in 1996, Victory specializes in German beers, making this Belgian-style tripel an outlier.
The verdict: Ironically, the highest-rated American tripel is among those that take most liberties with the style. Brewed with Asian spices, this monkey’s got bite.
City: Watou, Belgium
A bit of history: While the brewery’s history is rooted in the Trappist Monastic tradition, St. Bernardus is actually brewed outside the walls of St. Sixtus, where the monks only brew for themselves and a few local taverns.
The verdict: The brewery may be more celebrated for its Quad and Christmas Ale, but the Tripel is special in its own right, perfectly balanced with a distinct Belgian yeast flavor.
City: Berkel-Enschot, Netherlands
A bit of history: De Koningshoeven, the lone Dutch Trappist brewery, was founded in 1884, but the tripel has only been around since 1987, seven years after the monks went back to brewing themselves. Since 1999, a commercial brewer Bavaria has helped with production, but the monks are involved enough to retain the beer’s Trappist seal.
The verdict: Another malty tripel with a sweet and spicy finish
City: Balleux, Belgium
A bit of history: One of the seven Trappist monasteries, Scourmont Abbey produces some of the most respected beers in the world, including the Chimay Blanche or White tripel.
The verdict: A spicier hop profile differentiates it from its few peers. Anyone who thinks of beer as unrefined needs to taste this.
City: Buggenhout, Belgium
A bit of history: Tripel Karmeliet has only been brewed since 1996, but Bosteels Brewery dates back to 1791, and the recipe is 112 years older than that.
The verdict: The beer hits you first with a flowery aroma and then delicious malts and spices follow, proving some things were just fine back in 1679.
City: Westmalle, Belgium
A bit of history: The Abbey of Westmalle was founded in 1794, and beer production began four decades later. This is the original tripel—the first golden strong ale to use the word back in 1956 (though the beer had been around longer), and it remains the tripel by which the rest of the style is judged against.
The verdict: There’s a reason this beer is oft-imitated. Perfectly balanced with just enough spice.
City: Chambly, Canada
A bit of history: “The End of the World” came in 1994 when Unibroue, just outside of Montreal, launched its Belgian-style tripel.
The verdict: The Belgians get unseated by this exquisite Canadian beer, which is good news for Americans, since La Fin du Monde is readily available in most parts of the U.S. Seven of our nine judges gave this their top spot. Perfection.