Trappist ale is a beer brewed originally by Trappist monks. The style and its substyles (Enkel, Dubbel and Tripel) have also been popularized by many microbreweries over the last 30 years.
History of Trappist Beer
Trappist ale has its clear origins with Trappist monasteries. From the early middle ages, monastery brew houses produced beer throughout Europe both to feed the community and later for sale to fund other church works. The Trappist order, which took its name from La Trappe Abbey in France, was founded as part of the Cistercian order in 1663, though it did not formally separate from the Cistercian order until 1892. The La Trappe Abbey had its own brewery as early as 1685.
Today there are only seven Trappist monasteries that brew beer and six of them are located in Belgium while one is in the Netherlands. The six in Belgium are the most well known, which is why Trappist ales are categorized as Belgian ales. In the late 20’th century, many breweries worldwide started labeling their beer as “Trappist” in response to the popularity of the ales, forcing Trappist abbeys to form the International Trappist Association who’s goal is to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from using the name. They created a logo and convention for true Trappist beers, which must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey by monastic brewers, and the gains must go to charitable causes and not financial profit.
Due to the popularity of Trappist ales, many commercial brewers still brew similar style beers which are typically sold under as Belgian Dubbels and Tripels. (Ref:Wikipedia).
The Trappist Style
Trappist beers may be divided into four sub-styles. By tradition, most of the true Trappist ales are bottle conditioned. These include:
- Patersbier – “Father’s beer” which is brewed for the monks and intended for consumption by the monks within the abbey walls. Occasionally this may be offered on site to guests. It is a relatively weak beer in the tradition of Trappist austerity.
- Enkel – “Single” beer which was traditionally used to describe the brewery’s lightest beer. This is a very close relation to the Patersbier. Currently the term is rarely used, and I am not aware of any abbeys that currently produce this style for commercial sale.
- Dubbel – “Double” beer. Dubbels are a strong brown ale with low bitterness, a heavy body, and a malty, nutty finish with no diacytl. These beers have a starting gravity of 1.062-1.075 and 6.5-8% alcohol by volume. Color runs the range from dark amber to copper color (10-17 SRM) and bitterness from 15-25 IBUs. This style is also widely brewed by commercial brewers.
- Tripel – “Triple” beer. Tripel’s are the strongest Trappist ales, running from 7.5-9% alcohol by volume with a starting gravity of 1.075-1.085. They are highly alcoholic, but brewed with high carbonation and high attenuation yeasts to reduce the taste of alcohol. Color runs lighter than Dubbels in the range of 4.5-7.0 SRM and bitterness from 20-40 IBUs, though most Tripels have 30+ IBUs.
Brewing Trappist Style Ales
I’m going to focus on the Dubbel and Tripel styles as these are the only ones brewed commercially today. For both Dubbel and Tripel, Belgian pilsner malt makes up the base ingredient. For Dubbels, sometimes Belgian pale malt may also be used as a base.
For Dubbels, the grain bill can be complex with Munich malts added for maltiness (up to 20%), Special B malt to provide raisin falvor and CaraMunich for a dried fruit flavor. Also dark candi sugar is used both to boost alcohol and add rum-raisin flavors. The sugar also allows for a cleaner finish and less alcohol flavor than would be possible with an all-malt beer. Despite the complex spicy flavor of the finished beer, spices are not used.
Tripels being lighter in color typically use a less complicated malt bill. Starting with a pilsner malt base, they add up to 20% white candi sugar but typically lack the complex array of malts used for Dubbels.
One of the main ingredients that makes Trappist ales unique is the yeast. Both Dubbels and Tripels use special Belgian yeast strains that produce fruity esters, spicy phenolics and higher alcohol. Often the Trappist ales are fermented at higher than normal temperatures for an ale yeast which increases the array of complex flavors from the yeast.
For hops, noble hop varieties or Styrian Goldings hops are commonly used. Occasionally low alpha English hops may also be added. Despite the hop rate of Tripel needed to balance the malt, hops is not a major flavor in either finished beer style. Large amounts of finishing and dry hops are not typically used for this beer for the same reason.
Water used for brewing is typically soft – without a large quantity of hard minerals present. Both styles are traditionally bottle conditioned with medium to high carbonation which adds to the beer’s presentation.
Mashing is typically done with a medium to full bodied mash profile, as Trappist beers are full bodied.
Trappist Style Recipes
Here are some Trappist style recipes from the BeerSmith Recipe Site:
- da Tubble wi Dubbel – All Grain
- Trappist Style Loud Mouth Soup – Partial Mash
- Dubbel Dog Dare You – All Grain
- Bastogne – All Grain
- She Devil – All Grain
- Brian’s Big Belgium – Extract
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