Make Your Best, cont’d Belgian Tripel
Those who know me often accuse me of not liking Belgian beers, but that’s not totally accurate; I just have a smaller flavor target for them. Two of my favorites are Victory Golden Monkey and Allagash Tripel. What follows isn’t a clone, per se, but it creates a tripel that emulates these two: fruity, dry, bready, and with good alcohol warming, all without drifting into “drinking cologne” territory.
Style: Tripels are in the Trappist or Abbey beer family, being one of the styles originally brewed by monastic breweries, though they’re now a staple for many breweries. They’re pale in color and relatively strong, usually coming in at the 8–9% ABV range. Commonly, they feature fruity and spicy flavors, particularly coriander and pepper. Like many Belgian ales, they should also be quite dry in the finish, despite the impression of sweetness that alcohol and esters can impart. There are lots of things on the table here—banana, clove, nectarine, and orange. I should caution you at the outset that my recipe is rooted in getting a few specific flavors—not all the accepted flavors—but they might still come through!
Ingredients: The grist is pretty typical for a Belgian beer. I start with 12 lb (5.4 kg) of German Pilsner malt, and add ½ lb (227 g) of Aromatic malt and another ½ lb (227 g) of Victory malt. I also add, before the boil but after the mash, 1 lb (454 g) of ordinary table sugar. You can try paler versions of Belgian candi sugar (liquid or rock), but I’ve never found much difference, except that it sometimes made the beer seem sweeter, which is definitely not something you want. That should get you to a starting gravity of about 1.076.
Hopping is mostly about accents—they’re not driving the flavor, but they add some interest. You can bitter with just about anything at 60 minutes with a target of 30 IBUS, and then at 5 minutes (or flameout, if you whirlpool) add a straight ounce (28 g) of Crystal blended 50 / 50 with Mt. Hood, for example, for contrast. And for yeast, I stick with my Wyeast 3522, Belgian Ardennes. It adds a clear citrus ester profile with just a touch of pepper.
And then there’s the question of spicing. Add ½ tsp of ground coriander and then give one short, quick half-turn of the pepper grinder into the wort. Done.
Process: Mash as usual—you should get plenty of attenuation here, given that the OG is on the lower end, so your standard mash will be fine. Likewise, boil as usual, adding the hops and spices as noted above. This beer, like many Belgians, will really be made in fermentation.
I start fermentation at 68°F (20°C) and hold it there indefinitely. Primary fermentation doesn’t take long, and after the activity in the airlock stops, I leave it be for another week and then cold crash to help clear it (though the yeast is a pretty good flocculator on its own).
Carbonation should be high-ish, but think twice before getting too spritzy. I like 2.75 volumes—i know that many of the classics are absurdly high in CO2, but I’d rather land on the safe side of that divide—a little too soft is better than a little harsh, in my book, and given that the alcohol is relatively low in this tripel (though it’s still a strong ale), there’s less sweetness to counteract, and you might end up over-correcting.