Tag Archives: gravity

#149 – Westmalle Tripel

#149 - Westmalle Tripel

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 9.5 %

Just as Westmalle symbolises the ultimate Dubbel (#16), then look no further than Westmalle for the archetypal Tripel. I often get asked by new recruits who I drag to London’s best pubs for a Belgian brainwash, what is a Tripel? This is best answered I think with an elegant glass of this in your hand.

The term Tripel is mainly used in Belgium and the Netherlands, and now commonly in the USA, to describe a strong pale ale, exemplified in the style of the Westmalle Tripel. The origin of the term is still argued about today, but it almost certainly was a measure of the brews’ strength in the early days. Casks used to be marked with a series of notches or crosses, usually X for the weakest, XX for a beer of medium strength or XXX for the strongest. This makes perfect sense, as does the theory that it was in reference to the original gravity of a beer, which tends to correspond with the 3%, 6% and 9% ABV of beers. You tend to find most Tripels are strong, around the 9% mark, although of course this is no definitive yardstick.

Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star) argued that the first real Tripel was born in the early 1930s in the Drie Linden (Three Lindens) brewery. The head brouwmeister Hendrik Verlinden had been looking to compete with the strong pale lagers and pilseners coming out of Czechoslovakia, and teamed up with the Trappists at Westmalle to share ideas. Westmalle released the strong blonde ale Superbier, which they labelled a Tripel, and Verlinden followed with the Witkap Pater. This would later become the Witkap Pater Tripel (#94) brewed at Slagmuylder, and the Superbier was turned into the Westmalle Tripel in 1956 with the addition of plenty more hops. It has remained essentially unchanged ever since, and to this day is the paragon of virtue for all Tripels.

I had a number of these in my cellar at home, but chance had not thrown one my way as yet, and thus on my first night in Bruges on a boozy weekend, I couldn’t resist one or two of these over a sumptuous meal. Many modern day beer geeks suggest the Westmalle Tripel isn’t quite the beer it once was, but for me it’s a great beer. It always pours rich and golden, with a thick lemony head, and hits you with attitude on the first bite. By the time you have finished at least two of these off, you are definitely ready to go plonk yourself in the corner of a bar and drink yourself into oblivion.

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Filed under 9, Abbey Beer, Abbey Tripel, Trappist Beer, Westmalle

#107 – Trappistes Rochefort 6

#107 - Trappistes Rochefort 6

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 7.5 %

Sadly the Trappistes Rochefort with the red cap is the last of the famous triumvirate to pass my eager lips. Just over a hundred beers in and I need to conclude my notes on this fantastic Trappist brewery. To be honest there isn’t a lot else to say that I haven’t already covered in reviewing the Trappistes Rochefort 10 (#13) and Trappistes Rochefort 8 (#31), apart from the fact that interestingly these range of beers have only recently acquired labels. Previously images were screened directly onto the bottle and thus if you find one of these on your travels then hang on to it, or pass it my way!

What first started to baffle me though was why the Trappistes Rochefort beers are called 6, 8 and 10. Clearly this is not to do with their ABV as the Trappistes Rochefort 6 weighs in at 7.5% however it is to do with the overall gravity of the beer. The difference is that various scales have been used over time to measure essentially the same thing. Original gravity in a nutshell is a reading which is an estimate of the amount of sugar which will be turned into ethanol by the yeast, and is usually calculated using a table of figures. The reading will express the sugar content in units of grams of sugar per 100 grams of wort, and it is usually expressed as “degrees Plato” (abbreviated °P). As mentioned, different scales have been used in various places, and Rochefort in the good old days measured the gravity of their beers through the obsolete Belgian scale.

In this instance the 10 corresponds to 1.100 (25 °P), the 8 corresponds to 1.080 (20 °P) and the 6 corresponds to 1.060 (15 °P). This is the ‘original gravity’ (OG) as it is a prediction of the potential alcohol once the yeast has worked its magic on the sugar. Specific Gravity (SG) is a term often used, and is slightly simpler in that it corresponds to the relative density of a liquid, relative to that of water at a certain temperature. This is the gravity measured with a hydrometer. Brewers are able to compare the OG and the SG to monitor the progression of the fermentation. Essentially once the SG stops declining the fermentation has been completed. Happy Days !

The Trappistes Rochefort 6 essentially started off as the Pater beer (#2) for the monks, but it’s far better and stronger than a typical table beer. At 7.5% it lacks the killer strength of its older brothers but it is still a fine beer. It’s the hardest of the three to pick up but well worth it if you fancy a few without a headache the next morning. Its cleaner and thinner than the others, but the famous datey taste still permeates every mouthful and it remains just that bit more subtle. It’s readily available in the villages near Rochefort, although there is no brewery tap – it’s the only Trappist brewery without one. The Relais de St. Remy about 2km out of town is your best place to find it.

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Filed under 7, Abbey Beer, Abbey Dubbel, Rochefort, Trappist Beer