WESTMALLE - If you order a Westmalle you’re likely to be served with a Tripel. This is no coincidence as this strong blonde Trappist beer now accounts for 75% of the beer output of this abbey brewery. It used to be exactly the other way around. You would order a ‘Trappist’ and expect a dark Dubbel. Both of these beer styles have a long heritage.
Would you like to join us on our time travels? This story commences in 1836 when Westmalle had just gained abbey status.
The monks just got by on the results of their manual labour. Agriculture and cattle farming provided their main source of income.
Originally the monks were allowed to consume one single measure of wine according to the rules of St. Benedict, a 7th century saint who was born in Italy.
However, the poor soil of the Kempen region in combination with the inclement Belgian climate meant that a good grape harvest was almost impossible to obtain. And thus, the monks’ focus shifted to beer.
On 1 August 1836 the monks started brewing their first dark and sweet table beer. Twenty years on they were selling a witbier meant for the table as well as a stronger, dark beer. They were inspired by the commercial success achieved by the Trappist beers produced at Chimay.
During the First World War the German occupier requisitioned the copper brewhall. Brewing resumed in 1922 with the production of ‘extra gersten’ (extra barley) and ‘dubbel bruin’ (double brown). A new brewhall was inaugurated in 1934. This is now referred to as the ‘former’ brewhall.
For the current dark Dubbel – meaning: a much larger amount of ingredients is being used – was created in 1926. Initially the beer was only available in hand-filled bottles with a content of three quarters of a litre. Sand-blasted 33cl bottles came onto the market in 1934.
All of the beer information was printed on the crown cap until labels were introduced in 1987. These days, connoisseurs order a Dubbel either bottled or on tap.
If you would like to taste a Dubbel freshly poured from the tap, you have to visit one of 180 carefully selected cafés. All of these establishments are equipped and trained to a high standard and serve a perfect glass of this barrel re-fermented beer. It pays to compare both versions.
A Dubbel from the tap tastes full in the mouth and less fruity compared to the bottled version. However, it is sweeter and maltier with hints of coffee and caramel. A bottled Dubbel gives impressions of ripe banana but comes across as fairly dry and slightly bitter.
If you find yourself in café De Trappisten, located just opposite the abbey, why not order a ‘half and half’? Half a bottle of Tripel is poured into the glass and Dubbel is added from the tap.
The best of both worlds, Dubbel and Tripel? The verdict of course is yours. Pair your ‘half and half’ with a chunk of young or mature Westmalle cheese too if you like.
The Tripel Standard
Velling back in time to 1934 when the inauguration of the new brewhall coincided with the launch of a new super beer, Westmalle Tripel. Up to this day, this beer is considered ‘the Mother of all Tripels’.
This strong blonde Trappist beer was developed from an existing blonde table beer.
In its day it was considered an exceptionally strong beer.
The brewers had discovered the proverbial ‘gap in the market’ after the implementation of the Vandervelde Law that aimed to curtail the excessive consumption of spirits, jenever in particular.
The brewers were offering an alternative by producing stronger beers.
However, Westmalle Tripel is not just about alcohol.
This blonde Trappist beer is beautifully balanced, delicately hoppy and, at the same time, mildly malted with a long, dry, slightly bitter finish.
Add the lovely creamy collar and the bubbly champagne-like pearls and you will understand why Westmalle Tripel has topped world rankings for many years.
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