Originally ‘Triple’ was used for monastic brews, like Trappist beers to indicate the strongest beer in the portfolio from a particular abbey. Together with the Extra, and Double it was also a reference to the Holy Trinity. The Trappist Westmalle Brewery was the first to create a Triple and the term has been used by other Trappist Monasteries, Abbey beers and many other beers. The definition of the term Triple has always been unclear and has caused a lot of confusion amongst brewers and consumers alike. F&B have deduced that Triple cannot mean the following because:
Not all Triple beers are triple fermented – although there are Triple beers, like Delerium Tremens, which undergo three different fermentation processes. Primary and secondary fermentation are not two different fermentations, as no other yeast culture is added to the beer during this fermentation process. So Brakspear Triple for instance claims to be Triple fermented but actually undergoes only two fermentations. The primary and secondary fermentation, is the same ongoing fermentation. There can only be two or more if other yeast strains and/or cultures are added. Triple is not a way of fermentation as many other beers, like Extra and Double beers, undergo similar brewing techniques and/or fermentation.
Not all Triple beers are bottle conditioned –. Beers like De Koninck Tripel has undergone its fermentation prior to being bottled and has no extra yeast and/or sugar added to create the carbon dioxide and/or slight increase in alcohol strength.
Triple is not a way of brewing beer – Not all Triple beers are brewed in exactly the same way. There are many ways of creating Triple beers, with various methods and even ingredients, resulting in a variety of different Triple coloured beers with inherent characteristics of beers from that particular brewery.
Not all Triple beers are blond or golden coloured – Colour has nothing to do with Triple, Duvel being a prime example. The original Duvel beer was dark coloured and was changed following the popularity of Lagers. Most Trappist monasteries, Rochefort, Westvleteren will indicate their strongest beer as Triple and/or Quadruple, despite it not being labelled as such. Brewing formed part of their socio-economic projects to provide work for poorer people, who weren’t literate so terms like Double and Triple were used as work instructions so workers knew what beer to make that day.
So what is a Triple beer?
Triple refers to alcohol strength and was used by brewers to indicate different alcohol groups as fermentation wasn’t really an exact science, especially before Louis Pasteur delivered his ground breaking work. In the past brewers or land lords used to put crosses on barrels of beer to indicate their strength but over time this was lost and marketers created XXXX – terms used for lower alcohol Lagers. Castlemaine and Dos Equis being examples.
The only logical explanation we have is that Triple indicates a beer with ABV of between 8.0% and 9.9% (between 8 and 10%) regardless of colour, aroma, flavour or ingredients, fermentation- and brewing method. Any beer above 10.0 % is referred to as a Quadruple. When it comes to beers on the edge of the benchmark it is always a judgment call.