Unicorns and Faeries and Quadrupels

While I’m on the topic of strong beer, a recent tasting conducted by Young Dredge over at Pencil & Spoon has stirred up some controversy over the style term “quadrupel” (or “quadruple” or simply “quad”). I feel compelled to chime in.

Like Tripel, Quadrupel is a term invented by a Trappist brewery for one of their commercial beers, the former by Westmalle and the latter by Koningshoeven/La Trappe. Both follow logically from the classic abbey designations of enkel, or single, being an everyday beer of low strength, and dubble, or double, being a stronger, more nutritious beer reserved for visitors, feast days and periods of fasting.

So one’s as legit as the other, right? Maybe not.

Westmalle Tripel, by most people’s calculations, was the first tripel, it being specifically created for commercial purposes and marketed under that name. It was “likely created,” speculates Stan Hieronymus, author of Brew Like a Monk, to satisfy “drinkers in the 1930’s who wanted both stronger beer and one the color of trendy, light-colored Pilseners.”

La Trappe Quadrupel, on the other hand, was created in 1991 to be the strongest beer of the abbey’s line, originally intended as only a winter seasonal. As its popularity grew, however, it became a year-round brand and the “quad” tag began to be stuck to beers of all sorts, which is where problems arise.

The style Stan calls “not quite a style” is now said to include beers such as Westvleteren 12, St. Bernardus 12 and Rochefort 10, all strong and dark ales that were included in Young Dredge’s tasting and all beers which pre-existed the La Trappe Quadrupel. The question which arises, then, is can a new style name and definition be applied to beers that were well-established long before its creation?

13 Replies to “Unicorns and Faeries and Quadrupels”

  1. Stephen,

    Interesting question. I have a thought on the subject as relates to the so-called bière champagne style and it applies to Quadrupel as well. Neither are really a style as we commonly know them.

    In the case of Quadrupel, it’s simply a convenient way to group beers that occupy the same general position in a breweries lineup, particularly as concerns Abbey or Trappist beers. Note that the brewers in question don’t use this term themselves except, of course, for La Trappe. It’s a simple and rough grouping used by overly style-conscious North Americans. In fact, I would argue that every brewer you mention would bristle at being lumped together in any shape or form, much less stylistically.

    Bière du champagne, on the other hand, is nothing more (and nothing less!) than a production method. Only one goes to the actual Champagne region for part of the production process (DeuS, of course) and the rest simply use the same or similar methods in their own brewery, wherever that may be. So to group these beers together is imprecise and it does not indicate a style in any conventional way. Across the group they don’t share strength, color, ingredients or flavor profile, so what do we have to hold them together stylistically? Not much, it turns out.

    In our increasingly beer-crazy culture it is necessary for enthusiasts to codify the object of their attention so as to have a convenient language with which to discuss it with other like-minded people. As a result we get “styles” that aren’t really.


    1. Too true, Lanny, and my point precisely. Regarding the methode champenoise beers, I likewise agree with you, and I say that as someone who has, I believe, sampled all of the existing examples: Malheur (3), DeuS, Dominus Vobiscum Brut (Quebec), Lust (Brazil) and the new Infinium.

  2. I was under the impression the words double, or dubbel, tripel and quadrupel all hark back to a time when it related to how many X’s were put on the barrels – relating to the strength. A XXX barrel would have a higer abv than a XX and vice versa for a XXXX. If people want to attribute these names (triple, quad) to beers, it’s more a sense of strength than style.

  3. “With the recent exception of Koningshoeven’s Bockbier, Trappist beers are all ales, that is, top fermented, and mainly bottle conditioned. Trappist breweries use various systems of nomenclature of the different beers produced, which relate mainly to the relative strength of the beer in the range.

    The best known is the system where different beers are called Enkel, Dubbel and Tripel — single, double and triple in Dutch. Considering the importance of the Holy Trinity in the church, it is unlikely that the choice of three types of beers was accidental.[2] Enkels are now no longer brewed as such, and some Trappist breweries have a beer stronger than a Tripel in their range (such as Chimay Bleu and La Trappe Quadrupel). Dubbel and Tripel have acquired the status of styles, beyond being merely strength designations, and are used as to designate Trappist-syle beers by commercial breweries.”

    – Tripels and dubbels may have formed there own beer style, but I still quadrupel as a sign of strength rather than style.

    1. You don’t note who you are quoting, Ghost, but for the most part that is correct. Except that, as noted, the Westmalle Tripel was developed purely for commercial purposes and so (I’d say) it’s unlikely the brothers were seeking to evoke the Holy Trinity, and enkels do still exist, but are seldom seen outside of the monastery cafes.

  4. I didn’t because it wasn’t a creditable source but I would like to quote the Oxford Bottled Beer Database, might not be an end to all for some, but it sums it up pretty well for me;

    “Double (dubbel) – usually, a dark, sweetish abbey-style beer of around 6-7% ABV, following the model of the renowned Westmalle Dubbel trappist beer, but may also indicate the second-weakest beer in a range, or double fermentation.

    Triple (tripel) – usually, a pale, dry and spicy abbey-style beer of around 7-9% ABV, following the model of the renowned Westmalle Tripel trappist beer, but may also simply indicate a strong, premium ale, or the third-highest strength beer in a brewery’s range.

    Quadruple (quadrupel) – Abbey style definition. Very strong (around 10%+ abv), chewy, dark and fruity beer.”

    Both T + D pay tribute to Westmalle, but Q does not, or is it related to being the highest in any abbey brewery – just a very strong beer. I kind of see it like calling the ’10’ part in Rochefort 10, a style of beer. Now could we stop fighting about beer styles and just drink beer beers? I love all these chewy, dark and fruity beers anyway!

    1. Much of what is written there is utter nonsense. If you would like to research Belgian or Trappist beers, you can do it best in the language(s) spoken there because the surviving documentation is written in those languages. Jef van den Steen, a Belgian who writes in both Dutch (Flemish) and French, has written several books of Belgian beer that are worth reading if you’d like an accurate history of the country’s beer.

      Nonsense like this is the logical result of the style obsession of “beer geeks.”

      1. No arguments about style obsessives, Mike, but since not everyone can read Dutch or French, your advice to study in those languages is of only limited use, I’m afraid. I speak French passably well, but still have difficulties reading studious texts in that language, for instance.

  5. My point, Stephen, in case it was not clear, was not directed at anyone particular. If an English-speaking scholar wants to write about Belgian beer (or any other subject), he would be wise to go to the original documents (if available) and, if necessary, learn to read another language accurately. Learning languages can be fun and it certainly is useful.

    Why, in this information age, are companies and people so willing to accept “research” done by people who fail to list sources (at a minimum) or list only English-language sources on a foreign subject?

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