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Dubbel

A style from the world beer heritage country.

Since 2016, Belgian beer culture was added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. This happened in recognition of the historical methods used in the country, such as spontaneous fermentation, cask conditioning or the addition of fruits or spices. The diversity of styles is yet another important factor; it is enormous, given the relatively small size of the country.

Numerous beer styles were actually developed in Belgium, e.g. witbier or spontaneous fermented Lambic. Top-fermented strong beers such as Dubbel and Tripel also hail from Europe’s West. They were created in the Belgian monastery breweries.

As is the case with most beer styles, it is also hard to say when and where Dubbel beer came into being. Like many old styles, it “grew” in a long process over the years. Beer styles as we know them today are actually an “invention” of the twentieth century, anyway. In any event, the terms Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel point to stronger types of beer but do not necessarily mean that a Dubbel beer was produced by double fermentation, and so on.

One of the many tracks to follow leads us to the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle. Some say that the very first Dubbel beer was brewed there. This is the story behind it:

On 10 December 1836 the monks were served the first beer from their own brewery. It was the simple beer of the day, drinkable, dark, savoury. Twenty years later, the monks started selling it at the abbey gate, occasionally at first. Soon, the beer selling business flourished, more beer was brewed, recipes became more variegated. In addition to the simple monastery beer, the stronger Dubbel beer was offered, its name expressing the same as the Italian “Doppio Malto”. The powerful aromatic alternative was so successful that the brewery had to be expanded.

In 1926, the recipe was modified. Caramelized sugar was added, bringing out stronger caramel and raisin flavours in the beer. Alcohol content was set at 7% ABV. This way, the widespread craving for the strong stuff could be satisfied. Today, Westmalle Dubbel is considered exemplary for this style.