We all have different ways of preparing for fall. Maybe you stock your wardrobe with corduroy and sweater vests. Maybe you apologize to your palate for all the pumpkin-spice-everything it’s about to endure. But one thing you should definitely do in preparation for fall: get your Belgian beer schedule ready.
Oh, don’t have a Belgian beer schedule? Yeah, neither did we, until we realized that the classic Belgian Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel beer styles actually create a kind of perfect segue into the unapologetic crispitude of September and October. Not to mention: sitting down to a nice beer at the end of the day is great consolation for the sun absolutely abandoning you.
The only tricky thing about the Belgian beer fall schedule is that it doesn’t go in order. But that’s only because the styles don’t quite correspond to the apparent numerical hierarchy. Our schedule isn’t Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, it’s Tripel, Dubbel, Quad. But we’ll get to that.
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Fortunately there’s one thing that unites all three styles: the yeast. There are lots of strains of Belgian yeast, but the main thing you need to know about it — at least where these beers are concerned — is that it produces specific esters and phenolics. Scary science terms, yeah, but all you really need to know about them is their ability to impart fruity and spicy flavors, respectively (citrus, banana, clove, black pepper, etc.). All of the beers are also very low hop, with hops playing a structural role instead of poking their way into the foreground the way they would in an IPA. With that out of the way, onto the schedule:
Early fall drinking most definitely calls for Tripel since it’s lighter — brewed with Pilsner malts — and has some summer-friendly fruit flavors mingling around with a gentle spiciness. The major thing to remember about Tripels: they’re strong, stronger than they look or taste. Especially if you’re drinking one as you ease your way out of summer and into fall, the temptation would be to gulp — quite possibly chug — it down. Except Tripels are close to 10 percent alcohol, meaning your late summer-early fall day drinking session will end a bit early, with you passed out on the deck.
Let’s assume that didn’t happen, and we’ve made it a bit farther into fall. Like, official fall, post-equinox (if not quite “crisp”yet). This is the time for the Dubbel. Yes, we’re going from “three” to “two,” but you’ll see why. Dubbels were originally brewed at Westmalle monestary in Belgium, also the birthplace of the Tripel. But unlike Tripels, Dubbels are brewed with candi sugar, which puts the beer at the darker end of the spectrum (think coppery or russet brown). There’s a solid chance you’ve had a Dubbel, even if you didn’t mean to, since Chimay and Ommegang both make pretty popular versions. Though, yeah, our contention is you haven’t really had a Dubbel until you’ve enjoyed its chewy, fruity spiciness after a long day of leaf-peeping, or some less creepy-sounding fall activity.
Once we get into deep fall, you’ll need something stronger, and not just because it’s now depressingly dark out when you leave work and your Halloween pun costume didn’t go over as planned. Fortunately, cold weather makes us want to wear turtlenecks and consume mass calories, liquid or solid, which is why we’ll be looking out for Quadrupels. With their high alcohol (think the 10 to 13 percent range) and rich malty flavors, Quads are basically the comfy sweater of Belgian beers. Again, a little spicy, courtesy of those Belgian yeast strains, with more dark fruit and molasses than a Dubbel, thanks to caramelized sugars and Belgian Munich malt.
If you’re looking for a Quad this fall, you’ll find some good offerings from Ommegang, Victory, and Allagash, though you can’t really go wrong with actual Belgian offerings. Pour yourself a pint of St. Bernardus 12 and settle in next to your fireplace, or plastic electronic candle, and the dark days of late fall will suddenly start to seem a whole lot friendlier. You might not even notice they’re already putting up Christmas decorations.