Belgian Dubbels date back to the Middle Ages, where they were brewed by monks in monasteries, as a few still are today. The style lost popularity for a period but was revived after the Napoleonic era by the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle in 1856. The new brown beer was stronger and darker than the Abbey's previous brews and in 1926 it was again reformulated and became even stronger. After World War II, Westmalle's "dubbel" beer became popular in Belgium and began to be imitated by other breweries, Trappist and secular. Thus the Dubbel style emerged.
Dubbels are moderately strong (6 to 8.5% ABV) brown ales with an understated bitterness, a full body, a distinct dark fruitiness, a rich malty character and mild alcohol warmth. They are complex with hints of chocolate, nuts, raisins, dates, plums, spicy phenolics and pronounced yeast flavors and aromas. Caramelized candi (beet) sugar syrups contribute rum and dried fruit flavors and give the beer a dry finish. Dubbels are traditionally bottle-conditioned (refermented in the bottle), giving them a dense, persistent head.
Trappist dubbels include Westmalle, Koningshoeven/La Trappe, Chimay and Achel. Abbey dubbels include Affligem, Grimbergen, Maredsous, Corsendonk and St. Feuillien. Allagash, Ommegang, New Belgium and The Lost Abbey are among the many American craft breweries making traditional dubbels.
The Bruz tasting panel gathered recently to taste a selection of Belgian and American dubbels. Included were Westmalle, Maredsous, New Belgium, Ommegang, Lost Abbey, and Bruz's offerings. The panelists' scores and rankings are shown below.
The Ommegang Abbey Ale, Maredsous Brune and Westmalle Dubbel were all within two points of each other. Ommegang came in at number one with its beautiful balance, dried fruit and pepper notes and silky texture. Maredsous was number two with a big, rich malt complexity, caramel notes and creamy texture. Westmalle was number three - rich and malty with dark fruit esters, creamy mouthfeel, pleasant carbonation and dry finish. Bruz Trubbel was number four - complex with cherry, plum and dried fruit notes and a soft creamy texture. The panel found New Belgium's Abbey to be well-made but lacking complexity and Lost Abbey's Lost & Found was infected and off.
When we think of Belgian beers, we often think of monks and monasteries, and few beers live up to that image more than Belgian Dubbels. With cooler weather approaching, they're just the thing for a chilly autumn night!