A dark, complex, very strong Belgian ale with a delicious blend of malt richness, dark fruit flavors, and spicy elements. Complex, rich, smooth and dangerous.
Deep amber to deep coppery-brown in color (dark in this context implies more deeply colored than golden). Huge, dense, moussy, persistent cream- to light tan-colored head. Can be clear to somewhat hazy.
Similar to aroma (same malt, ester, phenol, alcohol, and hop comments apply to flavor as well). Moderately malty-rich on the palate, which can have a sweet impression if bitterness is low. Usually moderately dry to dry finish, although may be up to moderately sweet. Medium-low to moderate bitterness; alcohol provides some of the balance to the malt. Generally malty-rich balance, but can be fairly even with bitterness. The complex and varied flavors should blend smoothly and harmoniously. The finish should not be heavy or syrupy.
Complex, with a rich-sweet malty presence, significant esters and alcohol, and an optional light to moderate spiciness. The malt is rich and strong, and can have a deep bready-toasty quality often with a deep caramel complexity. The fruity esters are strong to moderately low, and can contain raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig or prune notes. Spicy phenols may be present, but usually have a peppery quality not clove-like; light vanilla is possible. Alcohols are soft, spicy, perfumy and/or rose-like, and are low to moderate in intensity. Hops are not usually present (but a very low spicy, floral, or herbal hop aroma is acceptable). No dark/roast malt aroma. No hot alcohols or solventy aromas.
High carbonation but not sharp. Smooth but noticeable alcohol warmth. Body can range from medium-light to medium-full and creamy. Most are medium-bodied.
Authentic Trappist versions tend to be drier (Belgians would say more digestible) than Abbey versions, which can be rather sweet and full-bodied. Traditionally bottle-conditioned (or refermented in the bottle). Sometimes known as a Trappist Quadruple, most are simply known by their strength or color designation.
Most versions are unique in character reflecting characteristics of individual breweries, produced in limited quantities and often highly sought-after.
Belgian yeast strains prone to production of higher alcohols, esters, and sometimes phenolics are commonly used. Impression of a complex grain bill, although many traditional versions are quite simple, with caramelized sugar syrup or unrefined sugars and yeast providing much of the complexity. Saazer-type, English-type or Styrian Goldings hops commonly used. Spices generally not used; if used, keep subtle and in the background.
Like a larger dubbel, with a fuller body and increased malt richness. Not as bitter or hoppy as a tripel, but of similar strength.