As a brewery born from the tradition of Belgian beer, we love the classics. But sometimes even the tried-and-true deserves an update. So, this fall, we’d like to introduce you to our newly refashioned Abbey and Trippel. That’s right; we gave two of our most beloved beers a makeover. To fill you in on everything you need to know about the change—recipes, reasoning, logistics—I sat down with specialty brand manager and wood cellar blender Lauren Salazar, who was instrumental in the transition.
OK, let’s get straight to the point: What’s happening with Abbey and Trippel?
Our two true, original Belgian-style ales from our 1991 brewery opening are getting recipe updates to bring us up to everything that New Belgium and the U.S. craft beer market have become throughout the last 25 years. Over the course of our history, we’ve learned a few things, and the raw material availability has also grown leaps and bounds over that time, too. It’s time to put all those resources and knowledge back into the glass.
That’s a pretty big deal, which I know you’re not taking lightly. What’s your history with Abbey and Trippel?
When I first moved to Pagosa Springs, Colo., in 1995, the first bomber of Fat Tire was my game-changer. But when I arrived in Fort Collins, it was Abbey, Trippel and Old Cherry that completely rattled what I really knew about what beer was, or could be. Those beers made me want to be in this industry.
What sparked the desire to tweak two of New Belgium’s oldest brands?
The makeover itch had been there for a while. Every time we create another Belgian-inspired beer for Lips of Faith, we explore new malts, hops and yeast. That, coupled with the maturing beer drinker’s palate and the explosion of specific Belgian categories and guidelines in festival and competitions—not to mention the dozens of all-Belgian-style breweries—with all those things it began to be more apparent that the time had come to dust off those award-winning homebrew recipes of our co-founder Jeff Lebesch.
So, why the change now?
We didn’t go into this lightly. There was a lot of discussion over the last few years, but we’ve really been going after it pretty hot and heavy over the last 14 months; test brew after test brew, because if you’re going to do something as bold as mess with Abbey and Trippel, it can’t just be pretty good, it’s got to be perfect.
When Abbey first won a GABF gold medal in 1993, there wasn’t even a Belgian-style category. In 2015, there are about a dozen separate, specific Belgian-style categories, with even more subcategories. The mere fact that those beers were created without guidelines is a pretty fun thing to sit back and digest—that’s how ahead of the curve they were.
What do you want to say to all those people who adore Abbey and Trippel, who might be nervously wringing their hands a bit at the thought of a recipe change?
I’m incredibly proud of the heritage of those beers and what they’ve done for the craft beer movement. We’ve done a lot to bring our beloved Belgium to the United States, and really opened a lot of people’s eyes to that amazing brewing history, where time stands still. Rest assured, we did not start from scratch: The reformulation started with the original recipes, and the only things we changed were additions of the knowledge, creativity, and experience that lives within New Belgium.
Specifically, though, what really changed with the recipes?
To start, the malt bill. We’ve leaned on new malt varieties to introduce deeper complexity to the beers. You’ll find additional roasted, chocolaty, fruity plum notes in Abbey courtesy of Black Barley and Special W malts, and with Trippel, richer toasted bread crust as well as sweet honeycomb cereal thanks to Pilsner and Munich. We’ve also upped the ABV on Trippel ever-so-slightly from 7.8% to a smile-inducing 8.5%. Trippel not only got a boost in bitterness for a clean, crisp dry finish, but also a boost in spicy, herbal aromatics courtesy of Saaz and Hallertau Mittelfruh hops. And while our original Belgian yeast strain’s signature note was very sweet, candied banana, we’ve fallen for the new Belgian strain’s beautiful balance of fruity esters and spicy clove in both beers.
What’s been the reaction so far from New Belgium co-workers?
We first shared the beers at our monthly All-Staff meeting, and I was super nervous because of New Belgium’s fierce loyal love for our Belgian roots and those beers. By the end of my presentation, everyone was smiling back at me. They cheered and that gave me a lot of hope. I’ve been told that the new versions are super solid, delicious, and to style, which is all I could hope for.
(As we’re talking, Lauren gets an IM from a coworker out in the distribution center, who’s a Trippel super fan. She just tasted the new Trippel, and sent a thumbs up and heart emoji, to which Lauren turns and says with a big smile, “I just got goose bumps.”)
How people be able to tell if they have the new Abbey and Trippel?
For kegs, we’ve run out of stock of the previous versions at the brewery, and now we’re solely shipping new recipes of Abbey and Trippel, so that’s an easy one. We did a really great job on inventory transition, and we’re currently only shipping the updated versions to our distributor partners.
What about bottles?
Due to the long shelf-life of these two monastic-style beers, there’s going to be some overlap in the market, so you’ll surely encounter both for a little bit of time. But, for now, how do you identify the new recipes? Trippel is easy: Just look for the 8.5% ABV instead of 7.8%. As for Abbey, the new sixer packaging now says “Belgian Style Dubbel,” and if you're buying single bottles, look for a "best by date" of 6/19/2016 or later. But by the end of the year, you probably won’t have to use your decoder ring anymore.
Now that the big news is out of the bag, what are you most excited about with the launch of the new recipes?
I’m excited that we’ve taken everything we know and brought that knowledge to two of our oldest brands. I’m really looking forward to walking into my favorite watering holes across the country and having the opportunity to buy a round and watch people rediscover those beers, those two classic Belgian styles.Happy hunting — Chris