Does tripel mean it’s triple octane?
In a sense, yes, if by octane you mean malt. According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, “the term ‘tripel’ refers to the amount of malt with fermentable sugars and the original gravity.” One interesting theory is that barrels of tripel were marked "XXX" using the medieval system of using X’s to mark the strength of a beer back when this was something the monks were making with all their free time. (Obviously, this means dubbels would’ve been marked "XX" with their lower alcohol content.)
Sort of confusingly, dubbels are darker than tripels, with ABVs usually ranging from 6 to 7.5%. Tripels are much lighter in color but higher in alcohol, around 7.5 to 9.5% (and sneakily higher in alcohol, at that, as they have a nice dry finish).
If I don’t know what I want, how do I even figure it out?
This is the best part about beer: you get to go out and you get to try a ton of stuff! If you’re confused, ask your bartender or beer merchant. Get a feel for what you love and what you hate. It’s no different than food, wine, spirits, music, movies, preferred thermostat temperatures, or which side of the bed you sleep on. Everyone is different and likes different things, and you should never apologize for what makes you happy.
The most efficient way to branch out and try a lot of different beers is to find a bar with a reputation for good beer, go in, and chat up the bartender. They’ll have the ability to pour you samples, which is a much less daunting place to start than standing in front of a cooler full of bottles you’ve never seen before. Ask questions and be honest with yourself. Is this too bitter? Too fruity? Too boring? For all the beer knowledge out there, this is something that can never be learned in a book. Grab your friends, order a round, and enjoy beer the way it was meant it to be enjoyed.
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Zach Mack is Thrillist's contributing beer writer, the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in NYC, a newly minted Certified Cicerone®, and nothing else. Follow him: @zmack.