Writing about Duvel yesterday, I got so many suggestions for trying Belgian Tripels. While I do love the style (serve me a Tripel Karmeliet any day!), for my tastes Tripels will always be inferior because the aspects that differentiate the style.
If you’re trying to memorize the difference in the style (I see you future Cicerone!) you can just remember four main things about the two styles.
Tripels are darker in color, heavier in body/mouthfeel, more phelonic aroma, and have less alcohol.
Belgian Golden Strongs are lighter in color, lighter in mouthfeel, more ester-y aroma, and have more alcohol.
The spicy phenols in a Tripel are slightly more prominent than the fruity esters in the aroma. While the Belgian golden strong is the opposite, with slightly fruity esters just edging out spiciness.
Everything else about the styles is almost identical, a thick white head, good clarity, roughly 20-40 IBUs, I could go on.
The easiest way to identify a Belgian golden strong is an active pillar of carbonation from the bottom of the glass to the head. When identifying a Tripel, a slightly chewy mouthfeel and a flavor that approaches sweetness are the tell tale signs.