Belgian Beers

The American craft beer explosion is for real, and sometimes it almost seems like a race between the breweries to come up with, and keep up with the latest styles. While the IPA has been the most popular craft beer style for a while now, brewers and consumers have branched out to embrace many other styles that are a little more off the beaten path. From saisons and farmhouse style ales to a wide variety of sour beers, session beers to dry hopped brews, and a whole host of barrel aged beer, there are more American craft beers than ever to try.

But with all of those new styles and beers to choose from, don’t forget about some of the classics upon which these beers are based. Today we’ll look at a few great Belgian beers that may be overlooked in the surge of American craft beer offerings.

Saisons, or farmhouse beers, have gained quite a foothold in the American craft beer scene, and we’re seeing many more pop up on the shelves. Many breweries now offer saisons, either in their main lineup, or as a seasonal offering. Trinity Brewing, out of Colorado Springs, pretty much only brews saisons, getting so specific that they may craft a saison after, say, one that was produced pre-world war two in a certain area of Belgium. The saison style was born out of the farming areas in Belgium, using ingredients found in each region to create a beer for the farm workers themselves. The beer was generally brewed during the winter time, for consumption by the farm hands during the summer months. It had to be big enough to be aged in the bottle, while light enough to quench thirst on a warm summer day. If you like the saison style, why not try one of the Belgian classics, like Saison Dupont. This beer has been around since 1844, and is often considered a benchmark against which other saisons are measured. It’s big fruity bouquet and dense head make it a fun pour. The fruity taste up front is followed by a dry finish and a nice bitterness that make it a great option for a thirst quenching beer on a warm day. It also pairs well with many common meals such as chicken or pork, rice or potatoes. It comes in at 6.5% Alcohol by Volume, and runs $12.99 for a 750ml bottle.

One of the things American brewers have become known for is taking an existing style and hopping it up, American style. Whether it’s a British pale ale or IPA, a pilsner or even a Belgian style ale, when an American brewer gets his hands on it, it’s usually hoppier than the original version. Stone Brewery has its Cali-Belgique and Green Flash brews the Le Freak. Both are hoppy beers made with Belgian yeast. If you’re a fan, perhaps you’d be into Houblon Chouffe. Here the Belgians have turned the tables, and offer a traditional Belgian Tripel brewed with decidedly American hops: Tomahawk and Amarillo. The pour is certainly Belgian, light blonde in color with a rich head of fine bubbles. This complex beer, refermented in the bottle, exhibits the typical fruitiness you’ll find with Belgian yeast, a hint of grassiness, and a wonderful citrusy grapefruit finish compliments of the big American hops. It comes in at 9% ABV, and sells for $13.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Not so much into all of the hops? How about a nice brown ale in the Belgian style. If you’re a fan of American ambers and brown ales, the Maredsous Abbey Bruin may be a nice alternative for you to try. This abbey style bruin began at the Maredsous Abbey in southern Belgium, and is now brewed at the Duvel Mortgaat brewery under supervision of the Benedictine Monks. It is a brown Dubbel ale that pours a deep burgundy color, with a frothy head of fine Belgian bubbles. This beer exhibits a generous caramel bouquet, and offers notes of dark rye bread, chocolate, toffee and dark fruits. Strong at 8% ABV, but not overpowering, this beer sells for $13.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Sour beers are in vogue, and many breweries are experimenting with beers fermented with brettanomyces and lactobacillus. Other breweries are devoted to sour styles. These beers can be anywhere from slightly acidic to downright mouth puckeringly sour. Well one of the grandfathers of the sour style is the Belgian lambic, a beer that is fermented in open vats, allowing wild yeasts to get into the beer and do their thing. Many associate lambics with the fruitier versions such as a kriek (cherry) or framboise (raspberry). However, lambics do not have to be fruity. A gueuze is a lambic that can be decidedly sour and often has earthy “barnyard’ qualities. Timmerman’s Oude Gueuze is a fine example of a mouth puckering sour lambic. Sometimes called the “champagne of beers”, this gueuze is a blend of old lambic, barrel aged for 3 or more years, and young lambic, with enough yeast presence to ensure spontaneous refermentation in the bottle. This sour, but not overly bitter beer is enticingly complex, and can be a great beer to pair with food. The acidic qualities cut through rich sauces, and compliment many delicate seafoods. It isn’t very strong, at 5.5% ABV, and is reasonably priced considering the aging and blending that go into the final product. $17.49 for a 750ml bottle.

So if you’re in the mood for something different and want to treat yourself, or someone else, check out the Belgian aisle at West Vail Liquor. Consider some of the beers that are the ancestors of the new American craft scene, and have stood the test of time. The 750ml bottle format is great for sharing!

Chip Bartsch

West Vail Liquor