The Belgians are coming! The Belgians are coming!

by: BeerAdvocate on 12-06-2000
Yes indeed friends, the Belgians are coming. However for this particular invasion we should embrace them. Unleash them into our country. Let them take refuge ... in our bellies!

With over 500 beers native to Belgium alone, Belgium beers offer such a varied palate of colours, aromas, flavours, presentations and styles that they rival any other beer producing country. They are more complex than the grandest of wine, and are more like wine then some wines (like Rodenbach Grad Cru with it’s cherry sourness, oak notes and delicate balance). Belgian brewers thrive in this diversity by maintaining brewing traditions that are specific to province, region or town, and have been for centuries.

Belgian beers are typically top-fermenting ales that are bottle conditioned, and contain yeast sediment (desired and undesired, regulated by careful pouring). Some have blends of many types of yeast, or even blends of young and old ale. And some are created using spontaneous, natural fermentation. The uniqueness of this diverse regional yeast is what imparts much of the Belgian flavour and aromas. They are unlike any other in the world.

Beer styles run the gamut, but here are some main ones:

(Oud Bruin) Flemish Old Browns: are light to medium-bodied, deep copper to brown in colour. Extremely varied, characterized by a slight vinegar/lactic sourness and spiciness to smooth and sweet. A fruity-estery character, with little to no hop flavor or aroma. Oaklike or woody characters.

Red Beers: are typically light-bodied brews with reddish-brown colours. They are infamous for their distinct sharp, fruity, sour and tart flavours which are created by special yeast strains. Very complex beers, they are produced under the age old tradition of long-term cask aging in oak, and the blending of young and old beers.

Wit (White) Beers: brewed using unmalted and/or malted wheat and malted barley and can be spiced with coriander and orange peel. These very pale beers are typically cloudy. The style is further characterized by the use of "noble-type" hops to achieve a low to medium bitterness and hop flavor. This dry beer has low to medium body, notable fruity-ester content.

Saisons: A sturdy beer that was brewed in the winter to be consumed in the summer. Close to being an endangered style, though there has been a revival in the US.

Lambics: With their tartness and complexities, they are a level above beer. Brewed with barley and wheat with a spontaneous fermentation these beers have to endure months or years of aging.

Gueze: A blending of young and old Lambics, then aged 2-3 years after bottling.

Faro’s & Mars: A blend of ale and Lambic, spiced with peppers, orange peel and coriander. Often candi sugar is added to the boil for a lighter and more drinkable brew.

Kriek & Frambroise (Fruit Lambics): A Lambic with the addition of fruit after the spontaneous fermentation has started, Kriek has cherries and Frambroise has raspberries. Other fruit lambics are produced these day also. Additional aging is required while sitting on the fruit.

Ales / Speciales: Unclassified styles of beer, often specific to region.

Golden Ales & Strong Golden Ales: pale ales (like a Pilsner) with high alcohol content (8% abv on average). Complex and strong, yet delicate with rounded flavours and big, pillowy, rocky white heads. Prime examples are Duvel and Delirium Tremens. Straight Golden Ales are simply lighter in alcohol.

Pils: very similar to its bottom-fermented Bohemian Pilsner cousin, light golden, crisp and refreshing. Examples = Stella Artois and Jupiler.

Trappist Beers: there are only 7 Trappist abbeys in the world. These monastic brewers produce some of the finest beer in the world. There are 6 in Belgium that brew: Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle and Achel (that until recently only grew fruits and vegatables). Koningshoeven (La Trappe) is located in the Netherlands.

Abbey Beers: beers produced by a secular brewer in Belgium or the Netherlands, on behalf of an abbey or priory. Definite Trappist influences.

As far as the Belgians are concerned, there’s literally a beer for everyone.

To even further the experience and awing, each Belgian beer variation has its own glass style in which it should be poured into – it’s been mentioned, that in some cases the glass is designed before the beer. The divergently shaped vessels, from majestic stemmed chalices to ceramic cups to tulip flutes, unleash aromas, flavours and hidden nuances specific for the style. It also creates magnificent eye appeal, as many have sliver and gold gilded rims and/or are adorned by incredible artwork and typography. You truly feel like a king amongst beers as you raise your glass.

Along with many importers brining in Belgian beers, in recent years, the Belgian spirit of brewing has found home in the US and Canada. Many brewpubs and breweries now offer a Belgian-style beer in their portfolio of brews, usually crafted with traditional Belgian ingredients. The North East Brewing Company in Allston prides itself in brewing high-quality Belgian-style Tripels, Dubbels and Abbey-style beers. Allagash in Portland, Maine produces a tasty Belgian-style Wit, Dubbel, Grand Cru (winter seasonal) and Dubbel & Tripel Reserves. The already legendary Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY brews Rare Vos (Speciale), Ommegang (Abbey-style) and Hennepin (Saison). Unibroue in Quebec crafts an array of big, complex Belgians, Blanche de Chambly (Wit), Eau Benite, Maudite, La Fin Du Monde, Trois Pistoles (Speciale) and Quelque Chose (Strong Ale, brewed with cherries), to name a few. Brew Moon in Cambridge occasionally puts out wine-like Cranberry and/or Blueberry Lambics and both Boston Beer Works and The Cambridge Brewing Company have done Saisons.

Life is simply a series of beers, so you might as well add some quality to your life. We recommend that you go out and buy some Belgian-style beer today.
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