“…thus, let us drink beer!” – Belgium special
A royal palace bigger than Buckingham palace.
The first country to legalise euthanasia and ban cluster bombs.
Three official languages.
One of the many good things coming out of the small European country is beer: 800 varieties are brewed in Belgium – not bad for a country with less than 11 million people.
Claiming that beer plays a prominent role in Belgian life is an understatement par excellence.
There is quite a variety of traditional beer style, some of which are unique to Belgium and each with its distinct, taste, smell and feel:
Trappist beers are one of the most famous types of Belgian beer as they are brewed in Trappist Monasteries, i.e. the name refers less to the style and more to the origin of the beer though, since for the beer to gain the Trappist certification, the brewery must be in a monastery, the monks must play a role in its production, and the profits from the sale of the beer must be used to support the monastery and / or social programs outside.
Drinking for a cause.
There were 7 certified Trappist breweries in 2011, six of which are in Belgium plus one in the Netherlands.
The beers are mostly top-fermented, but otherwise have very little in common stylistically.
Abbey beers are similar to Trappist beers, but do not meet all of the specifications required to receive the Trappist designation.
Abbey beer may be:
In other words, “Abbey” is a marketing ploy without further foundation or merit to it.
Amber Ales are similar to English pale ales, but are less bitterly hopped.
Blondes or Golden Ales are a light variation of pale ale, often made with pilsner malt.
Brown Ale is darker than amber ales, less sour than Flemish brown ale, and less strong than dubbel.
Champagne Beers are generally ales that are finished à la méthode originale for champagne.
Dubbel (double) are classic Abbey/Trappist types with a brown colour. Typically, a dubbel is between 6 and 8% ABV and is usually bottle conditioned.
Lambic Beers (Gueuze and Fruit Lambics) are a wheat beer variety brewed via spontaneous fermentation from exposure to wild yeasts and bacteria native to the Senne valley (Brussels area). These beers have a distinct flavour that is dry, vinous, and cidery, with a bit of a sour aftertaste. Lambics can be broken into the subclasses of Gueuze, Fruit Lambic, and Faro. These beers taste very different from how you would an expect a beer to taste. While an acquired taste, they can be delicious and are definitely worth trying if you visit Belgium.
Pils or Pale Lagers comprise the bulk of beer production and consumption in Belgium. These beers are not really distinctive and are what you are used to from mass produced beers all over the world.
Belgian Strong ales can vary from pale to dark brown in colour. They are usually medium to full-bodied and are high ABV. More often than not they are referred to as dubbels or tripels.
White or Wheat Beer is traditionally made with a mixture of wheat and barley, and often other additives, rather than just barley malt, hops, and yeast like regular beer. Before hops became widely available in Europe, beers were flavoured with a mixture of herbs called gruit, and then later in the Middle Ages, hops were added to the gruit. That mixture is still used today in most Belgian/Dutch white beers, usually with additives like orange peel and coriander. The production of this type of beer in Belgium had nearly ended by the late 1950s, and in the town of Hoegaarden, the last witbier brewery, Tomsin, closed its doors in 1955. Thankfully, in 1965, a milkman who used to help at the brewery revived the style and it can now be found all over the world. Their alcohol strength is about 5-6 percent ABV, and these beers can be quite refreshing, especially in hot weather. White beers also have a moderate light grain sweetness from the wheat used.
Many breweries produce special beers during December. Most contain more alcohol than the brewery’s other types of beer and may also contain spicing.
Let’s see what I found remarkable while sampling Belgian brews, shall we?
Brouwerij Bosteels (Bosteels Brewery) was founded in 1791 and is still owned and operated by the same family, now its seventh generation. They brew three beers: DeuS, Karmeliet Tripel, and Pauwel Kwak.
DeuS Brut des Flandres
The elegant contours of the bottle hint at the delightful subtlety of DeuS. In its flute glass you will discover a light blonde to pale golden beer, brightly scintillating, saturated and with extremely tiny bubbles.
DeuS is crowned by a fine linen white, meringue-like head.
A fascinating complexity.
It develops the fragrance of fresh apples backed by mint, thyme, citrus, ginger, malt, pears, hops, allspice and cloves.
It glides over the tongue as smoothly as silk and then blossoms into a creamy, tingling sparkle. DeuS is light and vivacious and seduces you with the sweetness of a grape and the fruitiness of a desert apple. The finish is beautifully dry with a bare hint of tannin.
Tripel Karmeliet is a golden-to-bronze brew with a creamy head.
Its characteristics derive not only from the grains used but also from restrained hopping with Styrians and the fruity nature (banana and vanilla) of the house yeast.
Hints of vanilla mixed with citrus aromas.
Tripel Karmeliet has not only the lightness and freshness of wheat, but also the creaminess of oats together with a spicy lemony almost quinine dryness.
Kwak is recognisable by its deep bright amber colour and a dense, creamy coloured head.
You will smell a mellow, fruity and malty aroma with a slightly spicy character (coriander, hops).
Additional earthy and very subtle aromas of banana and perhaps also a whiff of pineapple or mango in the background.
Discover a very mellow, fruity attack, a nougat-like solidity, and a slightly spicy character with hints of liquorice passing into a warm finish that reminds you of caramelised banana. The bitterness always remains in the background but in the end emerges delicately.
Chimay is an authentic Trappist beer. As explained above that means that it is brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the control and responsibility of the community of monks, and whose revenue is devoted to social service.
The “Authentic Trappist Product” logo is granted by the International Trappist Association.
It guarantees the consumer the Trappist origin of the products according to the above mentioned well-established principles:
Tasting Notes: The Chimay Red Cap, or “Première”, in 750 ml bottles, is the oldest of the Chimays. It possesses a beautiful coppery colour that makes it particularly attractive.
Topped with a creamy head, it gives off a slight fruity apricot smell from the fermentation. The aroma felt in the mouth is a balance confirming the fruit nuances revealed to the sense of smell.
This traditional Belgian beer is best savoured at cellar temperature (10 – 12°C).
The Chimay Triple, last-born of the Abbey, is labelled “Cinq Cents” on the 750 ml bottle.
Of a golden colour, the Trappist beer combines sweet and bitter in a rare balance. The beer’s aroma felt in the mouth comes from the hops’ perfumes with fruity touches of Muscat grapes and raisins, even ripe apples.
Duvel is one of the first Belgian beers I indulged in and a long time favourite for special occasions.
A natural beer with a subtle bitterness, a refined flavour and a distinctive hop character. The unique brewing process, which takes about 90 days, results in a pure character, delicate effervescence and a sweet taste of alcohol.
Apart from pure spring water, which is the main ingredient of beer, barley is the most important raw material. Barley must germinate for five days in the malt house, after which malt remains. The colour of the malt and as a consequence also of the beer is determined by the temperature.
Duvel obtains its typical bitterness by adding various varieties of aromatic Slovenian and Czech hops.
Duvel ferments for the first time in tanks at 20 to 26°C. The brewer uses his own culture for this. The original yeast strain, which Victor Moortgat himself selected in the 1920ies, originates from Scotland. After maturing in storage tanks in which the beer is cooled down to -2°C, it is ready for bottling. Thanks to the addition of extra sugars and yeast, the beer ferments again in the bottle. This occurs in warm cellars (24°C) and takes two weeks. Then the beer is moved to cold cellars, where it continues to mature and stabilise for a further six weeks. This extra long maturation period is unique and contributes to the flavour and taste of Duvel.
Quite bit of work that goes into this, huh? Well, you can taste it, son.
A team of beer specialists checks the process daily by means of taste analyses. It is only after 90 days, when it has achieved its rich range of flavours, that Duvel may leave the brewery.
Thanks to its surprisingly high alcohol content (8.5 %), enormous head, fine effervescence and silky feel in the mouth, Duvel stands out clearly from other Belgian beers.
There are specific Duvel glasses and a pouring method that should be adhered to in order to get the most out of the tasting experience.
Duvel Triple Hop
If you paid attention to the section above you will know that Duvel is traditionally brewed with two hop varieties.
Duvel Tripel Hop is brewed with three hop varieties and each year the third hop is changed to provide its own unique taste and aroma.
By using three instead of two hop varieties to brew, it obtains additional hop aromas and an increased bitterness. The typical Duvel palate is enriched with HBC 291 hops providing fresh notes of citrus, black pepper, lavender and roses.
HBC 291 hops are added again during ‘dry-hopping’, extracting additional hop aromas into the beer. The higher aromatic intensity rounds out the beer, backing the final alcohol content of 9.5%.
Liefmans’ beers are brewed craftsmanship, steeped in the rich tradition of Belgian beer culture.
Liefmans is made with a combination of light, dark and roasted malt. After fermenting for a week, the beer spends from between two months to a year maturing in cellars, depending on the type.
The typical bitterness, with sweet overtones, is created by blending mature beers with younger brews.
Mrs Rosa Merckx, the first and for many years the only female master brewer in Belgium, was at the helm for over 40 years and helped to perfect the unique flavour of Liefmans beers.
Liefmans Goudenband is a mofo of a distinctive dark beer. Originally called IJzerenband (Iron Band) – a reference to the iron bands around the beer barrels – the bottle gained its champagne cork when it was renamed Liefmans Goudenband (Gold Band). Made in open vats with beer of mixed fermentation, it is left to mature for four to 12 months in the cellar. Mature beer is then fortified with younger beer, so the fermentation process starts up again.
Liefmans Goudenband is a beer for storing, and just keeps improving over the years not unlike a fine wine. Even after ten years, this dark red beer tastes as fresh as ever. You’ll immediately pick up on the aromas of caramel, apple, rhubarb, cherries and malt. On the taste buds you will find hints of apple and cherries, combined with woody notes, while the aftertaste hints at nuts and dried raisins. The mildly acidic taste make this beer an unusual match for blue cheese.
The Kriek-Brut beer represents the marriage between the fresh accents and slightly acidic flavour of black cherries. Liefmans Kriek-Brut is a mixed fermentation beer, with every hectoliter containing up to 13 kilos of fruit!
Liefmans Kriek-Brut is a blend of Oud Bruin and pale beer aged on cherries.
The beer is matured for 18 months, bringing out the very best of its intense flavour.
Liefmans Kriek-Brut is a deep reddish-brown colour, with a pale head and wood and almond notes.
On the palette, you can clearly taste the slightly sweet, yet at the same time gently bitter fruit flavours.
Now this is an interesting one.
Interesting in that Belgian beer mainliners look down on it as it is a “factory beer”.
Well, go to Williamsburg and read Vice while having a craft beer, pal.
My dad introduced me to it and I find it surprisingly drinkable.
Did you know that they have beer machines in Belgium? Yup. You think that used panty machines in Japan are useful? Maybe for the novelty factor.
At 2am when roaming Belgian cities, a couple of Euro coins meant that we were able to crack a cold Jupiler to fuel night of mischief. Thank beejeezus for Jupiler.
Fresh, with a harmoniously fruity aroma and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Still prized by the monks as a drink to accompany their lunch. This is a delectable Blonde ale with sprightly fruitiness, soft malting, and a slightly dry, gently-hopped finish. A sparkling nose, complex flavours, and a touch of bitterness give this fine ale all of the refreshing qualities of a classic Belgian Blonde.
Maredsous Brune was blended by Father Attout, whose aim was to brew an aromatic ale for Christmas. His creation, with a caramel bouquet, has become an indispensable fixture for beer lovers. This is a rich mahogany-brown Dubbel ale, with a delicate body, creamy head, and lush bouquet. Within its velvety taste you will discover subtle hints of dark fruit, chocolate, and toffee. You will also savour a dry and warming finish.
This ancient home of the Benedictine monks is also the birthplace of the renowned line of Maredsous Abbey ales.
Benedictine values are indisputably embodied in the authentic flavor and character of the Maredsous ales.
A substantial portion of the profits generated by Maredsous sales are donated to charitable causes.
Last century saw large farms in Hainaut brewing barley and hops.
Silly is a village lying in the Ath, Enghien and Soignies triangle and is crossed by the Sylle, the river from which the village takes its name.
Silly possesses a brewery that was founded in 1850 as Cense de la Tour, and that is today operated by the 5th generation.
From 1947 the Brewery became more prominent than the farm yet was still only producing top fermentation beer like Grisette, Saison and Scotch.
Several years later in 1950 when the Brewery already had a chain of bars, it began producing a bottom fermentation beer Pils as part of its product range.
1990 saw the creation of a white beer known as Blanche Titje.
This beer together with Saison de Silly, Double Enghien and Divine, have contributed to the growth of this independent and traditionally based family business.
Over recent years the Brewery has been enhancing its export business including Australia.
Silly Brewery has a range of beers under its umbrella, including some novelty ones but my favourite is the humble Silly Pils: A bottom fermented beer, pils type.
First and foremost you notice the malt in this beer. This taste is followed by subtle impressions of hop bitters that do not overstay their welcome and never veer toward tartness.
Summa summarum a pils beer with an amazing taste that makes for a splendid thirst-quencher.
Watch out for the second instalment of the “…thus, let us drink beer!” special.
Photos by T and Creative Commons
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