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Understanding Belgian (and Belgian-style) Beer


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#1 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 04:47 PM

We recently got a new pub in town that specializes in Belgian and Belgian-style beers. I went there last week, and it was great, but it reinforced to me that I know NOTHING about them. Wit? Dubbel? Trippel? etc. Also, are there any "definitive" examples of the various styles that I should seek out?

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#2 David W.

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 04:55 PM

The fantastically fun process of learning beer. Drink up and Cheers to you and the many glasses that will get you to the knowledge. On my journey so far, I have become fond of Witkap Pater tripel (and singel and dubbel...in that order) http://www.witkap.be...p_eng/Home.html

#3 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 05:03 PM

Seriously, I know this is really stupid... but until recently I only drank your basic lagers. I only just learned about what the difference between a lager and an ale was! So I've tasted some beers that were described as "tripel" or "dubbel" but I don't know what they were talking about! And it doesn't help that I liked everything that was put in front of me. The bartender was friendly, but business was brisk so I felt bad asking too many stupid questions.

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#4 Kent Wang

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 05:11 PM

BeerAdvocate's style guide is very useful.

#5 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 05:26 PM

Following this topic carefully, as I'm also more or less a beer dolt. So here's a nice doltish question: at what temperature would one want to serve the beer, and with what sort of head? Or does it depend on the particular style? The (excruciatingly slow) Beer Advocate guide has entries for particular styles; is there some overarching characteristic that binds the Belgians?
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#6 cdh

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 05:57 PM

Belgian beers are tough. They're very idiosyncratic and all over the place. As a general rule, you've gotta experiment to figure out what you like. A bar that has lots of the classics would have all the exported Trappist beers: Achel, Chimay, Westmalle, Orval, and Rochefort. Try them all. To my tastes, all but two are really tasty...

As a general rule, a dubbel is a fairly strong beer (7-8%ish) that is fairly dark, and not particularly hoppy. Most of the interesting flavors in a dubbel are going to be yeast derived.

A trippel is an even stronger beer (9-10%ish) that is fairly light in color and flavored by noble hops.

I personally hate trippels and love dubbels, but that's just me.

The multiplier effect implied by their names does not apply to modern brewing. It's just a naming convention that may or may not have been based on a multiplier used 400 years ago. That's all.

Beware that Belgian brewing does encompass sour beers like Rodenbach, Vichtenaar and Duchesse de Bourgogne. Some people hate them, I love them. Don't expect it to taste like the "beer" you're expecting if you order one. Same applies to anything called "lambic" or "geuze". Even their Witbiers, wheat-based beers, have a tart and citric thing going on.

If bittersweet is your preconception of what beer should taste like, Belgians will really challenge you.
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#7 dividend

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 09:27 AM

I'm sure there are good books and such to guide you as to temperature/head for specific beers, but the best would be to find a bartender that really knows his stuff, because how a beer is handled can really change the experience. My best example of that is Orval. I'd tried it and wasn't crazy about it until I found a bartender who knew to open the bottle and let it sit for a few minutes to take the chill off, and a do a very slow pour with a lot of head. I love the nuances of this beer because of that.

The sour/lambic Belgians can be really interesting. Duchesse de Bourgogne is pretty far out on the spectrum. I love it, but it's like drinking a red wine vinegar that's had a parmesan rind steeping in it, and in my mind it's more like a barleywine than a beer. These beers don't really share common traits with the trappist styles.
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#8 nakji

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 06:07 AM

The first beer I ever enjoyed was a Leffe blonde. For the first time, I realized beer could actually have a flavour other than weak toast.

I love the wheat beers, however. Hoegaarden is all over Asia (although Erdinger from Germany is starting to edge it out in distribution - I wonder why?), and it's one of my favourite wheat bears. I think of it as a "morning beer" - so if I'm at a brunch or on the sort of holiday where beer is being considered before noon, it's a go-to beer for me. I've heard it described as having citrus or coriander notes, and that also (apparently) makes it go well with curries. I made a great biryani last weekend from the BBC Food magazine that had in the drink notes a recommendation for Hoegaarden. Oddly enough, a Nepalese restaurant opened locally that specializes in Nepalese, Chinese, and Northern Indian curries, and they have Vedett on tap, another Belgian wheat. So if you want to try and pair some of these with food, try wheat beers with spice.

#9 Florida

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 10:21 AM

1) Ask your bartender questions. That’s what they are they for. Not knowing the difference between a trippel or a dubbel or that a gueuze is a lambic, but a lambic is not necessarily a geueze is understandable
2) Categorizing Belgian beers is akin to categorizing “California wines”
3) I second BA’s style guide. Not only does it give you a general description of the particular style, but it also lists the top examples of that style.
4) Much like wine, you’re best bet is to just start trying them and see what you like versus what you don’t.
5) Personally, I find North American versions of Belgian beers to be a bit more “user-friendly.” Ommegang (out of NY) and Unibroue (out of Canada) both make excellent Belgian-style beers that are quite accessible.

#10 TomV

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 12:15 PM

Here's a quick back of the bar napkin guide:

Wit: Belgian wheat beer, crisp and flavorful often has hints of citrus and spice.
Dubbel: Amber to brown in color. Rich malt flavor and dark fruit dominstes the palatte with yeast flavors like clove or bubble gum in support.
Tripel: Strong in alcohol, but very pale or golden in color. Subtle malt flavor and crisp carbonation.
Saison: dry complex beer often orange in color. Saison Dupont is the classic example.
Belgian Strong Ales: like a dubbel or tripel with more alcohol and more flavor.

In the plains, Boulevard Brewing puts out some interesting Belgian style ales. Once you learn what you like in these styles, give a sour beer like Rodenbach a try. Perhaps someday you'll learn to love lambics from Cantillon.

#11 ScoopKW

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 03:41 PM

Following this topic carefully, as I'm also more or less a beer dolt. So here's a nice doltish question: at what temperature would one want to serve the beer, and with what sort of head? Or does it depend on the particular style? The (excruciatingly slow) Beer Advocate guide has entries for particular styles; is there some overarching characteristic that binds the Belgians?


1) At the GABF, all the beer is served at 50f for judging. Better beers will give you a glass recommendation and serving temperature on the back label.

2) I like about 3/4" or so of head depending on the beer. Never use soap with your beer glasses. Just clean and sanitize. The head will be better that way.

3) The Belgian beers are all over the place as far as style. If there's one characteristic, I'd say that Belgian brewers aren't afraid to ferment their beer warm(er) to let esters develop. And they're not afraid of wild yeasts and even bacteria that other brewing regions kill on sight. There are a lot of exceptions, though.
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#12 DanM

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 03:52 PM

Another great source for information on Belgian style beers is the Beer Judge Certification Program website. I constantly use this site for insight into beer styles that I plan on brewing. You will probably want to read up on styles 16-18.
http://www.bjcp.org/...yles/catdex.php

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#13 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 07:25 PM

Thanks to Kent Wang for introducing me to Belgian beer. But I know nothing, so all of this is very helpful.

#14 Chris Hennes

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Posted 02 October 2010 - 03:30 PM

A few years ago I had a Duchesse de Bourgogne and hated it, but since I've been drinking a lot of Belgian- and Belgian-style beer recently, I thought I'd give it another shot. I now cannot remember for the life of me what I disliked about is! What a fascinating beer... unlike anything else I've had. Are there other commonly-available beers out there in this style?

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#15 BrentKulman

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Posted 02 October 2010 - 04:23 PM

A few years ago I had a Duchesse de Bourgogne and hated it, but since I've been drinking a lot of Belgian- and Belgian-style beer recently, I thought I'd give it another shot. I now cannot remember for the life of me what I disliked about is! What a fascinating beer... unlike anything else I've had. Are there other commonly-available beers out there in this style?


Well, you have now made the beer palate progression. For me, it was first the malty doppelbocks, then the hoppy IPAs and, finally, the sours. Some other Flanders Reds I would recommend include La Folie (not sure whether New Belgium distributes in your area, though they hit a lot of states, now), Rodenbach (been on again, off again in the US - not sure where they are now), Panil Barriquée (shows the prowess of Italian craft breweries), Vichtenaar and Cascade Kriek (another brewery that is starting to pop up in many states).

If you haven't already, you should also try an Oud Bruin to see if you like that style.

#16 Chris Amirault

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 06:41 AM

If you haven't already, you should also try an Oud Bruin to see if you like that style.


I tried the St. Feuillien brune reserve in my search for good Thanksgiving beers, and it's outstanding. Had I not come into possession of a few others as a gift (with the intention of them being served at the meal), that's what I'd be serving....
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#17 paul o' vendange

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 06:51 AM

Not sure what their distribution area is, but FWIW, a Michigan brewery doing outstanding Belgian-style ales would be the Jolly Pumpkin brewery. When we had our restaurant, we introduced them to the Upper Peninsula, and were very pleased to do so; a true craft artisan.

Don't drink beer like I used to...in other words, about 70 lbs. ago, and another life (in the brewing industry...Goose Island), but Belgian ales, though they can be a confusing lot (add to their myriad "styles" are the many makers worldwide of their style), are well worth the investigation. Belgians know their stuff; they are unafraid of wildness, in every way (literally....much as "terroir" applies to wine, the wild yeasts and bacterias of Belgian brewing areas, floating freely and used to "infect" Belgian worts to make their lambics and gueuzes, have their unique characteristics regionally). Some non-Belgians doing good work, in my opinion...already mentioned Jolly Pumpkin, would also recommend Unibroue, out of Canada, or Ommegang, Upstate New York.

Edited by paul o' vendange, 22 November 2010 - 07:04 AM.

[size="3"]Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais[/size]

#18 Chris Amirault

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 06:57 AM

I'll second that: we have the Oro de Calabaza at work and it's outstanding.
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#19 paul o' vendange

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 07:05 AM

Chris, Oro was my first of his ales, and we were absolutely floored, as well. Second for us was the La Roja. Enough to convince a guy back to beer...!

Edited to add....LOL, uh, that would be La Roja, the beer, not La Raza, the paper, or political movement.

Edited by paul o' vendange, 22 November 2010 - 07:07 AM.

[size="3"]Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais[/size]

#20 Savana

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 03:48 AM

I got the names of brands/brewery that produces Belgian beer Chimay, Leffe, Fat Tire, Stella Artois etc. These are some brands and yesterday I had Chimay blue(Belgian beer), and it taste very good.

#21 david goodfellow

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 05:01 AM

" Stella " as it is referred to in the UK, is very widely available over here. Most pubs stock it and its all over the place in cans.

Hoegaarden is a favourite of mine. As is Leffe although I prefer the Blonde and my wife prefers the Brune.

More and more pubs are stocking the above, however as they are both premium products I expect the local beers will outsell them by quite a margin.

As they are all quite strong our consumption is mostly at weekends :wink:

#22 paul o' vendange

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 05:12 AM

There's nothing truly "Belgian" about Stella; a marketing success, and that's about it. Being a lager, it is as alien to Belgian brewing culture as it would be in, say, Hook Norton. In my opinion, an insipid, mass-produced and mass-appeal drink; the Budweiser of Belgium only - owned by InBev (ummm....doesn't the name just scream craft?), the largest brewing company in the world.

Edited by paul o' vendange, 23 November 2010 - 05:16 AM.

[size="3"]Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais[/size]

#23 Florida

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 08:05 AM

There's nothing truly "Belgian" about Stella; a marketing success, and that's about it. Being a lager, it is as alien to Belgian brewing culture as it would be in, say, Hook Norton. In my opinion, an insipid, mass-produced and mass-appeal drink; the Budweiser of Belgium only - owned by InBev (ummm....doesn't the name just scream craft?), the largest brewing company in the world.


Stella, Hoegaarden, and Leffe are all owned by AB InBev. And while Hoegaarden and Leffe are not the best representation of the style, they are at least respectable. Stella, though? Why bother?

As for JP, they are an excellent brewery with some very uncommon beers, but their beers certainly have an American twist to them. Not a bad thing, though, if we're going to consider JP to be belgian, I imagine the sours (Supplication, Redemption) coming out of Russian River deserve a mention as well.

Did you say you worked for GI?

#24 david goodfellow

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 10:22 AM

There is a huge range of Belgian specialist beers. They are quite expensive in the UK, where quite a few, but nowhere near all are available.

Up until perhaps a couple of years ago we used to have a mini holiday of sorts, by hopping over the English Channel into France, on one of the very cheap car ferry deals.

France has a huge range of Belgian beers in their hypermarkets, at prices a lot lower than the UK ,so it made sense to fill the car with Belgian beers and French wine.

Another favourite, (out of the many) are some of the fruit beers, although they are a bit of an acquired taste. Kriek- Lambic is a black cherry concoction which I particularly like, but could not drink more than one or two 33cl bottles.

I may just have a look again at that "Booze Run" :smile:

#25 paul o' vendange

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 11:31 AM

@David - I love Kriek/Lambics as well, although I tend to prefer the more austere varieties - Lindeman's catches some flak for using syrups, more or less a ton of resulting sweetness, and if I remember correctly, they do not bottle condition; makes their versions palatable for a broader swath, but they can be pretty cloying, in my opinion. Not that I don't enjoy them, on occasion, but if you find them too much to chew, I'd suggest a more authentic brew - some sweetness, yes, depending on the make, but a good deal of acid from natural/wild yeast/bacterial fermentation and skilled "aged" blending as well. Try Cantillon, Liefman's, others.

@Florida, yep, another life ago, but I worked for the production brewery. There has been a veritable diaspora, since then - some still there, some went on to Sierra, Three Floyds, Peace, even to owning (Southern Tier). I got out of the biz entirely. And have shed close to a century. :blink:

Edited by paul o' vendange, 23 November 2010 - 11:32 AM.

[size="3"]Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais[/size]

#26 FrogPrincesse

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Posted 04 March 2014 - 04:04 PM

Serious Drinks published A Beginner's Guide to Belgian Beer Styles, which provides a very nice overview of Belgian beers.