The Belgian-Style Ale is a Movement
There is a reason that American brewers have been so heavily influenced by Belgian’s beer making culture. Go to any reputable beer retailer and observe their shelf space. Walk past all the “imports” and you may quickly notice a dedicated section stacked with fizzy offerings from one of our favorite beer regions.
Yes, Belgium has brewing ingrained in its culture. It’s a world all about tradition, ancient recipes, and top notch extra primo ingredients that deserve textbook credentials. It shouldn’t even be labelled as a category. It’s a malt-infused movement.
UNESCO has officially named Belgium’s beer culture an “intangible cultural heritage” and the epic Westvleteren 12 is brewed here. Just a few attributes that show the importance of this region to the global beer scene. But there’s more to it than just the past and tradition.
Modern brewing methods are finding their way into the scene and tastes are changing. Think IPA’s and American hops. Pale Ales. Scotch Ales. Whiskey barrel aging. It’s not all molasses-like dark ales.
So why just focus on Belgium? There are history-fueled and regionally unique beer cultures all over the world. We can talk about Germany and its Bavarian Purity Laws. Or The Czech’s and their world renowned Pilsner. Or how about the new-school American craft brewing scene?
We focus on Belgium because it’s more than just about homegrown legacy. It’s about influence. And how many American brewery’s have either been inspired or influenced by their tradition of beer making? Quite a few this generation, as breweries on both coasts are making Saisons and Abbey-ales worth serious international acclaim, all while blending them with hop-infused and innovative craft brewing techniques.
How else did we learn about a good Witbier other than trying a pint of some Allagash White. Oh the cloudy glass. Unfiltered and glowing. There’s nothing like it. A lush blend of coriander and orange peel, blended with a generous amount of wheat and good carbonation, and most important for some, no bitterness.
The iconic curved Allagash glass filled with this glowing and almost fuzz-like white ale. It’s so smooth and so fresh. And this all began from a brewer who saw a gap in the market way back in the mid-90’s.
And then there’s Brewery Ommegang and offerings like Rare VOS and Three Philosophers. Coopestown, NY is far from Brussels, but it houses an exceptional brewery that does it right. The Three Philosopher’s Ale, a traditional strong dark ale, is on par with any premium cherry ale on the scene. Outside of the cherry notes, it offers hints of toasted malt, brandied raisins, and molasses. It has this nice ruby-like color and just coats the palette. It’s almost like biting into a rich brandy laced wet chocolate cake. Serious flavor.
And let’s shift our focus to beautiful Colorado, where one will find New Belgium brewery. And along with Fat Tire, which basically put this brewery on the global map, New Belgium Abbey, a Belgian-styled dubbel, was one of their first brews from way back in the early 90’s.
With a glowing bronze-like tone, hints of caramel and sweetness, lush malty texture, and light hops appearing after a few sips, this is a solid example of taking inspiration from the source and feeding the movement. It’s candied goodness.
These 3 breweries are all about embracing and evolving recipes from this great land. Maybe there are more hops and more robust flavors, and it’s different than what you would get in some cafe in Antwerpen, but that’s really the whole point. It’s about staying original with a different take on ingredients, brewing methods, and what feel right.
And since the craft scene is so commercialized these days, better distribution provides us more opportunities to try some of these amazing brews, inspired by the land that brings us Westvleteren 12. Much respect to tradition.
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