Accidental Hedonist » Belgian Beer http://accidentalhedonist.com From a closed mind to an open book Tue, 26 Feb 2013 18:40:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.1 Understanding Belgian Beer http://accidentalhedonist.com/understanding-belgian-beer/ http://accidentalhedonist.com/understanding-belgian-beer/#comments Mon, 23 Jul 2012 12:58:17 +0000 Kate http://accidentalhedonist.com/?p=6009

Let me work with a simple premise – A country’s beer culture is a reflection of that country’s history. It may not be a full reflection, but it does show enough to illuminate some important aspect of that country.

So why is it, that a country that’s the size of the state of Maryland, holds the rapt attention of most beer aficionados?  It’s not as if Belgium is a major European tourist destination – at least not in comparison to England, France, Italy, and Spain.  It’s certainly not a primary player in the history of Europe, having not even been a country until the 1830′s. So, why is Belgium so keen on beer?

The answer lies in its history. It’s a gross simplification, but the basis of the Belgian brewing industry lies in the fact that during industrial brewing’s formative years 1850-1920 , Belgium had other primary concerns than figuring out the level of regulations that dictated limited styles of beer. This lack of oversight actually made imports into Belgium cheaper than what they could brew in 1900.  The Belgian brewing scene was poor at this time.

Then, occupation in World War I set back the industry even further.  It wasn’t until the Belgian government banned genever from cafes and taverns that the industry started to take off.  The marketplace, demanding some level of inebriates, welcomed local beers into the fold.  New things were tried in order to differentiate one beer from another. Never having a Reinheitsgebot helped, and as well as a lack of a brewing “tradition”. Brewers were able to try different spices and herbs, even adding sugar to their drinks.  Add in the unique yeasts of the region, and a predilection for the taste of malt over that of hops, and the resulting melange of beers available to Belgians increased.

As breweries in England and the United States consolidated, and the industry shrank (in terms of breweries, not in sales), and as the Belgians rejected German beers (for obvious reasons) Belgium breweries soared with variety.  Yes, pilsners ended up on top as they did in other countries (Belgium’s most popular beer is a pilsner called Jupiler), but the marketplace was diverse, enough so that it became a source of pride for the region, quickly evolving into its state today.

Belgium’s brewing traditions are truly only about a century old, rather recent in the grand scheme of things. But this has worked in their favor, making them a “must visit” for any fan of beer.

 

 

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The Lambics http://accidentalhedonist.com/the-lambics/ http://accidentalhedonist.com/the-lambics/#comments Tue, 03 Jul 2012 15:06:19 +0000 Kate http://accidentalhedonist.com/?p=5975

 

Out of the entire catalog of Belgian Beers, there is one category that mystifies me. And being born and bred in the United States, where beer ignorance is part of a national DNA, I hadn’t even heard of this style of beer until I was way past my thirties. I am speaking the Lambics, of course; a style of beer noted for its ties to beers historical roots, what with its emphasis on open-air, spontaneous fermentation, as well as the wacky notion that beer tastes better after it ages in a cask.  As we come from a culture where mega-breweries harp on the idea of “freshness dating”, the fact that there are good to great beers out there that requires 1-3 years of aging before it gets its optimal taste is unique in the worlds where Budweiser and Coor’s reign supreme.

What the lambics are, in my opinion, is evidence that the marketing arms of industrial breweries are full of it.  For every claim of freshness, for every claim of precision in brewing, lambics demonstrate an exception.

Their are several varieties of lambics out there, from the pure lambic and the fruit lambics, to krieks, and something called gueuze, an oddity so different from what one thinks of beer, that the folks at the Good Beer Guide to Belgium describes it thusly:

Your first encounter…(with oude gueze)…can be astonishingly awful. It may make you want to send it back immediately, but then persuades you to hold on for just another mouthful. Having soldiered through the bottle and awarded  yourself a gold rosette for adding painfully to your knowledge of  brewing history, it should make you vow neer to try it again. Then order another just in case you got it wrong….After your third you will never think about beer in the same way again.

It’s this sort of talk that gets me all hot and bothered about how it tastes and what it represents.  A well-made gueuze is seen as the apex of brewing; the golden fleece; the beer that’s kept in hiding until that one special moment in one’s life that calls for something  both wonderful and unique.

The beers are not just unique to the beer world, they’re unique to Belgium, with most coming from an area just to the west/south-west of Brussels, in an area called The Pajottenland, in a region of land that’s only a little larger than the size of Brussels itself. This is a theme we’ll run into again and again with Belgian Beers – namely, how can an area so small (Belgium is comparible in size to the state of Maryland) do so much with beer?

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What Are the Belgian Beers? http://accidentalhedonist.com/what-are-the-belgian-beers/ http://accidentalhedonist.com/what-are-the-belgian-beers/#comments Tue, 12 Jun 2012 15:14:09 +0000 Kate http://accidentalhedonist.com/?p=5859

My plans include an itinerary of sorts, but not one of places to visit, but rather beers to drink.  So, in order to do that, we need a list of what beers we are actually talking about when we talk about “Belgian Beers”.

At the bare minimum, we are talking about the following categories, as listed in the Beer Judge Certification Program.

 

Belgian and French Ale

  1. Witbier
  2. Belgian Pale Ale
  3. Saison
  4. Bière de Garde
  5. Belgian Specialty Ale

Sour Ales

  1. Flanders Red Ale
  2. Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin
  3. Straight (Unblended) Lambic
  4. Gueuze
  5. Fruit Lambic

Belgian Strong Ale

  1.  Belgian Blond Ale
  2.  Belgian Dubbel
  3. Belgian Tripel
  4. Belgian Golden Strong Ale
  5. Belgian Dark Strong Ale

This isn’t a perfect categorization, to be honest, but it is a good place to start.  We have three categories (Ales, Strong Ales, and Sours) with five varieties under each.  This gives me some direction as to how to plan the trip as its to be a nine day trip. With three categories, this, at first glances gives me three days apiece for each category, with room for crossovers.  It won’t be enough for an in-depth exploration of each category, but it will provide just enough time to get a good sense of the what the types are and the culture that comes with them.

 

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