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lundi 31 août 2020

Serious Beer Experts Name Their Favorite Belgian Ales

A Belgian ale is often the beer that folks cite when asked ‘which beer made them fall in love with beer.’ There isn’t a “single” Belgian ale. But the overall idea of the Trappist ales, the farmhouse ales, the new(ish) Belgian IPAs, a Flanders red ale, and many more feel like beers that belong together. They enliven a sense of place and a deep purpose in their rendering through funky fermentations and the judicious use of hops. Is there a best Belgian ale out there? We don’t know but we sure as hell would like to find out.

To help us in this endeavor, we reached out to some bona fide beer experts, many with a focus on Belgian and its beer culture. They helped us create a list of Belgian beers that are not only crushable examples from around the small country but iconic in the beer scene. Some of these beers are trailblazers. Some of them are classics. All of them are worth seeking out and drinking ASAP.

Let’s dive in!

Chimay Dorée (Blond(e) / Goud) — Cristal Peck, Brewmaster and Malt Specialist at Boortmalt Innovation Center, Antwerp

Style: Trappist Single (Enkel / Patersbier)
Brewery: Bières de Chimay, Abbaye de Scourmont, Chimay Peres Trappistes
ABV: 4.8%

The Beer:

A Trappist beer in a sessionable form? Believe it or not, such a glorious delicacy actually exists! Well, that’s if you can dig deep enough into the earth’s crust to source it — or if you happen to be lucky enough to live in Belgium, which I thankfully do!

You’re probably familiar with the preeminent form of Belgium Ale, the authentic ‘Trappist Beer.’ These are the beers whose creation is done or overseen by the Trappist monks of the monastery with the objective to supply sustenance to the Order coupled with altruistically-channeled profit. It’s a special category of beer, that is for sure. It’s also usually pretty hefty on the ABV (they hover around 7-9 percent with one extreme example, the Rochefort 10, coming in at 11.3 percent)!

This Trappist Single is a lower alcohol beer brewed in the monastery, originally for consumption by the monks themselves. Each of the Trappist Breweries brews their own equivalent. It is usually pale, lively on the tongue, hoppy, and bitter but dry and well attenuated. All of this is underscored by a characteristic Belgium yeast profile, and more importantly, high drinkability!

Tasting Notes:

An aroma bursting with bright and fresh esters reminiscent of ripe pears and bubblegum join a marriage of black pepper and spice with floral notes all softened against subdued light malt.

Exploding effervescence impacts the tongue massively, and just as suddenly … gone! Left in its wake is a formidable bitterness. With nuances of delicate phenolic character, extremely high attenuation scrubs the tongue dry to provide a thirst-quenching, highly drinkable, highly complex ale. It has all the Belgium beer character you could ever want with the ABV of a session beer.

Classic Belgian bottle conditioning results in a thin yeast layer, which, when decanted, provides bitterness bite and bready yeast complexity. If you’re not in the mood for high-level gratification, but rather just wanna smash a delicious beer to quench a thirst, pour this gently for predictably clean and smooth enjoyment.

De Ranke XX Bitter — Joe Stange, co-author CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide To Belgium and managing editor Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine

Style: Belgian IPA
Brewery: Brouwerij Brasserie De Ranke, Dottignies
ABV: 6%

The Beer:

All of the beers from De Ranke are worth hunting, but I want to single out XX Bitter both as a personal favorite and one of the most influential Belgian ales of the past 30 years. It helped to inspire a move away from sweet and spicy ales toward more hop-forward, drier, and refreshing Belgian specialty beers, such as those from Brasserie de la Senne. And XX Bitter has only gotten better over the years, squeezing the most flavor they can out of hops grown about 20 miles from the brewery.

Tasting Notes:

The beer is bitter. But it’s a smooth and pleasant bitterness, not sticky or resinous. It’s backed by loads of spicy-herbal hop flavor and a complementary yeast profile. It’s the antithesis and antidote to the cloying citrus-tropical hop flavors that have lately taken over the IPA world. XX Bitter can be hard to find fresh; your best bet is to look for it on draft, or else start planning your next trip to Belgium.

Zinnebir — Eoghan Walsh, award-winning beer writer and beer sommelier

Style: Belgian Pale Ale
Brewery: Brasserie de la Senne, Brussels
ABV: 6%

The Beer:

The breadth of styles brewed in Belgium makes it hard to choose a favorite amongst the other world-beaters on this list. But living in Brussels for over a decade, of course, I’m going to make a hometown pick and go for something from Brasserie de la Senne. I toyed with choosing their dry Irish stout, Stouterik, for its Irish-Belgian mash-up and dry-roasted excellence. But in the end, there was only one contender, Zinnebir, which is lovingly called their “Brussels People Ale”. Ostensibly a Belgian Pale Ale, Zinnebir is the beer that launched a brewery, Brasserie de la Senne, and a brewing renaissance in Brussels. It’s the perfect beer for all seasons, refreshingly citrus and bright in the summer, and warming and redolent of summer days in the winter.

Tasting Notes:

Zinnebir is a beautifully balanced pale ale, best served from the bottle with a stiff head of foam. Golden-yellow and with grassy, herbal notes matched with some spiciness from the house de la Senne yeast and a touch of malt sweetness in the aroma. Balanced between floral-herbal bitterness, and rich Belgian fruitiness, Zinnebir has a brisk dry and bitter finish characteristic of Brussels pale ales.

Avec Les Bons Voeux — Bart Neirynck, owner Herman Belgian Bar, Berlin

Style: Farmhouse Ale (Saison)
Brewery: Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes
ABV: 9.5%

The Beer:

„Avec Les bons Vœux“ in French means with “best wishes.” Originally, this strong blond ale by the legendary Brasserie Dupont was brewed as a New Year’s gift for the brewery‘s best and most loyal clients. But then some beer writers got a hold of it and praised the hell out of it, and ever since it’s been produced on a commercial basis. This “Saison on Steroids” contains all the ingredients a regular Saison has: water, malts, hops (dry hopping), sugar, and yeast. But it comes with a lot more alcohol (9,5 percent ABV instead of 6,5 percent ABV) and depth. That finish!

Tasting Notes:

Once you pop the 0,375l bottle‘s cork, the smell of hop (almost cannabis-like) takes over any room or bar. It has a steady full foam. Extremely hoppy nose. Deep blond color. The taste is smooth and fruity and a bit peppery with a long dry bitter finish. In its simplicity, it’s utterly complex. This fine beer pairs well with grilled fish, preferably white and fat. Paté of any type will do the job as well.

Duvel — Latiesha Cook, certified Cicerone and president of Beer Kulture

Style: Strong Ale
Brewery: Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, Breendonk-Puurs
ABV: 8.5%

The Beer:

We can’t talk Belgian ales without mentioning Duvel! I can remember my first time trying a Duvel strong ale like it was yesterday.

Tasting Notes:

Fruity on the nose with all the malty smells that I love, both yeasty and bready. On the sip, you get slight fruity notes, and then the bitterness hits. It’s not boozy at all. The ABV is high but balanced very well. The after taste lingers for a bit with a dry and crisp finish. This ale is definitely THEE standard for me.

Duchesse de Bourgogne — Matt Waugh, Brewmaster at Deep Dark Wood Brewing, Whitehorse, Yukon

Style: Flanders Red
Brewery: Brouwerij Verhaeghe, Vichte
ABV: 6.2%

The Beer:

Picking a favorite Belgian beer was tough (Orval and Taras Boulba deserve mention). But I’ve got a soft spot for this beer, as it was my gateway to “sours”, and kind of sent me on my life’s path. It’s comprised of a blend of eight and 18-month-old beer, matured in oak. I love that it’s approachable, yet complex. And you can usually just find it on the shelf (no secret handshakes necessary — looking at you, Cantillon).

Tasting Notes:

It pours reddish-brown. It’s tart but balanced by some caramel sweetness (from the malt, and it’s back sweetened a bit). There are notes of cherry, a little fig, maybe some apricot, other dark fruits, red wine, balsamic vinegar. It really brings to mind tawny port. There’s moderate carbonation. It’s suitable for sipping, but actually pretty refreshing too.

Arabier — Matthew Curtis, founder/editor in chief of Pellicle Magazine

Style: Strong Ale
Brewery: Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers, Esen
ABV: 8%

The Beer:

I imagine being asked to pick a favorite Belgian beer is akin to being asked to pick a favorite child. Thankfully, being childless myself means I can take a remorseless approach to such an endeavor. Gone are the monastic Trappist ales, both pale and dark. Strong golden ales are consigned to my own personal dustbin of history along with lambic and geuze. I’m sorry Taras Boulba, XX Bitter, and Saison Dupont, it’s the chop for you, too.

Ok, this is harder than I thought, but hear me out. Few Belgian beers are deserving of such praise as those created by De Dolle Brouwers, in the village of Esen to the far west of Flanders. They brew the massively delicious Oerbier and the Christmas juggernaut that is Stille Nacht. My favorite, however, is Ababier.

Tasting Notes:

It starts with a heaven-sent combo of Belgian malt, whole-flower Nugget hops, and that yeasty funk you just can’t quite put your finger on. It drinks easy for 8 percent, too easy. Nights on this beer while in Belgium have often left me in ruin, albeit rapturously so.

Westmalle Tripel — Breandán Kearney, founder & Editor-in-Chief of Belgian Smaak

Style: Tripel
Brewery: Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle, Malle
ABV: 9.5%

The Beer:

Westmalle Tripel was called “Superbier” when it was created in 1934. It eventually took its current name in 1954 from the Belgian Trappist abbey where it is brewed. Belgian author Jef Van Den Steen describes it in his books as “The Mother of all Tripels”, and locals refer to it as the “Champagne of the Kempen.” It makes up 70 percent of what is brewed at Westmalle and is produced using European hop flowers, French grains malted in Belgium, and a signature yeast.

Tasting Notes:

Westmalle Tripel pours a cloudy golden yellow with a white foamy ice-cream head and leaves a prominent lacing along its chalice glass. The aroma is dominated by the fruity esters of its characterful yeast. That’s mostly banana and apricot, but there’s also some candied sugar, dried fruit notes, spicy pepper, and flowery hop notes. All of those aromas are there in the taste too, along with a biscuity maltiness, a full, almost creamy mouthfeel, and spritzy carbonic bite. In the end, there’s a pronounced bitterness, alcohol warmth, and a pleasant long-lasting dry finish.

Moinette Blonde — Mark Dredge, award-winning author of A Brief History of Lager

Style: Strong Ale
Brewery: Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes
ABV: 8.5%

The Beer:

Brasserie Dupont’s best-known beer is their Saison. But in their hometown, the locals mostly drink Moinette. That’s because the locals are smart. Sure, Saison Dupont is a style-defining classic, but Moinette Blonde deserves way more attention. I love it for how it’s both comforting and exciting, with the kind of complexity that makes it taste like I’m rediscovering it every time I open a bottle. They also make Moinette Ambrée and Brune, and all three are exceptional.

Tasting Notes:

Moinette Blonde pours bright gold and the brewery’s distinctive yeast gives it some peach, pear, apple, floral honey, banana, and some cracked pepper notes. It has Dupont’s characteristic caramelized depth to it (thanks to being brewed in a vessel heated with direct fire), with a little honeyed sweetness and chewy richness of malt flavor. The hops leave a deep bitterness to balance the malt, and the carbonation is racy and uplifting.

Chimay Grande Réserve Barrel Aged — Miguel Rivas, host of the “Every Beer Has a Story. Every Story Has a Beer” storytelling series on IG Live

Style: Strong Ale
Brewery: Bières de Chimay, Abbaye de Scourmont, Chimay Peres Trappistes
ABV: 9%

The Beer:

Belgian Ales were the ones that got me seriously interested and curious about beer some 18 years ago, specifically Trappist Beers. I remember it vividly. I had just moved to New York City and visited my younger brother at the French brasserie he used to work in Manhattan. He had been telling me all these stories about these beers that were made by monks in Belgium. After trying my first Trappist beer it was like an awakening and I never looked back after that. I made it a point to continue exploring all the Belgian beers I could come across.

One of the pinnacles of my beer journey came two years ago on my second visit to Belgium (it was to celebrate the five year anniversary of my project, so I wanted to come back to where it all started). I was invited to tour the Scourmont Abbey, the Trappist monastery where Chimay is produced. Being able to try the beers and have a conversation with Monsieur Marcel Gobeaux — the man who had been producing them for the last 43 years — was simply amazing.

Tasting Notes:

Chimay Grande Réserve Barrel Aged in 40 percent French oak and 60 percent American oak. It pours a dark brown/mahogany color, has a frothy tan head, good retention, and spotty lacing. It opens with aromas of caramel malts, brown sugar, dark fruits, raisins, figs, hints of vanilla, spices. The taste goes hand in hand with the nose of rich, complex flavors. It’s elegant with some hints of the Cognac oak, without the burn of the alcohol. It’s very drinkable considering the high ABV. As the beer warms up, it continues to open up and reveal more fruity notes. The mouthfeel is sublime, smooth, creamy, medium to full body. This was the first Trappist beer aged in barrels that I have ever tried and is just a work of art. Definitely one of those “special occasion” beers to be shared with friends.

Saison D’Epeautre — Brewmaster Josh Waldman and brewer Ben Davidson at Elysian Brewing

Style: Farmhouse Ale (Saison)
Brewery: Brasserie de Blaugies, Dour
ABV: 5.4%

The Beer:

Belgian beers are special because they provide a great platform for brewers to take risks. The yeast or bacteria are well-known factors in their uniqueness, but so too are the cereals or spices and fruit they use. This is the best example. Belgian beer is so varied that others may be more exciting or exotic, but this one is a workhorse. It has an expected complexity, yet remains extremely crushable.

Tasting Notes:

Saison D’Epeautre pours very slightly hazy with a brilliant white cap of foam, wheat-y yellow with a touch of amber. It is unique in that it’s grist features spelt. The spelt comes through here as slightly citrusy and acidic, a bit of earthy/honey sweetness, ending dry and crackery. There’s no real bitterness to speak of, although there is a minerality that works well with the touch of barnyard funk. It has a very light body and high carbonation. It’s too easy to polish off a 750ml bottle of this any time of the year.​

Rodenbach Grand Cru — Bella (One Hoppy Lady), certified Cicerone

Style: Sour Flanders Red Ale
Brewery: Brouwerij Rodenbach, Roeselare
ABV: 6%

The Beer:

Rodenbach Grand Cru is a blend of 1/3 young ale and 2/3 aged ale. The aged beer sits in oak vats for two years and is highly attenuated, while the young beer added in reduces the acidity of the blend. This Flemish red ale has a six percent ABV and uses a mixed fermentation process.

Tasting Notes:

The aroma is heavy with dark fruits like cherries and figs, while laced with sweet caramel malt notes and a light tartness. Oak makes its presence known with hints of vanilla. A clear acetic sourness hits the tongue first, quickly followed by a fruity sweetness of cherry, blackberry, and fig. Both the sweet and sour are tempered by a medium malty body and a drying mouthfeel which cordially invites you to take the next sip. It’s wonderfully balanced and elegant.

Writer’s Pick: Orval — Zach Johnston, Deputy Editor UPROXX Life, podcaster One More Road For The Beer

Style: Belgian Pale Ale
Brewery: Brasserie d’Orval, Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval
ABV: 6.9%

The Beer:

This beer is the embodiment of how complex yet accessible a Belgian ale can be. The idea of Orval is based on using the best water, grains, yeasts, and hops with an emphasis on vibrant, more southern German hops being dry-hopped into the ale. It’s also fermented with the brasserie’s own yeast, wild yeasts, and then bottle fermented while it ages. But all of that is beside the point when the beer tastes this good and it this damn quaffable.

Tasting Notes:

Those yeasts bring about a fruitiness upfront that feels like a fruit orchard hanging heavily with apples, pears, peaches, and plums while bales of straw dry out beneath the trees. There’s a fresh-baked farmhouse breadiness to the malts that are counterpointed florals, citrus, and funky fruit. The sip has a dryness to it not unlike a Champagne yeast but still wallows in the brightness of the hops and the overall earthiness.



from UPROXX https://uproxx.com/life/best-belgian-ales-according-to-experts/
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