Belgian Beer (Part I – Trappist, Belgian & French)

Belgian beer is in a class of its own. It’s some of the oldest beer that the world has to offer, and has a flavour profile that is quite unique compared to beer from anywhere else in the world.

What’s even more awesome is that some of the Belgian beers are made by monks. The ones that are called Trappist beers belong to one of only a few monasteries. The monastery makes its money by producing the beer and selling it all over the world. Yet the monasteries do not profit; the money is to provide the monks with a living allowance, to contribute to the monastery for their building maintenance and upkeep of brewing equipment, and then any money leftover is donated to charity. A very different approach to passing around the church plate!

Belgian beer can be broken down into 4 basic styles: Trappist, Belgian & French, Belgian Strong, and Sour Ale (The first 2 styles will be covered in this post, the next 2 styles in the next post). There are also Abbey beers which are brewed in the Trappist style but are not produced by a monastery. The beers within a style are going to be similar but will also express a fair amount of flavour variance.

Trappist and Abbey beer denote their sub-styles by calling them single, dubbel, tripel, or quad. This is a general term to describe how much malt and how much % ABV the beer has. Single beers are not really produced any longer, and were intended to be consumed throughout the day without any marked decrease in cognition. Some of the beers have a number after them (e.g. Rochefort 10 or St Bernardus Abt 12) and this is to denote strength relative to the same brewery. A “12” is not stronger than a “10” among different breweries.

Trappist/Abbey beer worth trying:Belgian beer
– Dubbel: St Feuillien Brune – has a roasted malt flavour, medium body, smells fruity, medium sweetness. Other beer in this category that I have not yet tried include the Chimay Rouge and Westmalle Dubbel.
– Trippel: St Feuillien Trippel – smells like pear, medium body, slight bitter after taste, appropriate as an evening beer. Other beer in this category include the Westmalle Trippel and Kasteel Trippel.
– Quad: Kasteel Cuvee du Chateau – smells like raisins and sweet plum, heavy body, tastes like caramel sweet awesomeness, clean finish. Other beer in this category include the Prearis Quad, Chimay Bleu, Rochefort 10, and St Bernardus Abt 12.

Belgian & French beer denotes its sub-styles by calling them witbier, belgian pale ale, saison, bier de garde, or belgian specialty ale. Witbiers are made predominantly with wheat, belgian pale ales are like regular pale ales but with belgian yeast, saisons are low alcohol pale ales (3-8% ABV) that are brewed seasonally in farmhouses in Wallonia, bier de gardes are a stronger pale ale, and belgian specialty ales are more difficult to classify into one sub-style.

Belgian & French beer worth trying:
– Witbier: Hoegaarden – light citrus smell, slightly floral at the beginning, clean finish, and light body. Prearis Belma – smells like oranges, light and tart flavour but not too sharp, medium body, slightly spicy finish. Other beer in this category include Abbaye des Rocs Blanche des Honnelles.
– Belgian Pale Ale: An example of which I did not try is the De Konnick.
– Saison: Dupont Saison – medium body, tangy, citrus finish, better to pair with food. St Feuillien Saison – light body, slight fruity flavour, clean finish, good on its own.
– Bier de Garde: An example of which I did not try is the Saint Sylvestre 3 Monts. 
– Belgian Specialty Ale: St Feuillien Grand Cru: smelled and tasted like caramel, heavy body; must be stored cool but drink it warm (hands under a fat bottomed glass with a stem), otherwise the bottle can explode! Kasteel Rouge: smells and tastes more like a cherry liqueur than a beer; you will like it if you like sweet things!

The next post will discuss the Belgian Strong Ales and the Sour Ales.

Further reading:
– Beer in Belgium on Wikipedia
– Trappist Beer on Wikipedia
– Dageraad Brewing (A Vancouver-area brewery that produces a Belgian style Blonde and Amber ale)
– Old Abbey Ales (A Vancouver-area brewery that produces a Belgian Tripel, Quad, and IPA)