Belgian Beer (Part II – Belgian Strong & Sour Ales)

Continuing off from the previous post, this post will focus on Belgian Strong Ales and Sour Ales.

Belgian Strong Ales are beers that are at least 7% ABV, and its sub-styles are the Belgian blonde, Belgian golden strong, and the Belgian dark strong ale. The tricky part about this style that makes it difficult to define is that Belgian brewers themselves do not use this nomenclature. Yet it is understood as a classification among importers and drinkers alike. In this case, the examples within these categories will do a better job of explaining the category better than I would!

Belgian Strong Ales worth trying:
Belgian Blonde: Brugse Zot – smells like a witbier, tart flavour, light finish. Other beer in this category which I have not tried yet include Palm, and Leffe Blond.
– Belgian Golden Strong: Duvel – smells toasted, light bodied, pairs well with fatty foods. Other beer in this category include Delirium Tremens, and Piraat.
– Belgian Dark Strong: Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru – smells like caramel and raisins, tastes like gingerbread, medium bodied, pairs well with caramelized foods, and can be cellared for 10 years! Other beer in this category include Gulden Draak, and Kasteel Donker.

"Timmermans" by Fgeerts - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

An example of spontaneous fermentation.

Sour Ales are beer which taste sour but not bitter like an IPA. This is because the sourness is not attributed to use of hops, but more due to spontaneous fermentation and aging in oak barrels. Sour sub-styles include the Lambic, Gueuze, Fruit Lambic, Flanders Red Ale, and Flanders Brown Ale (Oud Bruin). Lambics are exposed to wild yeast and bacteria native to the Senne Valley, Gueuzes are a mixture of Lambics aged 1-3 years and undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle, Fruit Lambics are brewed with various fruits in the secondary fermentation process, Flanders Red Ales are brewed with a special red malt and the Lactobacillus bacteria which imparts lactic acid into the beer creating its sourness, and Oud Bruin which may be aged in oak barrels or not but all do undergo a secondary fermentation as well.

Other terms you may come across: Faro – a type of lambic which is sweetened at the end, so that the additional sugar does not increase the % ABV. Kriek – cherry lambic, Framboise – raspberry lambic, and Cassis – blackcurrant lambic are some of the most common fruit lambic flavours. Keep your eyes out for some fruit beer, as not all of them are created equal; while a lot of them use fruit in their fermentation process, some of them add fruit juice or syrup to the end of fermentation instead (see Kasteel Rouge).

Sour Ales worth trying:
– Lambic: I really like the Lindemans line. Not having recently tried them though, I have no tasting notes to offer, other than their faro was mildly sour and sweet. Other beer in this category includes the Cantillon Grand Cru.
– Gueuze: Van Honsebrouck St Louis Fond Tradition Gueuze – smells sour and fruity, tastes like sour pineapple, has a sharp and clean finish. Other beer in this category include the Cantillon Lou Pepe, Tilquin Gueuze, and the Lindemans Old Gueuze Cuvee Rene.
– Fruit Lambic: Van Honsebrouck St Louis Fond Tradition Kriek – tastes like pie! Sour flavour and sour aftertaste. Other beer in this category include the Oud Beersel Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise, and Lindemans (kriek, framboise, peche, pomme, and cassis).
– Flanders Red Ale: Omer Vander Ghinste Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins – don’t smell this beer, it smells like fish! It tastes toasted, sour and fruity. Other beer in this category include the Rodenbach Grand Cru.
– Oud Bruin: I have not tried any of these yet but I am keeping my eyes peeled for these ones: Petrus Oud Bruin, Vander Ghinste Oud Bruin, and the Van Honsebrouck Bacchus.

While the flavour information was my personal interpretation of the beers’ flavours, the Belgian beer lesson and category information (from this post and the one preceding) were given to me by Gerry West from Westbier. He gave us a private tasting at our liquor store, and is a Belgian beer importer into Vancouver, Canada.

Links for further reading:
– Beer in Belgium on Wikipedia
– Lambic Beer on Wikipedia
– Flanders Red Ale on Wikipedia