Monday, June 11, 2012

Those Pesky "Belgians"

I often shy away from Belgian beers, unless they are actually made in Belgium that is, so I guess I should really say that I often shy away from "Belgian" beers. At the same time though, I do enjoy the occasional Trappist beer, Rochefort and Achel being my particular favourites, and some of the euphemistically labelled "Abbey Ales", such as Leffe.

A couple of weeks ago I bought myself a mixed four pack of St Bernardus beer, partly because the accompanying glass looked so much more solid and reliable than my flimsy Chimay glasses. The four pack consisted of the Pater 6, Prior 8, Abt 12 and Tripel. I won't rattle on with tasting notes, mainly because I sat glass in hand watching something or other on Netflix and didn't actually bother with noting the flavours, aromas and other incidentals that are par for the course when reviewing a beer. I will tell you though that I enjoyed all four, including, much to my surprise, the Tripel, though I think the Pater 6 was my favourite over all.

As I sat, gently getting a tad pickled, I ruminated on why it is that I generally avoid "Belgian" beers but am generally ok with Belgian beers? Maybe it is the relative absence of what gets termed "funkiness", though perhaps it is because the Belgian beers I have had tend not to be so weirdly fruity?

I find this aversion to "Belgian" beers is particularly pronounced with saisons. I don't mind the lingering dryness from using candy sugar, but I find the hefty spice and fruity flavours off putting to a certain degree. I can't remember where I read it but I recall something about American made saisons being heavily influenced by the outlier of Belgian saisons, Saison Dupont - a beer I have never had. As I recall, the yeast used by Brasseries Dupont can function at a higher temperature level than other yeast strains used in Belgium to make saison, and throws off all this weird fruity funkiness.

With this aversion to saison, perhaps it is a little weird that I recently brewed my first attempt at the style, using honey malt and ginger, fermented with Wyeast 3711 French Saison. Said beer was bottled on Saturday, and my first instinct is that it will be very nice once conditioned and carbonated. Perhaps I will learn to like saisons, but there is part of me that wishes someone over here would make a classic saison, session strength for drinking in the heat of summer, as apparently this summer will be a hot one.

* the picture is of the spiced Abbey Ale I made earlier this year, in one of my Chimay glasses.


  1. While I really enjoy a Belgian beer from time to time (the abt12 will always be my fav out of those 4) I find myself in the -not really a huge fan- camp of Belgian beers. It's not that I don't understand or know about these beers or what they're about, it's just the amped up carbonation I'm not a fan of. A bottle and a half, and I'm usually feeling a bit bloated. Take away that huge carbonation and bulging head though (in a beer like Duvel for example) and you don't really have a Belgian beer anymore..

  2. Many "Belgian" beers are not to my liking as well. I do enjoy half of Ommegang's beers though and a few others'. I recently sampled Saison Dupont expecting to be amazed, since it's generally considered the hallmark of the style. It was a disappointment. Dry and sulfuric is not how I like my beer.

    I've brewed two saisons, both turned out quite good. The most recent tastes remarkably like the Ommegang/Chouffe collaboration Gnomegang.

  3. I am so pleased to hear you liked Pater 6, which is one of the most under-rated beers in the world. I would place it among my top ten Belgian favorites, and that's saying something.

    I don't know that you could call Dupont and "outlier." At the moment the brewery was set to spike Saison Dupont in favor of the more popular Moinette, there was only one other traditional saison maker left (Silly). In the sense that Dupont uses only barley malt, no sugar, and doesn't use spices, it is sort of an outlier. But they've been using that yeast since the 20s, and it is a wonderful echo of the attenuative tart ales saisons were in the early part of the 20th century.

    I won't argue that you should enjoy Dupont--different strokes--but I would strongly argue that dryness has been a hallmark of the style for centuries. Wishing it weren't so is like when I hear my American friends wishing that cask ales were stronger, colder, and served on keg.


The Price of Reinheitsgebot

Anyone with even the most cursory interest in German beer knows about Reinheitsgebot, the famed Bavarian "Beer Purity" law enacted...