Belgium is one of our favorite beer-producing nations, and we love our Belgian beers here at HopCat. So much, in fact, that we’re throwing a daylong party on Saturday, July 21st, at every HopCat locations, which happens to coincide with their national holiday. There’s more to celebrate than just Belgium’s strong finish in the World Cup. Here’s a little background on why we’re flying the Belgian flag this week.
Why do we celebrate Belgian National Day?
Belgian National Day can be considered their independence day. We celebrate at HopCat because, without having declared independence, Belgium may have been ruled by another country and lost much of their heritage and culture, including their beer culture!
Belgium produces some of the most interesting, complex, and unique beers styles in the world, using many traditional techniques, processes, and ingredients that have been stiflingly modernized in much of the rest of the world. Belgium holds a special place in every beer lover’s heart because they have been able to maintain much of their traditional beer heritage, a heritage that produces beers unlike anywhere else in the world. We celebrate that!
What distinguishes Belgian beers?
Belgian beers have a great deal of diversity. It’s just not as easy as saying THIS makes it a Belgian beer, besides the fact that it’s brewed in Belgium. However, very generally speaking, Belgian beer styles are known for the contributions from Belgian yeast strains that produce particularly peppery, spicy, herbal notes. Lighter to darker, and almost everything in between will have some of this spicy character. Tripels, Dubbels, Belgian Strong Ales, Belgian Blondes, you name it, all with a particularly Belgian taste thanks to contributions from the yeast.
Another yeast that Belgium is known for is Wild yeast, which comes from, you guessed it, the wild. Most of the funky sour styles that are produced in Belgium are a result of a process called spontaneous fermentation. When making the wort, instead of pitching yeast into it, brewers keep in a large bathtub-like container called a coolship and open the windows, letting the wild yeast floating around in the air to take hold. Because of special microflora in certain areas, interesting, unique, and delicious results can be obtained.
Belgium is also well known for its hop varieties. Belgium grows some specific varieties that are aromatic and herbal, but not overly bitter. The hop varieties balance and blend into the other flavors rather than being a focal point like the hops native to some other countries.
Processes are a huge part of what makes a Belgian beer so tasty as well. Boils last two to five hours or even longer. That’s unheard of in most countries, where boils tend to last an hour and a half at most. Some styles like Lambics age their hops for up to three years before using them -- again unheard of in most countries.
What’s the deal with the monks?
Don’t forget about the monks! Many of Belgium’s styles originated from Trappist breweries where the beer is still made today, entirely brewed by the monastic community. They brew beer for their sustenance, with all profits going back to their abbeys or donated to provide social services.
What are some entry-level Belgian beers for novices?
Stuff everyone will like:
- Lindemans Framboise – Sweet, sour, and fruity raspberry flavors; brilliantly reddish purple. A marvelous beer that is great in cocktails. It’s lower in alcohol, but add a shot of chocolate vodka, and tell me you don’t love it.
- Saison Dupont – Very approachable for entry-level drinkers, but die-hards love it too. A well respected, highly rated, traditional saison in all its peppery, super-carbonated glory. Rate Beer gives it a 98/100.
How about for the more experienced Belgian fan?
These are darker, luscious and full, perfect for the moderate Belgian enthusiast:
- St. Bernardus ABT 12 – Brown sugar, raisin, bitter chocolate. Rated 100/100.
- Chimay Premiere – Sparkling , toffee, dry finish. Excellent. Rated 98/100.
And some picks for the sour/funky lover:
- Monk’s Café – Only brewed once a year. Tart, but not overly sour. Cherry notes. Dry finish. Red wine drinkers often find this pleasant, and sour lovers…love it.
- Rodenbach Classic – A lighter, less tart, very approachable entry level sour. Made from a blend of 75% young to 25% aged sour, the young beer expresses more fruit and cherry flavors, whereas the aged beer provides a subtle tart balance. They’re aged in gigantic wood barrels known as Foeders, and their vinous oak character attracts wine drinkers.
- St. Louis Gueze – One of the only Gueuzes available on draft in America. Dry, fruity apple and peach flavors. Tart and funky. Earthy, wood and hay notes are present in this delicious entry-level funky beer.