The Six-Pack Project was started by Bryan Roth of the “This Is Why I’m Drunk” blog. The goal of the project is to create collaboration between bloggers from around the country to build a local Six-Pack that roughly represents the brewing spirit of that locality. Because of my not so subtle passion for Belgian beers, Bryan approached me about doing some Belgian Six-Packs. Before I go further, here are the rules:
- Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
- Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
- Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
- Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.
Thanks to the nature of my specialization and the request, I get to break and/or bend some of these rules, but I’ll certainly adhere to the spirit of the project to create a unique, accessible, and above all, tasty Six-Pack.
The Belgium 101 Six-Pack
I decided to start my participation in the project with a “Belgium 101” Six-Pack. The goal of this Six-Pack is to pick 6 beers that:
- Would create a Six-Pack you could use as a beginner’s lesson in the brewing tradition of Belgium.
- Are relatively easy to find/well distributed in the United States.
- Represent 6 distinctive and iconic styles of Belgian Beer.
- Doesn’t compromise quality for availability.
- Includes a back-up option in case you can’t find my first recommendation.
I will provide a tasting order at the end of this post so you can go from beer to beer in the correct flavor progression. This will allow you to advance through the gauntlet of flavors without ruining the experience of the beer that follows.
The Blanche or Wit
Blanche de Namur – Brasserie du Bocq (Purnode, Namur)
Blanche de Namur is a traditional Blanche or Wit (depending on whether you’re a French or Flemish speaker, respectively). A blanche is a light beer that uses a portion of unmalted wheat and is famous for its use of spices, most commonly Coriander and Curacao Orange Peel. Blanche de Namur adds brewing licorice to their beer, adding a unique twist. The style’s name is derived from the huge white head and the white “glow” the beer has when light shines through picking up on the hazy particles. What makes a great Blanche/Wit, for me, is a beer that’s balanced between all its flavor elements, highly carbonated, and dry. This style should allow you to drink it all day without becoming overwhelmed by the flavors or imbalances. It’s also very food pairing friendly.
Blanche de Namur is brewed by the small, family brewery: Brasserie du Bocq and is imported by Merchant du Vin. This beer meets all my requirements for an exceptional Belgian Blanche/Wit. You can read my review here.
Duvel – Duvel Moortgat (Breendonkdorp, Antwerpen)
Duvel is a classic Belgian beer that’s well known in the United States. Stylistically, it would fall in the category, or rather created the category of “Strong Golden Ale,” a gold color beer over 7.5% ABV. The devil like name of the beer indicates a bit about the character of the beer. It’s highly carbonated and refreshing with spicy yeast character and a nice, crisp hop finish that makes the beer entirely too easy to drink for it’s 8.5% ABV.
Duvel is imported by Duvel Moorgat USA
Saison Dupont – Brasserie Dupont (Tourpes, Hainaut)
Saison is the classic Walloon beer style. It’s what’s known as a “farmhouse ale” which was traditionally brewed on the farm to provide beer for the workers. Saisons were typically brewed with whatever excess grains happened to be lying around. The varied ingredients coupled with the rustic nature of the brewing conditions helped create a funky and interesting yeast profile that became the signature flavor of this beer.
Saison Dupont is considered by most to be the classic of the style. It’s highly carbonated with wonderfully balanced malt, hops, and yeast character. But the true star is the Yeast. It’s fruity, spicy, interesting, subtle, intense, and wonderful. Additionally, Saisons are probably one of the most versatile food pairing options available. There’s almost nothing it can’t handle.
The Trappist Tripel
Westmalle Tripel – Abdij der Trappisten van Westmalle (Westmalle, Antwerpen)
Westmalle is one of the 8 recognized Trappist Breweries. The beer is brewed within the walls of an active Trappist monastery under the monks’ supervision. The proceeds from the sales of their products go towards the upkeep of the monks and their abbey and to their charitable ventures. If you’re curious about the history of the Trappist Breweries, you can read more: “The Brewing Monks: A Brief History of the Trappist Order and Monastic Brewing.”
Westmalle Tripel is considered the mother of all modern tripels and was created in 1931. Tripels are similar to Goldens in many ways. They both have a relatively strong, spicy hop character that goes well with the big, spicy yeast notes. The big difference comes in the malt character. Tripels tend to have a bit more color derived from darker specialty malts or special brewing sugars. This also adds more depth to the malt character of the beer, giving it a little something more than most Golden Ales have.
(Backup: Chimay Triple, imported by Manneken-Brussels)
The Spontaneously Fermented Lambic
Boon Oude Geuze – Brouwerij Boon (Lembeek, Vlaams-Brabant)
No list of Belgian beers would be complete without a Spontaneously Fermented (SF) beer on it. SF beers allow the wort to cool while being exposed to the open air which impregnates the wort with wild yeast and bacteria (no yeast is actually “pitched” into the wort to start fermentation). The wort is then tranfered into large oak vessels that are home to a whole host of various beer-loving, wild microbes. While aging in the vessels, the beer starts fermenting and developing for up to 3 or more years. This long fermentation/aging process creates a very dry, sour beer. To create a Geuze, the brewer/blender takes beers of various ages and characteristics and blends them together. Usually a Geuze will feature 1, 2, and 3 year-old Lambics blended together. The older Lambic has usually had all the sugars eaten which makes it very dry and flat. When it’s blended with younger Lambic that still has some sugar in it, the blending will spark bottle fermentation allowing the beer to carbonate in the bottle.
Boon Oude Geuze is, in my mind, the classic Geuze. It’s tart without being hugely sour. It’s got characteristics of all the various microbes involved in SF (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus). Most importantly, it’s balanced and elegant. It’s the ideal Geuze to use as an introduction to the style, without sacrificing quality, and to sour beers; it’s got a little bit of everything you want. Lambics are also available blended/brewed with fruit. They are another excellent way to try a sour beer. But for the purposes of this project, I decided to stick with a true classic and what is considered the pinnacle of the lambic brewer’s art: the Geuze.
The Flemish Red/Bruin
Rodenbach Grand Cru – Brouwerij Rodenbach (Roeselare, West Vlaanderen)
The Flemish Red/Bruin is the other classic “sour” beer of Belgium. Unlike the Lambic, which undergoes spontaneous fermentation, the Flemish Red undergoes what’s refered to as “mixed fermentation (MF).” MF is process that involves pitching a mixed culture of standard Ale yeast with a small portion of “lactic acid flora” (according to Rodenbach’s educational booklet). This starts the process of souring immediately. Like Lambic, the next stage of production involves time spent in large oak vessels which play host to all sorts of souring bacteria and yeast. The beer is then selected from many vessels or “foeders” to be blended into the final product.
Rodenbach Grand Cru is a step-up from their Rodenbach Classic Flemish Red. It only costs a little and is so worth it (not that the Classic isn’t a fine product, it is). The Grand Cru is a blend of 66% old ale with the remainder being young ale. This creates a complex, tart, sophisticated beer with lovely sweet-sour notes.
The Strong Dark Ale
St. Bernardus Abt 12 – Brouwerij St. Bernardus (Watou, West Vlaanderen)
St. Bernardus Abt 12 actually fits into two or three categories. You can call it a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, a Belgian Quad, or a Belgian Abbey ale. Strong dark ales are exactly that. They are dark ales with an ABV over 8%.
St. Bernardus used to brew the commercial versions of Westvleteren’s beers. Since Westvleteren pulled back this license, the old recipes and yeast, Westie uses Westmalle’s yeast now, can be tried under the St. Bernardus label. St. Bernardus 12 would qualify as the old-school version of Westvleteren 12. It’s dark, fruity, balanced, complex and rich and frankly, no tasting Belgian tasting would be complete without a Quad/Strong Dark Ale.
St. Bernardus Abt 12 is imported by D & V International.
(Backup: Chimay Blue, imported by Manneken-Brussels)
The Final Words
I realize I’ve given you 7 beers to fill a Six-Pack. However, Belgians are a very subversive people and quite innovative at getting around rules. For most of their history, Belgians have been part of some other country’s empire. They’ve learned to work around other people’s rules a bit. I figured I’d honor this tradition and the spirit of the “local flavor” clause of The Six-Pack Project by bending the rules just a tiny bit. Besides, you have two hands so you need something to balance yourself out. You don’t want to walk crookedly down the street with a Six-Pack in one hand and nothing in the other, do you?
Your Tasting Order:
- Flemish Red
While there are indeed many other styles of beer brewed in Belgium, I feel these 7 are certainly the quintessential ones. My list allows you can try a beer from every part of Belgium, Flemish and Walloon, in a single Six-Pack (plus a friend) and truly learn what makes Belgian brewing so unique and wonderful. You’ll also notice one common trait with all of these beers; one unifying characteristic that winds its way through each one; one overwhelming commonality that binds these beers together: yeast. The yeast is the star of all these beers. The flavor by-products of fermentation are the dominant feature of each of these beers and the one “ingredient” that truly embodies the brewing spirit of Belgium.
July’s Six-Pack Project Participants:
Each month there are six bloggers creating 6 Six-Pack Project entries: a “six-pack” of bloggers, if you will. Here are the other 5 entries for this month.
- Delaware – The Dogs of Beer by Ed Morgan
- Illinois – SubBeerBia by Jeremy Teel
- Massachusetts – HeatherVandy.com by Heather Vandenengel
- Michigan – Mark Graves
- Pennsylvania (the western portion) – Pittsburgh Beer Snob by Bill Kostkas