Distilled: Celebrate Nationale Feestag with Belgian beer

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
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From the July 18, 2013 edition

Sunday, July 21 marks Belgium’s Independence Day (Nationale Feestag) so I decided to honor the anniversary with an ode to Belgian beers. Over the last couple years I’ve delved heavily into the world of Belgians, and oh, what a wonderful world it is.

Belgium has a wealth of breweries approaching their trade with the diligence of any American craft operation, and some of the most flavorful and complex styles of beer in the world. The diversity of styles means most will find something for their palette. The most common are the dubbel, rippel, quad, saison and blonde, but there’s so many more.So I’ll just point in the direction of my favorites. Happy Feestag!

A good start with Belgians is the Saison Dupont. It’s a light, crisp saison with enough spice to round out the flavor. Also try the Rodenbach Grand Cru, an amazing dark beer with sour cherry notes and plum sweetness.

There also are a number of delectable Belgians readily available at any quality beer store in the States. Even many American craft breweries have begun brewing Belgians — including two local ones, Rockmill Brewery and Granville Brewing, that focus exclusively on the style.

Brewery Ommegang is leading the way among American breweries—Three Philosophers Quad and Abby Ale Dubbel are fantastic. And let’s not forget about our neighbors to the north and Unibroue, one of the few reasons to be jealous of Canada.

Brewing in Belgium began with monasteries centuries ago and evolved into the Trappist versions every beer aficionado is well aware of. Trappist beers are widely considered some of the best in the world, and with good reason. Most cite Westvleteren XII as the best beer in the world. (Remember the kerfuffle that erupted last winter when a limited release occurred stateside?)

It’s an extraordinary beer, but very difficult to obtain— Westvleteren products are only available at the St. Sixtus Abb in Belgium. The St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Trappistes Rochefort 10 are on par with the Westvleteren XII and are more widely available.