While America is still playing catch-up as far as the Belgians are concerned — they have hundreds of years on us, beer-wise — the past two years have played witness to local breweries attempting to emulate more traditional Belgian style beers, said Kenneth Wright, product manager of World of Beer. With such an influx in Columbus, an understanding of the world of Belgians is in order. With the help of Collin Castore, of Bodega, Seventh Son and Bottle and Barrel fame, and Wright, Alive is going to equip you with a quick-and-dirty report on Belgians: What they are, which to try and what to pair with your Belgian.
Getting to know your Belgians
Unlike many beers, where hops and malts are key players, “all Belgian beer is yeast-driven in its flavor profile. Hops and malts are a part of the game in varying degrees, but yeast is the highlight,” Castore said. This yeast-driven quality makes for variations in sweetness, spice, dryness and bitterness in the varying types of Belgians, Castore noted. Such flavorings, and inclusions like fruits, are what consumers focus on when pairing their Belgians with meals. “Beer pairings can either contrast or complement — matching strength [and] intensity of flavor is key — but should not overpower the food,” Castore said.
Farmhouse Ales, or Saisons
This 6- to 7-percent ABV Belgian is generally brewed in the winter for summer consumption. Its lower ABV is rooted in its agricultural background, as Belgian farmers, with little work to do during harvest, made the beer with leftover grains. Its low alcohol content allowed workers to work without (much) inebriation. This light, highly carbonated, golden-colored ale has a moderate, earthy bitterness, little perceived sweetness, a lemongrass and citrus touch, a dry finish and a black-pepper kick.
Try this: Vieille Provision Saison Dupont
Pair it: Lighter fare, like grilled chicken or sautéed prawns on a mixed green salad complement the beer’s light quality.
Brewed in monasteries, this 7- to 8-percent ABV allowed monks to get a taste of the beer without getting too buzzed up to do their duties. This beer’s dark, ruby color is a result of being brewed with caramelized beet sugar, lending more perceived sweetness and less bitterness. However, noted Castore, it’s also rich, spicy, malty and has a medium to high carbonation level.
Try this: Corsendonk Pater dubbel
Pair it: Barbecue, gourmet burgers, smoked food and richer meats, or blue cheese.
This straw-toned, 8- to 9-percent ABV brew has a heftier malt mouth-feel and a slight, residual sweetness due to the use of candied sugar rather than caramelized sugar in the brewing process, but it also has a larger portion of hops for balance, fruity esters and some spice. It’s a good palate cleanser for food and has a crisp finish.
Try this: Cerberus, Chimay White, Westmalle Tripel
Pair it: Contrast the sweetness with spicy Vietnamese pho or Thai curry, salty cheese, candied nuts (alone or in salads), and a variety of desserts.
This lighter-bodied, straw-colored brew is low in bitterness and sweetness. It’s also low in ABV, typically coming in around 3-6 percent. It’s often additionally spiced with coriander and orange, but naturally has a spicy, citrus, clove flavor. It’s also very dry and its light, refreshing taste and lack of powerful flavor lends it the inability to step on certain foods, making its pairings more diverse.
Try this: St. Bernadus Witbier, Jolly Pumpkin, Calabaza Blanca
Pair it: Salads, cheese and crackers, and seafood. Or pair it with nothing because it’s simply “great for a porch on a hot day,” Castore noted.
This moderately bitter — the malts and hops balance nicely and actually venture into more bitterness than usual for Belgian styles in some versions — pale beer may hit you with 6- to 7-percent ABV, but not with sweetness. In fact, though the fruity esters lend the impression of sweetness, this beer comes off dry.
Try this: Ommegang Fleur de Houblon
Pair it: Strong flavors that can stand up to most foods — steak and lighter meats, gruyere cheese and white cheddar cheese.
Wild/multi-organism fermentation (read: any wild organism can set up residence in the beer) causes a huge array of sour, tart, earthy, intense flavors with medium to high carbonation in this 3- to 7-percent ABV brew. The traditional lambics take on this flavoring more so than domestic lambics, which undergo a second fermentation with fruits and sweetness that complements but sometimes conceals the sour flavors. However, these beers are beautiful and unique — almost vinous and flavorful in a way that no other beverage can quite capture, Castore said. Wright, on the other hand, noted the additional fruit fermentation causes a wine cooler-type flavoring.
Try this: Rivertown Pear Gueuze, Tilquin Gueuze
Pair it: Steaks and grilled root veggies to cream sauces, sharp cheeses and crackers, tart fruit.