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May 12, 2007 11:50 PM

New to Belguim Beer where to start

I have become interested in Belgium beer and want to know what is a good one to start with? What glass type of glass to use? To give you an idea of tastes here are a few beers I like (I understand I am entering a different beer world but I thought a little background might help) Amstel Light (everyday beer) Anchor Steam, Sam Adams winterfest, most wheats, and blondes.

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  1. You'll get a lot of varying answers here, just to forewarn you. Given what you already like, there are a few places you can start.

    When it comes to Belgian beer, there are a few different basic types that you see.

    There are the Abbey (or Trappist) ales. Not all Abbey ales are Trappist, but all Trappist are Abbey, if you follow me. The most common Abbey ales you'll see are designated as dubbel, tripel, and quadrupel. Dubbels and quadrupels are very dark and have a lot of fruity characteristics to them from the yeast. Tripels are light in color, but also fruity. A good starting point for these are the Chimay beers, if only because they are so easy to find. The white label is a tripel, the red is a dubbel, and the blue a Belgian strong dark. These beers improve in flavor at warmer serving temperatures. Right out of the fridge they won't be showing much of their flavor. Most of the trappist ales follow this pattern, though there's one, Orval, whose beer doesn't fit any of these categories. It's a great beer, though like nothing you've ever tasted before. I don't know how to describe it because it's so unique, but it's very good.

    Another big style from Belgium are lambic beers. The most widely distributed is by Lindemans, but it's not representative of the style. Lambic beers were originally made with wild yeast strains, which live on in the crevices of the barrels where these beers are aged. Hence, every tradtional lambic brewery has their own distinct mix of these yeasts and subsequently slightly different flavors. Haansens Artisinaal, Cantillon, Boon, Oud Beersel, Girardin, and Drei Fonteinen are what you're likely to find if you look. These are wheat-based beers, with fruit sometimes added. The Lindemans fruit lambics are sweet and not terribly interesting. Lindemans does make a straight wheat lambic called Cuvee Rene that is very good. Any of the other lambics I listed are good examples, though I'd say that Cantillon is the most extreme in terms of the wild flavors, and is probably not a good place to get your feet wet. Lambics take getting used to.

    Also good are the Flemish red and oud bruin ales, which hav a nice sour tang to them. Rodenbach, Duchesse de Bourgogne, and Petrus Oud Bruin are good examples of this style. These are pretty approachable beers, and very tasty so long as you're prepared for the sour flavor they have.

    Another style you should check out if you like wheats are Belgian witbiers. This is a Belgian wheat variety spiced with orange peel and coriander, and is very refreshing. Wittekerk and Hoegaarden are the ones you'll commonly see over here.

    Lastly, one I would avoid is Stella Artois. The only thing Belgian about this beer is the geographic location from where it originates. When people say they like Belgian beer, this isn't what they're referring to.

    You might also look at some of the Belgian-style beers being produced in North America. There are some surprisingly good ones being made here, using similar yeast strains and the same malts. Good producers are Allagash (Four, Curieux), Jolly Pumpkin (La Roja), Unibroue (Blanche De Chambly, Maudite, Trois Pistoles, their anniversary ales), Avery (White Rascal, Salvation, The Reverend), Lost Abbey (any), and Russian River (Damnation, Temptation, Supplication, Beatification, Salvation). I've had great-tasting Belgian styles from all of these breweries.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      Dang. You owe Josh a beer. I feel like I owe him one just for all the time he put into this.

      The only thing I'd add or comment on is about Stella. I'm surpised by the number of people who "love Belgians," but their knowledge is limited to Stella and Hoegaarden. It seems like there's two types of Belgian beer drinkers out there: those familiar with the trappist ales, lambics, and sours...and those who equate Belgian beer with the golden accessibility of Stella.

      One more generalization, just for kicks. I believe that Rodenbach Grand Cru takes three tries to make a decision. First try, you'll probably hate it. Second time around, you probably won't like it. Third time: you're hooked, or it's just not your style. And that's okay.

      1. re: Josh

        I completely spaced on the saison style.

        For the benefit of the OP....

        Saisons are beers that are brewed with a variety of spices (or not). They were traditionally farmhouse ales, where the farmer would add a variety of ingredients to the beer. They are very interesting beers, with lots of unusual flavors going on. Saison Dupont is the classic example of this style, and can be found more easily than some of the others. Fantome is one of the best you can get. Domestically, Avery, Ommegang, and Rogue brewing have all produced saison beers. Ommegang's Hennepin is probably going to be the easiest to find in this style.

        1. re: Josh

          WOW!!! Thanks Josh I wasn't expecting anything like what you've just given to me. It might take me a little while to try your suggestions I appreciate how in depth you've gone for me. It is great to see the passion you have.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. The Belgian beer that got me hooked on them is a widely available classic, Duvel. It can be categorized as a "strong Belgian blonde ale" but it is actually its own unique style that is both refreshing and light as well as complex and very strong (8.5% alcohol). Ideally it should be served poured into a tulip-shaped Duvel glass, which are often available at places that sell Duvel, or sometimes packaged with it. You could use a chalice if no tulip is available. Drink it chilled but not ice cold, maybe let it sit out of the fridge for 30 minutes before pouring.

            Unibroue's Fin du Monde or Goose Island's Pere Jacques are somewhat similar in style to Duvel.

            1 Reply
            1. re: kenito799

              You just reminded me that I forgot to include Ommegang in my list of domestic Belgian producers. Hennepin is a fantastic saison.

            2. I don't know if you're close to a Trader Joe's - they almost always have Chimay (White, Red, and Blue - all excellent), Duvel, and a couple of lambics. TJ's has also begun marketing their own label of Belgian-style in the classic corked bottle. I picked one up but have yet to uncork it. Has anyone tried it yet?

              On Stella Artois - it's a good-tasting beer but I totally agree with the other posters that it just doesn't speak Flemish to me. I would guess it's probably Belgium's equivalent of Michelob.

              PS - I second Peetoteeto on Josh. Sir, you are amazing.

              2 Replies
              1. re: bulavinaka

                Aw shucks...

                I can't claim too much credit here, I only know what I do from reading about and drinking a lot of Belgian ales. Overall, I'd say that the Belgian beers (and French bieres des gardes) are some of my favorite styles.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  My TJs in NY (except for Manhattan--I dont get to that one very often) don't sell beer, so I haven't tried the TJ Belgian-style, but I heard that it is made by Unibroue.

                2. josh ran the gamut, but if you're just starting out please don't worry if you don't actually like some of the styles.....there are so many and they really are quite different.

                  ie, i really enjoy dubbels, wits, and blondes but am not such a big fan of saisons, lambics and/or the flemish style (sours). and most of the biggies (high abvs) are too vinous for me (i don't like wine). i would think that these latter 3-4 styles could be considered quite the acquired taste - sort of like the big hoppy micros in the american genre. and that's OK, but don't be intimidated if you don't like them! definitely try as many styles that you can, because obviously some people definitely have a more sophisticated palette! *grin* -- but i wouldn't spend lots of money on any one til you figure out which ones really float your boat.

                  a specific example of two beers that folks with more sophisticated palettes than me rave about which i can't stand: orval (tastes like the smell of bandaids) and duchess bourgogne (tasted like vinegar - i actually poured it out, blasphemy!).

                  some of my favorite belgians or belgian styles: chimay blue, duvel, de koninck, unibroue blanch de chambly, hitachino white, flying fish dubbel, mcchouffe brown, carolus d'or, notradamus, new belgium 1554.....there's a pattern here somewhere i know *grin*

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: hitachino

                    Sounds like you like the sweeter Belgian styles. The Band-Aid character you notice in Orval is actually present in most of the fruitier Belgian ales. It is caused by phenolics prouced by the yeast strains. What Orval has that the others don't is a lot of brettanomyces, which is described as having a barnyard or horse-blanket kind of aroma. I've always liked Orval, but if you don't like brett then it's probably not for you. A lot of Burgundian wines have a smattering of brett to them, so if you drink wines from that region of France you'll probably recognize it in there.

                    I'm surprised you poured out the Duchesse though! That's one of my favorite Belgian beers.

                    1. re: Josh

                      that's really interesting info about the brett beasties, thanks! it was a very, very obvious taste and i found it unpleasant to say the least.

                      i've always felt kind of left out because i DON"T have an appreciation for the more 'out there' types of belgians., and i wanted to make sure the original poster knows that it's OK to have blatant dislikes when discovering new styles. (ie don't feel intimidated know, less than all that)

                      as someone who has never been a wine drinker (for whatever reason, wine literally makes me instantly nauseous and headache-y) i've always wondered if it's just those people (wine folk) who can appreciate the 'other end' of the ale spectrum.

                      like maybe one has to train for the more esoteric ales.... *grin*

                      the duchesse tasted exactly like i was drinking vinegar. i shiver now just thinking about it.....

                      i like malty but not too sweet (ie i can't stand lindemanns)

                      like others here, i've learned a lot from sites like ratebeer and beeradvocate and from talking to other beer afficionados such as yourself - but i guess there's no accountin' for taste!

                      1. re: hitachino

                        Well there's no right or wrong, really. It may seem that way, but the truth is that tastes differ. I am the kind of person who wants to know the "why" behind my choices. I know wine guys who hate the taste of brett, and view it as an error in wine-making when it's present (which is pretty f'ing weird, IMO, considering it's present in so many Burgundian wines).

                        That same thinking holds true in beer-making too. If you read homebrew literature, a lot of it warns against contamination by bugs like pediococcus, lactobacillus, and brettanomyces because they will "ruin" your beer. Well, that's an odd thing to say considering that the Belgian sour beers all deliberately utilize these bugs to get the incredible flavors they do.

                        But sour beer is an acquired taste, and not everyone is up for it.

                        1. re: Josh

                          speaking of bugs (actual insects) i was researching oolong teas and came across one of the supposedly more coveted types where its quality evidently relies on having had bugs gnaw on the leaves prior to harvesting.....their saliva mixes with some defense mechanism in the tea leaf and viola, oolong perfection.


                          i wonder which insects go for hops...........

                          1. re: hitachino

                            Never heard about hop-eating bugs, but an interesting thing about lambics I learned is that the producers deliberately use stale hops (years old in some cases) to provide bitterness without any floral overtones.

                          2. re: Josh

                            chinon00 is asking the oenophiles about yeasts and the wine making process over on the wine board right now.....

                            oenophiles - they get an internationally huge market share / selection AND a cool name.......

                            *big grin*

                            1. re: hitachino

                              I'd go with a La fin Da Monde thats what changed my whole perspective on what beer should taste like.

                            2. re: Josh

                              sour beers are so awesome, but if you're talking about duchese de burgogne, then it's just not sour enough for me. start on some of the fruitier, and sweeter belgians then move on to sour. if it's really sweet , chances are it's also pretty high in alcholhol content too.