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Mar 20, 2014 08:28 AM

Labels and beer

I have long been curious what people think about what sits on the label and what is in the bottle. For example, Gose, an obscure and old type of beer from Germany, according to Ratebeer, is currently made by far more breweries in the US than in Germany. Has anyone tasted both (German and US) versions and can comment on similarities and differences?

Maybe an easier beer to start with is the Westmalle Tripel and US variations on the tripel. I assume that Westmalle Tripel is fairly easy to find in the US. Is that correct? Is there another Trappist Tripel even easier to find in the US?

How similar or dissimilar would you say the beers are?

I realise, of course, that not all tripels, even Belgian ones, taste the same. However, I guess the question more accurately might be: do you feel you can enjoy one beer as much as the other?

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  1. I think these labels are generally useful, but not necessarily in lockstep. You just have to allow some latitude between a "belgian quad" from belgium and a "belgian style strong ale" in the U.S.

    There will be more similarities than differences, but differences none-theless, afterall these are "micro-brews".

    1. Westmalle Tripel is one of my favorite beers, and has undergone a few "dumbing down" flavour changes in the past decade, but I still like it. I have never had any beer that seems at all similar.

      On labels, one amusing case was the Dulle Teve by De Dolle, which proclaims Mad Bitch on the European label, but in the U.S. I saw the same beer with "Tripel" in place of "Mad Bitch" on the label. I guess someone was worried about rabid pregnant dogs...

      11 Replies
      1. re: Tripeler

        That's interesting what you say about Westmalle as I don't drink it regularly, but do have it occasionally. I haven't noticed any change in taste, but wonder if it is being modified for export, as some breweries do.

        On Dulle Teve, here's what they have to say about it:
        Interesting, the Dutch part of the site tells a funny story about how the beer got its name.

        Have you ever had the chance to compare a Belgian lambiek or geuze with a US-made one? I'd be curious how they would compare.

        1. re: ThomasvanDale

          I live in Tokyo for 10-11 months of the year, so have little chances to have U.S. brewed Belgian-style beers. In any case, I'd prefer those from Belgium as Belgian beers have been imported into Japan for nearly 30 years and are quite popular in major cities, particularly Tokyo.

          Thanks for the Dulle Teve link. That's one of my favorite Belgian beers these days. When you said "Dutch part of the site" did you mean the part in Flemish?

          1. re: Tripeler

            Flemish=Dutch. Although it is the same language, Belgian TV puts "Flemish" subtitles when a Dutch actor plays on a Belgian show and the Dutch do the same in reverse. Imagine watching a BBC show with "American' subtitles.

            But, for real fun, there is a game show called "Tien voor Taal" (something like "ten for your language") that has a Dutch team and a Belgian team to see which team knows our language better. I think the Belgian team usually wins.

            1. re: ThomasvanDale

              It has been my understanding that the language spoken in Belgium is the same as that spoken in the Netherlands, but the pronunciation is different and vocabulary differs. I see on DeDolle's website that they use the Netherlands flag to indicate the language -- interesting that the alternative is English and not French.

              I would think the Belgian team would do better in such a game show since the country deals with two languages, which tends to sharpen people up.

              Still, as a fan of Belgian beer for over 25 years, I am impressed by U.S. attempts at recreating styles, but am more comfortable with the Belgian-brewed stuff.

              1. re: Tripeler

                Your understanding is generally correct. The Belgians are not so quick as the Dutch to introduce new words into the vocabulary. The pronounciation is more or less the same, but the accent is different, particularly in the northern part of the Netherlands. There are, however, not so many Belgians who speak both languages. Wallonian (French-speaking) brewers, however, are more likely to speak Flemish since the brewing schools are in Flanders.

                I'm especially curious about US attempts at German beers since most (particularly in Bavaria) are bottom fermented, which does not seem very common in the US. They are also quite subtle in flavour (many of them), which also does not seem to be a standard in the US. Of course, it's difficult to compare them unless you've drunk them in both locations.

                1. re: ThomasvanDale

                  What you wrote was confusing to me: "...are bottom fermented, which does not seem very common in the US."
                  Most all mass-produced U.S. beers are bottom fermented; i.e. lagers. The only exception I have seen in the craft realm is Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, which I believe is meant to be a Märzen, is actually fermented with an ale yeast, I believe. I don't know of many U.S. craft brewers attempting German styles, but those from Victory Brewing of Pennsylvania have been quite superb, but note that both of the founding brewers studied in Bavaria, I believe.

                  In Japan, one of the best bottom-fermented beers is made by Sapporo, and is called Edel Pils, brewed with very high quality malt and hops, and the quantity of hops is said to be three times that of their normal lager. The result tastes quite a bit like a brisk Pilsner from Northern Germany. However, most all mass-produced Japanese beers are bottom fermented anyway.

                  1. re: Tripeler

                    agreed on Victory. The brewer is german trained and they are one of the best (for any style!) in the country as far as Im concerned. but specifically their lager releases are wonderful (especially if you get up to the brew pub with any regularity and are lucky enough to be around for some of their local only beers. The St. Boisterous (their Maibock) is good and the St. Victorious (Dopplebock) is really nice. Plus they like to release different pilsners from year to year which are almost always worth trying). Other breweries in eastern PA reflect the area as a settlement for German immigrants in the 17 and 1800s. Troegs and Stouts both have some solid lagers available. And frankly there are plenty of breweries that make good quality lagers. They just dont tend to get much publicity about it since this is very much an IPA/extreme culture or at least that seems to be the engine behind the craft brewing trends for now.

                    When Im in Denver I always try to get to a brewery called Copper Kettle which specializes in good quality lagers. Yet most people outside of the area havent heard of them. Moonlight Brewery in the San Fran area is well known among beerheads for their very good quality lagers. But they only release in kegs and dont really care about distribution or publicity it seems. So theres top notch stuff out there. Just have to know where to look.

                    1. re: Insidious Rex

                      Also, Victory's Hop Devil is still one of my favourites.

                      1. re: Insidious Rex

                        Victory is actually run by two childhood friends who grew up in the area. Both trained in Germany. Ron Barchet worked at Old Dominion, which of course was known for Dominion Lager. My memory is fading, but I believe he first worked at Baltimore Brewing Co (now gone), which was known for its German-style lagers and Weizen. Bill Covaleski also worked there, and if I recall (that darned memory again), he replaced Ron when he moved on to Old Dominion.

                    2. re: ThomasvanDale

                      Some American breweries make very good lagers, but it is relatively rare because they don't usually want to tie up a fermenter for the time that bottom fermenting yeasts require. Victory in Pennsylvania makes really good ones, though. Also Ballast Point in San Diego makes good ones, as does Anchor in San Francisco.

              2. re: ThomasvanDale

                Gueuze is a style that American brewers have yet to do well, IMO. I've had some pretty good ones, but none get those intense grassy, wild yeast aromas that you'll find in Cantillon or Hanssens. It's hard to compare because there are very few American brewers with the capacity to make a proper gueuze. I only really know of two who have done it regularly, Lost Abbey and The Bruery.

                Mikkeller and Tool made a really interesting one called Betelgueuze with a crazy hop bill of something like 11 different hops including Southern Hemisphere ones like Nelson Sauvin. It was brewed at DeProef and is very well made.

            2. I've had both German and American goses. I've had two from Germany, one on draught several years ago before American brewers were making it, and one made by Freigeist in bottles more recently. The two were both quite good. The American goses have been more hit or miss. I've had some excellent ones from Hollister and Almanac, but in general it's a beer style I'm only somewhat interested in.

              Westmalle tripel is common here, as are a number of others (St. Bernardus, Bink, Karmeliet, Chimay, etc.). There are many American brewers making tripels, too, and as with gose they are hit or miss.

              Brouwerij West, in San Jose I think, makes a really good one that you'd swear is from Belgium. Green Flash in San Diego also makes a very good one. It's not one of my favorite styles, and I've had so many mediocre examples that I rarely order one. Even well made ones are something I'll rarely drink because I don't usually crave something that sweet and rich.