As brewers around the world master new brewing frontiers, in names and quality, how they pay homage to the origins of specialty beer is bringing concern to some.
The Belgian Family Brewers, representing 21 of Belgium’s oldest independent family breweries, specifically promotes “the identity and authenticity of Belgian brewing methods.” Here, you will not find Belgian India pale ale because, while the British played a substantial role in freeing Belgium in World War II, they did not bring the IPA around for a collaboration. In traditional Belgian specialty breweries, hops are used in limited quantities, mostly for bittering, and a dry-hopped “Belgian” IPA is relatively unheard of.
Antoine Bosteels, the seventh-generation leader of Bosteels Brewery and brewer of Tripel Karmeliet, says the “true character and ability of a brewer is the quality of the tripel he can brew,” when brewing to the style. In Belgium’s traditional breweries, you will not find a tripel brewed with coriander, hibiscus or star anise. Witbiers are bottle-conditioned, and the only fruit in Belgian beer is in the production, not the serving. You will find plenty of pils, but nothing called imperial pils. And when exporting abroad, you will never see a Belgian bier referred to as “Belgian-style.”
“Beer lovers abroad have no guarantee that they are buying a genuine original and traditional Belgian beer when they order a Belgian-style beer,” says Xavier Vanneste, president of the Belgian Family Brewers and De Halve Maan brewery. It is the hope of these traditional Belgian breweries that beer lovers understand true Belgian beer and appreciate the quality and craftsmanship. Brewers around the world will continue the pursuit of great, innovative products. And that’s to the benefit of the beer lover. But understand the difference the next time “Belgian-style” stands out on a shelf near you.