Each year the World Beer Championships takes time to review what we describe as Continental European ale styles. This year’s tasting included a variety of Belgian brewed and inspired ales, as well as, alt, kolsch, and seasonal maibock styles. Belgian beers continue to be fashionable with American audiences, and deservedly so. Steeped in history dating to the 5th century, these incredibly complex and flavorful ales continue to be a cornerstone of Western brewing culture, and continue to be an inspiration for leagues of aspiring and veteran brewers.
Perhaps some of the most inspirational beers in the world, Belgian ales continue to be sought by beer connoisseurs for their complex, yet identifiable and unique flavors. Belgian ales have a storied history and relationship with monasteries, with many Belgian ales once being brewed by or under the control and guidance of Trappist monks, yet today of the almost 200 Trappist monasteries, only 7 produce Trappist beer. Founded in 1884, the sole remaining Dutch Trappist brewery, Bierbrouwerij de Koningshoeven, maintains this long tradition of Trappist breweries. At 10% abv, Bierbrouwerij de Koningshoeven’s La Trappe Quadrupel (95 points), perhaps the most sinful of beers from Koninshoeven, is still an angelic ale that will have all singing praises. Moving south to Belgium proper, a trio of abbey ales from Brasserie St. Feuillien, Tripel (93 points), Brune (89 points) and Saison (94 points), display the unmistakable nuances of Belgian ales derived only from centuries of brewing.
Sharing the marketplace with traditional Belgian ales are their American counterparts and interpretations. Similar to many other “Americanized” styles, American brewers are spinning Belgian ales into something completely of their own. As with many “Americanized” ales, these ales, which are being coined as Belgo-American ales, balance the yeast and malt character of traditional Belgian ales with a heavy dose of American hops. One of the most recent winners of the Boston Beer Company’s annual Longshot competition, Samuel Adams Longshot Friar Hop Ale (95 points), was a delicious example of this growing style, balancing a distinct citrus American hop profile with the toasty caramel malt sweetness, candy sugar and spicy Belgian yeast character.
It is not just domestic interpretations of Belgian beers that are brewed in this vein of American hop assertiveness, but some Belgian brewed ales as well. Brewed entirely with European noble hops, Belgian’s Brouwerij de Leyerth’s Urthel Hop-It (93 points) and Scheldebrouwerij’s Hop Ruiter (89 points) are both fine examples of American influenced, Belgian brewed ales.
Not all stateside interpretations of Belgian ales are easily identifiable as American, with many of them rivaling their Belgian counterparts. American brewed standouts from this year’s tasting include a dubbel from Chicago’s Goose Island, Pere Jacques (94 points), Brewery Ommegang’s Abbey Ale Dubbel (93 points), Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace Saison (94 points), and Issaquah Brewhouse’s Ménage Á Frog (90 points), a Belgian-style tripel featuring a trio of frogs on the label from the Brewhouse’s “Frog Series” of beers.
Whether it’s a Belgian brewed Trappist ale or a domestic interpretation, these ales are brewed for sinners and saints alike. So, with that, cheers and enjoy any one of these finely crafted ales.