The Belgians have long held a firm grip on their command of several styles of beer that they invented and perfected over centuries. Their mastery for many years was due in part to the unique bacteria in the air that magically inoculated the fermenting beer with yeast strains unique to each area. Now, with modern brewing science, those same strains are being duplicated and cloned by myriad of breweries looking to capture some of the Belgian mystique that has made their brews so sought after.
While there are almost as many Belgian sub-styles as there are breweries, some of the most copied are Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, Sour and Saison/Farmhouse ales. Each style has its own characteristics, with Dubbel sporting rich malty flavors, a brown appearance and around 7-8% ABV; Tripels at around 8-12% ABV with a golden/straw hue and sweetness usually derived from Belgian candy sugar; Quadrupels logging it at a hefty 10-13% with an intense maltiness and darker brown appearance and oftentimes aged in oak barrels; Sours at varying alcohol strengths and hues with mild to intense tartness; and Saison being a straw colored lower gravity beer at around 5-7% with a spicy yeast character and mild to medium tartness.
In perusing the latest Belgian-style creations being produced in the US and Canada, it appears North American craft breweries are giving the Belgians a run for their money, and brewing the same styles of beer that most tasters wouldn’t be able to differentiate from the ones made across the Atlantic.
Several North American breweries have gone as far as devoting most or all of their line to Belgian styles, notably Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York; Allagash in Portland, Maine; The Bruery in Placentia, California; Stillwater Artisanal Ales based in Baltimore, Maryland (but contra
ct brewed at various US locations); and Unibroue in Chambly, Quebec, Canada. All of the above have proven themselves as renowned breweries putting out primarily Belgian styles in quality equal to ones from the Old World. Shining examples are Ommegang with its Hennepin, The Bruery with Saison de Lente and Stillwater with Cabaletta, all wonderful examples of the Saison style; Unibroue captures the tripel style with its La Fin du Monde; and Allagash Curieux is a beautiful example of a barrel-aged tripel.
In spring of 2014 I attended a beer dinner hosted by Stephen Beaumont (recognized as one of the world’s leading writers on beer), pitting Belgian beers against American-brewed beers of the same style. Attendees got to vote after each side-by-side tasting, and surprisingly the American brewed gems tied or bested their Belgian counterparts in each of the pairings. (For a full accounting of the aforementioned beer dinner, visit http://celebrator.com/features/beaumontinvegas/.)
As the luscious flavors of Belgian brews have gained in popularity with the beer loving masses, many American craft breweries have joined in to try their hand at putting their own spin on Belgian styles. Excellent examples I have enjoyed recently are Sierra Nevada’s Ovilla Abbey Ale Series (strong golden ale, dubbel, tripel and quadruple versions); Deschutes Stoic (quadruple) and Foray (Belgian IPA); Dogfish Head Namaste (witbier) and Black & Blue (golden ale with black raspberries and blueberries); Goose Island Pepe Nero (saison); Brooklyn Brewing Local 1 (strong pale ale) and Sorachi Ace (saison); Victory Brewing Golden Monkey (tripel) and V-Twelve (quadrupel); Firestone Walker 2015 Stickee Monkee (quadrupel); BJ’s Camaraderie (Belgian pale ale); North Coast Brother Thelonious (abbey ale) and Pranqster (strong pale ale); New Belgium La Folie (sour) and Trippel (tripel); Samuel Adams New World Tripel; and Stone Brewing
Stochasticity Quadrotriticale (quadruple) and Saison. This list barely scratches the surface of those available and these days it’s unusual for a major craft brewery to not offer at least one Belgian representative.
In closing, I feel confident in proclaiming that in many cases US breweries have equaled or surpassed many of the revered beers made in Belgium, making a trip to your favorite craft beer store much cheaper and almost as delicious as a vacation to Europe.
Bob Barnes is editorial director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for Gayot.com. He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.