Famous Belgian beer styles
For many beer lovers out there, Belgium is the pinnacle of brewing. There are so many styles that it is very easy to get lost or confused. Which styles are sour, which ones are sweet? See our handy guide to some of the most popular Belgian beer styles.
Belgian Blonde Ale
This is probably a style you’ve come across before. It is one of the best-selling Belgian styles out there. This style has a moderate strength a malty-sweet flavour, a distinctive Belgian yeast-driven palate and has a dry finish. Believe it or not, these ales are a relatively recent invention. Duvel Moortgart brewers are credited with its creation. The style shares many similarities with a tripel given that the same sugar used during the brewing process is used for producing both styles.
Meaning ‘double’ in Dutch, these beers contain a higher alcohol content than the ‘singel’. Ever seen a ‘singel’ beer? We doubt it, given that the beer is brewed almost exclusively for the consumption of the monks living at monasteries. Many dubbels showing different flavours and levels of complexity exist out there and have been brewed for long, long time in Belgium. It wasn’t until 1926 that the Westmalle monastery released its Dubbel Bruin and the style became recognised after many other breweries and monasteries released their very own versions.
Dubbel beers are of a reddish-copper colour and have a rich palate showing dried fruits, very malty flavours and undertones of chocolate and spice. Westmalle Dubbel remains for many the dubbel of choice.
These beers are fairly sour and traditional lambic beers are spontaneously fermented. They have a lactic-sour flavour and citrus notes. Hops are not noticeable or faintly present on the palate. This style is rare and sought after by serious beer lovers wanting to expand their horizons. The origins of the style are not entirely clear but there is an old record from the time of King Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor between 1519-1556) where the phrase: ‘serve me lambic’ appears. Subsequent tax records show that lambic beers were being taxed according to the ingredients used.
Until 1860, other forms of beer that weren’t Lambic, were rarely seen in the area surrounding Brussels. Local brewers proudly believed that the micro-flora which helped make lambic beers was unique to the Brussels area. It wasn’t until 1904 that Niels Kjelte Claussen, a Danish Scientist, discovered that some of the yeasts present in Lambic beers were also present in British beers. He named the yeast Brittanomyces (and yes, he spelled it with ‘i’).
In the first years of the 20th century a ‘new’ type of lambic beer was popularized: ‘kriek lambic’. This beer grew in popularity until the onset of the First World War when occupying forces confiscated brewing equipment from breweries in the Brussels area. The biggest challenge for the Lambic brewing industry was the after war period in the late 1940’s. With a struggling economy and rationing in place, many breweries turned to sweetened lambics.
These days associations that protect and promote Lambic beers exist in Belgium. Traditional beers are promoted by these associations and recommendations are also issued to small brewers. There is a renewed interest in the style in many countries around the world. Timmermans produces a great Oude Kriek Lambic.
There are so many good examples of this Belgian beer style that it is really difficult to group them and to provide a ‘one-size’fits-all’ description. Many Saisons are well carbonated, cloudy and have a dry finish. Fruity esters give a citrus-like palate to the beer and some examples present sour undertones.
This style originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking area of Belgium. There, farmers produced an ale during the winter months that was given to seasonal worker (‘saisonniers’) during the summer months. The beer was brewed to provide jobs for permanent staff at farms during the quiet winter months and to refresh the seasonal workers during the busier periods. It was also brewed in winter to avoid the risk of spoiling the beer during the fermentation process in summer.
Another beer style made popular by the Westmalle monastery. This beer is also brewed with beet sugar in the recipe just like dubbels. The only difference between the dubbel and the tripel is that the sugar isn’t caramelised when brewing a tripel. This increases the alcohol content and leaves the beer with a deep yellow to gold colour.
The flavours of a tripel beer are many and can include spice, a sweet note similar to Turkish delight and honey. These beers are dangerously easy to drink and deceivingly smooth. A great non-Belgian example is the Tripel by 6º North.
Believe it or not, this Belgian beer style is not recognised by everyone. What is it then? The style’s name according to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is ‘Belgian Dark Strong Ale’. These beers have a high alcoholic volume and are dark complex and malty with dark fruit flavours. These beers are superb and very often, banana peel notes add an extra layer of complexity to the palate.
There you have it, many other Belgian styles are also available but now you have a better idea as to what to look for and what to expect from the most common Belgian beer styles out there. Cheers!