Belgian Darks offer a massive range of characters. Colors play within the amber to light brown to deep garnet hues, with thick, rocky heads of great retention. Aromas can be anywhere from traces of yeast, spiced, malty, floral and even slightly intoxicating. Flavors range from dry and spiced, to sweet and malty. Most have a low level of bitterness.
Inspired by the American India Pale Ale (IPA) and Double IPA, more and more Belgian brewers are brewing hoppy pale colored ales for the US market (like Chouffe & Urthel), and there’s been an increase of Belgian IPAs being brewed by American brewers. Generally, Belgian IPAs are considered too hoppy by Belgian beer drinkers.
Belgian Pale Ale
Belgian Pales consume the Belgian brewing scene, and were initially brewed to compete with Pilseners during the WWII time frame. They differ from other regional Pale Ale varieties, by traditionally being less bitter, using aged hops for a delicate hop finish, and boasting sweetish to toasty malt overtones. They should be decanted properly, leaving the yeast in the bottle. This will showcase their brilliant color range from pale straw yellow to amber hues. Most will be crowned with thick, clinging, rocky white heads. Flavors and aromas will vary. Some have natural spice characters from yeast and hops, while others are spiced.
Belgian Strong Dark Ale
On the same path as the Belgian Dark Ale but obviously higher in alcohol with more of an all around character. The alcohol character can be deceivingly hidden or can be very bold and in your face. Look for lots of complexity within a delicate palate. Hop and malt character can vary, most are fruity and may have mild dark malt flavors. Phenols will range from minimal to high and most will be light on the hops. All in all most are spicy and alcoholic.
Belgian Strong Pale Ale
Like a Belgian Pale Ale, the strong versions will also be pale to golden in color. What sets them apart is a much higher alcohol content that can range from hidden to spicy to devastatingly present. Expect a complex and powerful ale, yet delicate with rounded flavors and big, billowy, rocky, white head. Hop and malt character can vary, most are fruity and quite hoppy, but hop flavor and aroma will generally be within the low range and artfully balanced.
Bière de Champagne / Bière Brut
One of the newest and most interesting styles of beer, the Bière de Champagne has much potential within the beer industry as a top-shelf crossover beer. Primarily brewed in Belgium, these beers typically undergo a lengthy maturation. Some are even cave-aged in the Champagne region of France and are then subjected to remuage and dégorgement, which is the “methode de champenoise” process of removing yeast from the bottle. Most are delicate, high in alcohol, highly carbonated and sometimes spiced. Color can range from very pale to dark hues.
Bière de Garde
The Biere de Garde is golden to deep copper or light brown in color. They are moderate to medium in body. This style of beer is characterized by a toasted malt aroma, slight malt sweetness in flavor, and medium hop bitterness. Noble-type hop aromas and flavors should be low to medium. Fruity esters can be light to medium in intensity. Flavor of alcohol is evident. Earthy, cellar-like, musty aromas and flavors are okay. Diacetyl should not be perceived but chill haze is okay. Often bottle conditioned with some yeast character.
The Belgian Dubbel is a rich malty beer with some spicy / phenolic and mild alcoholic characteristics. Not as much fruitiness as the Belgian Strong Dark Ale but some dark fruit aromas and flavors may be present. Mild hop bitterness with no lingering hop flavors. It may show traits of a steely caramel flavor from the use of crystal malt or dark candy sugar. Look for a medium to full body with an expressive carbonation.
A blended Lambic with the addition of candi sugar for a lighter, quite sweet and more palatable beer. Commonly spiced with pepper, orange peel and coriander.
Lambic – Unblended
A spontaneous fermented unblended ale that is indigenous to the Senne Valley of Belgium, a large portion of wheat brings out the crispness though the flavor is dominated with a unique tartness from the wild yeast and bacteria that inoculate the brew from both airborne and tainted barrels that they ferment in. Light bodied with little hop flavor or bitterness. Look for hard cider, white wine or similar tartness. Lambics are aged before consumption to ensure that the tartness has mellowed.
Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.
Saison / Farmhouse Ale
Saisons are sturdy farmhouse ale that was traditionally brewed in the winter, to be consumed throughout the summer months. Not so long ago it was close to being an endangered style, but over recent years there’s been a massive revival; especially in the US.
This is a very complex style; many are very fruity in the aroma and flavor. Look for earthy yeast tones, mild to moderate tartness. Lots of spice and with a medium bitterness. They tend to be semi-dry with many only having touch of sweetness.
The name “Tripel” actually stems from part of the brewing process, in which brewers use up to three times the amount of malt than a standard Trappist “Simple.” Traditionally, Tripels are bright yellow to gold in color, which is a shade or two darker than the average Pilsener. Head should be big, dense and creamy. Aroma and flavor runs along complex, spicy phenolic, powdery yeast, fruity/estery with a sweet finish. Sweetness comes from both the pale malts and the higher alcohol. Bitterness is up there for a beer with such a light body for its strength, but at times is barely perceived amongst the even balance of malts and hops. The lighter body comes from the use of Belgian candy sugar (up to 25% sucrose), which not only lightens the body, but also adds complex alcoholic aromas and flavors. Small amounts of spices are sometimes added as well.
A Belgian Style ale that’s very pale and cloudy in appearance due to it being unfiltered and the high level of wheat, and sometimes oats, that’s used in the mash. Always spiced, generally with coriander, orange peel and other oddball spices or herbs in the back ground. The crispness and slight twang comes from the wheat and the lively level of carbonation. This is one style that many brewers in the US have taken a liking to and have done a very good job of staying to style. Sometimes served with a lemon, but if you truly want to enjoy the untainted subtleties of this style you’ll ask for yours without one. Often referred to as “white beers” (witbieren) due to the cloudiness / yeast in suspension.