Feestdag! Celebrating Independence Belgian (Beer) Style

What better way to celebrate Belgium’s independence than to raise a glass of Belgian beer! Feestdag, Belgian Independence Day, is celebrated on July 21 and marks freedom from Dutch rule in 1831.

Brewing in Belgium traces its roots to the Middle Ages. Today there are several styles of Belgian beer, each with distinct characteristics. Given the number of small and specialty brewers in Belgium, it is hard to define a dominant style, but beers often fall into one of the following categories:

Trappist beers are brewed in a Trappist monastery. There are currently only seven breweries who qualify for Trappist certification in the world and six of them are in Belgium. This qualification states that the brewery must be in a monastery, the monks must play a role in the ale’s production and the profits from the sale of the beer must be used to support the monastery and its social programs.

Abbey ales are brewed by commercial breweries and are not a fixed style, but tend to be a dubbel, strong pale ale, tripel and sometimes even a blonde ale. They are typically brewed under license from an existing abbey or branded with the name of an abbey ruin or religious figure.

The dubbel is typically presented as a strong brown ale that is 6-8% ABV.  Dubbels are normally bottle conditioned. The Trappist monks brewed a low-alcohol beer for meals that was typically never sold, so they would also brew a strong, dark and malty beer for sale.

The tripel was originally brewed as a strong pale ale in the Low Countries of Belgium and presents with a higher alcohol content than the dubbel. Tripels tend to be spicier with hints of clove.

The quadrupel is a stronger dark ale which is very rich, not bitter and has a lot in common with the dubbel. The quad generally has a much higher alcohol content than the dubbel.

The current focus on beer and food pairing is especially relevant to Belgian beers. Strong flavor characteristics and unique styles offer nearly unlimited potential for matching a Belgian beer to your next dining or social occasion. Here is a round-up of several to consider.

Leffe Blonde
brewed by Abbaye de Leffe S.A.
This refreshing Belgian pale ale is the perfect brew for a hot summer day. It’s not too malty, a little sweet and is not overpowering with food pairings. At 6.6% ABV it’s not a beer that you would drink all day, but is definitely a solid Belgian choice for any beer drinker.

Grimbergen Blonde
brewed by Brouwerij Alken-Maes
With notes of fruit, spice and malt, Grimbergen Blonde is a top fermented abbey ale. It’s a thick, rich beer that really coats your mouth. The first sip is sweet with a lingering sourness on the back of your tongue.

brewed by Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV
Duvel has a light, carbonated champagne-like presence in the glass. It has a huge, frothy head and smells of bread and yeast.  Keeping in line with the aroma, the flavor is yeasty with hints of spice and malt. This is a very crisp, drinkable beer that looks lovely as well.

Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru
Brewed by Palm Breweries
Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru offer a truly unique taste profile. Known as sour beer, these beers undergo two stages of fermentation and are aged for two years in oak casks. The beer is a Flanders Red-Brown style and has a sweet and sour taste that pairs excellently with fatty foods ñ think soft cheeses and seafood.  The Grand Cru is a blend of “young and old” beers and has won numerous gold medals. Like a Grand Cru wine this beer offers complex flavors, intense bouquet and a long aftertaste.

Hoegaarden Original White Ale
brewed by Brouwerij van Hoegaarden
As Witbiers go, Hoegaarden is a cloudy, light yellow glass of goodness. Itís a crisp ale with a lot of flavor and complexity. It’s fruity, it’s spicy, and hints of orange and coriander add zip to the taste. With 4.9%ABV you can enjoy Hoegaarden all day long.

Gulden Draak
brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.
This dark brown tripel has all the richness of a dubbel or quadruple. The ale is re-fermented in the bottle, giving it more body than a traditional tripel. The flavor changes as the beer warms with complex flavors of fruit and malt. Even at 10.5% ABV, Gulden Draak doesnít present with the aftertaste of some high ABV beers. This is truly a great representation of a Belgian brew. Bavik is a Belgian pilsner brewed in the German pilsner style. It’s low in alcohol (5.2% ABV) with a light color and clean, crisp taste.

Brewed by Brouwerij Bavik
Bavik is a great beer for sessioning or when you know you’re going to be just plain thirsty. It also pairs well with most foods by not overpowering the taste buds.

Chimay Grande RÈserve (Blue)
brewed by BiËres de Chimay (Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont)
Better known as “Chimay Blue,” Grande RÈserve is a certified Trappist beer with proceeds supporting the Scourmont Abbey. Chimay Blue is a rich, creamy-headed ale that presents both pepper and fruit flavors.

Brewed by Brouwerij Bavik
Wittekerke is a Belgian wheat beer with slight hints of lemon. It’s very fresh and light while maintaining the aroma of yeast. It pours with a fluffy head and presents in a light yellow hue. With 5% ABV Wittekerke is a lovely beer for chilling by the pool.

Brewed by Brasserie d’Achouffe
La Chouffe was one of my first introductions to Belgian beer and is definitely one my favorites. With strong hints of spice, yeast and fruit, La Chouffe warms the heart and tastebuds.  But that’s not all. Enjoy a slight touch of hoppy bitterness as this strong pale ale goes down nice and smooth. At 8% ABV, this is a wonderful brew to split with a friend.

Palm Ale
Brewed by Palm Breweries
The number one selling ale in Belgium Palm is a top-fermented, amber colored ale. Brewed in a style called Speciale Belge, Palm traces its origin to an early 1900s challenge put out by the Belgian Brewing Guild. At the time, lagers and pilsners were becoming increasingly popular due to the recent discovery of pasteurization and the Guild sought an Ale with a light, fresh taste. At 5.4% ABV, Palm is an easy-to-drink beer with hints of citrus and a light caramel taste.

Lindemans Kriek Lambic
Lambic beers are notable in that they are one of the few beers that are spontaneously fermented: rather than adding yeast to the brewing process, the beer is initially fermented by airborne strains.  The beer then undergoes a second fermentation in oak casks and may be aged for several years. Fruit is often added to the base lambic. Kriek Lambic features tart cherries and has an effervescent mouth feel that may seem closer to a sparkling wine than beer.

On July 21 raise your ghlass to the independence of Belgium with a traditional Belgian ale. You’ll be glad you did!

The influence of Belgian beer has extended to the American craft beer industry. Several of Americaís craft brewers are producing Belgian-style ales. Celebrate the Fourth of July and Feestdag with one of these brews.

Ommegang Belgian Pale Ale
Ommegang’s BPA  is a solid, great-tasting Belgian brew. The aroma is light and bready with malt characteristics. It’s slightly fruity with hints of floral and, is really refreshing and smooth. At 6.2% ABV, it’s a real treat to drink.

Blue Moon Belgian White Ale
An unfiltered white wheat beer, Blue Moon Belgian White has a slightly cloudy appearance and hints of coriander and orange. The lack of filtering gives the beer full body and depth of taste, while the citrus helps keep it refreshing. 5.4% ABV.

Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian India Pale Ale
Produced as a limited release to celebrate Flying Dog Breweryís 20th Anniversary, Raging Bitch became so popular in 2010 that it earned a regular place in the Flying Dog lineup this year.  The beer combines American hoppiness with the citrus-accented flavor of a Belgian-style beer. At 8.3% ABV, this beer has some bite too.

Allagash White Ale
From Allagash Brewery in Maine, this award-winning witbier is brewed with wheat, coriander and Curacao orange peel. At 5.0% ABV, it is a fresh, easy-to-drink ale with a slightly cloudy appearance and a crisp balance of spice and fruit. Bronze medal recipient at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

Goose Island Matilda Belgian Pale
This Belgian offering from Illinois-based Goose Island offers a mix of spice and fruit flavors in an amber-colored ale.  Lightly carbonated and pouring with a traditional full head, Matildaís complex flavors keep the 7.0% ABV from being overpowering and the beer has a clean, dry finish.

Ovila Abbey Ales
Sierra Nevada has teamed up with the monks of the Abbey of New Clairveaux in Vina, CA to create a series of three specialty abbey ales, dubbed the Ovila Project.  Brewed in the traditional Belgian style, a portion of proceeds from sales will be used to help rebuild the Ovila chapter house on the Abbey grounds.  The portfolio includes a dubbel released in March, a saison released in June and a quad to be released in November.


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