DRAFT PICKS: Learning the history of Belgium beer making
A new brewery here in Michigan is trying to make its mark by concentrating on creating Belgian-style beers.
To many beer lovers, that is a good move since Belgian beers are widely respected and finely crafted.
It really is tough to nail down a reasonable answer to “What is a Belgian beer?” There are many styles and degrees of appreciation.
Some like one style — say Abbey beers — to the exclusion of others.
So ... this is a very, Very, VERY general discussion of Belgian brewing, and I’ll probably limit myself to Abbey and Trappist ales.
There is a long history of brewing in Belgium. Much of the organized brewing effort began during the middle ages, and actually started as a way for the Catholic church to raise a bit of revenue.
As throughout most of Europe, the brewing of beer also was seen as a healthy alternative to the rather iffy drinking of water.
Drinking water was a big problem. People died from drinking water and disease was spread in the most horrifying manner. Entire communities were regularly wiped out as a result of tainted or outright poisoned drinking water.
Beer, on the other hand, was relatively safe since it was self-sterilized (kinda) in the process of fermentation.
Monasteries, and specifically, Trappist monasteries made a real name for themselves feeding the poor and saving lives with high calorie, low alcohol ales.
By the early 1800s, the monastic brewing operations in Belgium were churning out hyper-high quality brews and gaining a worldwide name for themselves — already back then. Today, Belgian brewing is still world class.
There are absolutely glorious Trappist brews on the market in the U.S. — not Trappist-style (although there are some great brews being produced in the Trappist-style).
Trappist beers are carefully and almost severely regulated.
REAL Trappist ales — authentic Trappist brewing operations are identified by a printed “medallion” on each and every bottle.
Trappist brews on the market here in the U.S. include Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel, Orval and Westvleteren.
In my opinion, Chimay is divine.
Odds are you’ll never see a bottle of Westvletern — although it is sometimes reaches the New World.
Abbey beers are often similar to Trappist brews, and they too are specifically certified.
Here in the States, and in Michigan as well, there are some fine brewers turning out wonderful examples of Abbey-style beers.
Whatever the case, if you have a chance to taste Belgian or Belgian-style beers — do so.
The Belgian blondes, dark ales and saisons (or seasonals) are well worth sharing with good friends, and enjoying as part of your beer heritage tour.
Hell’s Half Mile
Tri-City Brewing Company
I’m going to get the downside of this lager out of the way right up front.
Hell’s Half Mile is too gassy and fizzy for my taste.
It’s one of those drinks that when you sip a good mouthful, it actually kinda puffs your cheeks out!
Way too carbonated for my liking. Maybe it was just this batch.
Having said that ... it tastes good.
Pouring is a problem because my schooner immediately filled up to the gunwales with foam.
Still, I let it sit and enjoyed a rich orange brew that slowly revealed itself.
There is a lot of head ... obviously.
Hell’s Half Mile has a strong background of citrusy freshness. There was a certain sense of muted fruitiness that followed on the citrus scents.
In the scenting, there is promise for a good summer brew. There is a sweetness that can easily be picked up on.
At first wash, however, there is a somewhat odd tartness to this brew. Despite the fruity aroma, it comes off a touch bitter.
At the same time (and even more oddly) there is a certain sweetness to Hell’s Half Mile, but it isn’t a sweetness that necessarily contrasts the tartness well.
There is a little bit of hoppiness.
It really isn’t bad. It’s simply that the combinations of flavors is a little strange.
Again ... way too fizzy. It’s a struggle.
Some folks may find the overly enthusiastic carbonation to their liking.
It’s not that this is a “bad” brew.
It’s is simply ... odd.
I won’t be buying any more of it, but Tri-City does have some good ones on the market, so cut them some slack.
Southern Tier Creme Brulee
Southern Tier Brewing Company
I enjoyed Creme Brulee so much after having received a bottle as a gift, I turned around and gifted it to a good friend.
I love good ale, and I adore a good creme brulee. The best creme brulee in the State of Michigan is at Amical in Traverse City.
The mixture of the two things I sincerely love is ...exciting.
Pouring Southern Tier’s Imperial Stout offering into my sampling glass — a schooner — I found a black brew that is a bit lighter than some very deep black stouts.
There is very, very little head and just a touch of lacing stays around for the duration. At first sniff, a heady wave of vanilla scent fills the nose. This is a complex brew, but the aromas are pretty much in-line and to be expected considering the name. There are hefty tones of butterscotch, lots of caramelized sugars (burnt) and a good scent portrait of the malt list.
The aromas in Creme Brulee are strong and uncompromising.
The first wash offers up tastes following closely on the scents. The flavors are strong but pleasing intense and a bit surprising in the most positive of ways.
Gosh this is good! Some may think this is too sweetish. I think it follows its namesake quite honestly.
It’s interesting that at the end of each mouthful, there is a slight kick of booziness (yes, I just made up that word)! There is a little heat to remind explorers that this is not some kiddy drink. It is a well-constructed ale.
The general mouth-feel is well balanced — not too much carbonation to take away from the complex blend of taste and smell.
I can easily understand how this Creme Brulee stout could easily become a love-it or hate-it drink.
For some, it may be a bit cloying. I can understand that.
For me ... I can only recommend what I like, and this comes highly recommended.
Creme Brulee will make a great dessert ale, and be an excellent accompaniment to such after dinner delicacies as cheese cake, or as an exciting contrast to a pecan pie.
If you go that route, invite me over — but don’t tell my wife!