Posts Tagged With: Belgium

A Beer By Any Other Name Would Taste As Spiced: The Witbier.

After celebrating July American-Style, we head back to Belgium for the fine month of August. As we begin to enjoy–and savor–the last month of summer, we will explore a light yet flavorful style. Thus, Witbiers are the focus of our palates this month.

All Witbiers are wheat beers, but not all wheat beers are Witbiers (repeat that three times fast). Wheat beers are brewed with a high proportion of wheat, and are top-fermented–thus, ales. The Witbier, which is derived from the Flemish name for “white beer,” should not be confused with the Weissbier, which is German for “white beer.”  Confusing, no?  Well, to clarify, let’s look at the numbers: Weissbiers are brewed with 50% wheat and 50% malt, while Witbiers are brewed with more wheat and are flavored with an array of spices–from coriander to orange zest.  The wheat protein, along with the yeast that remains suspended in the brew, makes the Witbier look cloudy, or white, when cold.

BEER SNOB ALERT: As we begin this exploration, we kindly ask you to ignore the fact that Blue Moon claims to be a Witbier. It is not (really) a Witbier. Alright, maybe it’s a Belgian-style Witbier in some right, but it is certainly not indicative of the style. Do not be fooled!

The History

The Witbier has its origin in 14th century Belgian monasteries. France also likes ’em and calls the style “bière blanche.” And of course, American breweries have adopted this style as their own and sometimes refer to them as “Wittes.” The more names for a style, the more delicious the beer (if the Witbier is any indication).

If you’re hopped out from last month’s serving of brutal IPAs, this month is the one for you: the Witbier was created in medieval times as an alternative to using hops. Instead of dousing the brew in hops, a mixture of spices called “gruit” was introduced to preserve the ale. Historically, gruit included a wide variety of spices and herbs; now, it’s largely coriander and orange, and sometimes a nontraditional ingredient.

The Witbier was insanely popular among farmers in Belgium for the same reason that Saisons were: they were light, crisp, and had a low ABV.  (Witbiers typically range from 4.0-7.0%.)  These farmers, predominantly of grain and beet, hailed from east Belgium, where two breweries developed two different Witbiers: one from Louvain, and the other from a small town called…wait for it…Hoegaarden. Believe it or not, the beer from Louvain was more popular throughout Europe (where it was called “bière blanche de Louvain”) than its Hoegaarden counterpart–clearly history vilifies them in the end.

While both were widely consumed for centuries, the inception of the lager in the 19th century and, later, the decline of beer consumption post-WWII led to the Hoegaarden facility shutting down production in the mid-1950s.  (Louvain followed in suit in the mid-1970s.) But it wasn’t long before milkman-turned-beer savior Pierre Celis decided to revive the Witbier in the 1960s at the Hoegaarden facility.

To call the revival a success is an understatement: Hoegaarden is now owned by megabeeropolis Interbrew (apparently a forced sale between Celis and Interbrew), and Celis has since opened a brewery in Austin, TX and produces Celis White.

Pierre Selis, the man who resurrected the Witbier

So, what to expect from a Witbier?

Sight: The Witbier is unfiltered, and thus quite cloudy. The color can range from a pale yellow (think Hoegaarden) to a medium orange.  As mentioned, the cloudiness is also due to the suspended yeast and wheat proteins seen when the beer is cold.

Smell: Coriander, citrusy, and peppery, with a light grain aroma.

Flavor: Witbiers are always spiced, so coriander and other spices will be prevalent, but not overpowering.  (Coriander, when not used appropriately, can give it a slight ham-like taste.)  There may be a sweetness, like honey or vanilla, and citrus, like orange peel.  It could be very slightly hopped, and due to the presence of lactic acid, could be a little tart or sour, like a lambic.  Witbiers are the ones you tend to see served with a lemon; but be forewarned: that will obviously change the flavor profile of the beer.

Feel: Crisp but a little creamy, with a thin-to-medium mouthfeel and lively carbonation.

So call it what you will–a Witte, a Bière Blanche, or a Witbier–but whatever your preference, this month, cool down during the dog days of summer with this fine Belgian (or Belgian-style) wheat beer.  Cheers!

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Categories: Witbier | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Saison Dupont Vielle Provision

Beer: Saison Dupont Vielle Provision
Brewery: Brasserie Dupont
Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%

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 Serving Style: Bottle
Glassware: Wine glass
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:



Sight: Light golden, cloudy body with a full, frothy white head.

Smell: There’s an appealing lemony sour smell, as well as a generic doughy smell from the Pilsner malt. The yeast also produces a slightly phenolic scent (i.e., cloves and bananas).

Flavor: Saying this is complex is an understatement. It’s initially quite sour, like sour green apple without the sweetness. It makes you pucker your lips a bit. There’s surprisingly little sweetness.

Feel: This one feels like champagne through and through. Clean, crisp, dry.

Concluding Remark: Brasserie Dupont from Tourpes, Belgium is part of Belgian beer history. What was once an old 1700s farmhouse, became a brewing facility in 1844. To date, Brasserie Dupont is one of the only operating farmhouse breweries in all of Europe.

The Saison Dupont was the first beer produced at the small farmhouse brewery in 1844. The bottle-conditioned Saison is considered to be the quintessential Saison, the role model for other Saisons worldwide. It’s complex, tangy, and full of sass. The malt/hop ratio is expertly balanced, and the Dupont is as effervescent as one would want a Saison to be. Once intended to quench the thirst of seasonal workers (les saisonniers) everywhere (in Wallonia), its continued production means that you have the opportunity to have your thirst quenched as well–whether you’re working in the field or at a computer.

Saison Dupont essentially saved the Saison style. Read about it here.

Categories: Saison | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Fit for a Farmer: The History of the Saison

Saison…say WHAT? This month’s beer investigation brings us to the farmlands of Southern Belgium. The Saison (French for “season”) is a Farmhouse Ale, with an origin story situated in the French-speaking Wallonian countryside in the 1700s. It has been described as a “rustic agrarian beer.”

This is where Wallonia is.

Fueling the Farm

One could say that the Saison was an early form of fuel on pre-industrialized farms, a crucial component to a productive harvest on the Wallonian farm and in the Wallonian farmhouse. Potable water was often unavailable in these rural areas, so developing a drinkable beverage was essential to the livelihood of the farm, farmers, and workers. Farmers brewed Saisons in the fall so that it would ferment in the winter (pre-refrigeration times and all) and would be ready in the summer. This ale was especially critical during these hot summer months, as seasonal workers (“les saisonniers”) essentially survived on Saisons while tending the crops. These Farmhouse Ales initially had a low ABV, at about 3.5%, in order to quench the thirst of les saisonniers without rendering them le wasted. (You’ll be happy to know that modern Saisons clock in between 5-7.5%.)

A Belgian farmhouse.

Each farm had its own recipe, and so early Saisons varied wildly from one another. There were some similarities, however. Saisons often contained a fair dose of hops, which helped to prevent spoilage, and many contained a slew of spices. Also, many farmers combined the new ale with older Saisons or Lambic fruit beers in order to add acidity to the beer. A funkiness also emerged in many brews, as poor farmers would re-pitch the same yeast every year. Even to date, many consider Saisons to be less of a definitive style, and instead, a collection of refreshing summer ales.

Over time, many of these small farms and farmhouses were converted into small breweries. The production and recipe of Saisons were slightly altered: they became more alcoholic as they were no longer produced for workers, and new spices and ingredients were introduced, such as beet juice and Havana sugar. Saisons became regarded as “regional specialties” as opposed to regional necessities.

Les Saisons Moderne

As farming became industrialized post-WWII, there was little need for les saisonniers on the Wallonian farms. Further, the miracle of refrigeration and drinkable water assuaged the requisite for summer ales. Thus, the production of Saisons petered out in the 1950s, with only a few small, artisanal Belgian breweries continuing the seasonal tradition. However, the popularity, production, and appreciation of Saisons has been resurrected in the last decade. In fact, Saison Dupont by Brasserie Dupont (considered to be the quintessential and model Saison) was named “Best Beer of the Year” by Men’s Journal in 2005. Dozens of American breweries have since experimented with this rustic approach to brewing, either deferring to existing Belgian models (such as the Saison Dupont) or taking the Belgian farmer’s approach to Saisons (i.e., Make It Work).

The French counterpart of the Saison is the Biere de Garde, which is a more robust, maltier brew.

What to expect

Modern Saisons are warm-fermented ales, and are generally unfiltered and bottle-conditioned, and sometimes dry-hopped. They are often brewed with Pilsner malt, and occasionally candi sugar, typical of Belgian ales, are used. Noble, Styrian, and East Kent Goldings hops are the most common in Saisons, creating the style’s characteristic dryness. The yeast strain is often temperamental and produces a tangy taste. As mentioned, there is not one singular recipe for Saisons, but many delicately include herbs and spices (such as pepper, coriander, and orange peel).

Sight: As to be expected, Saisons vary greatly in terms of sight, smell, and taste. Saisons are unfiltered and have a high yeast protein content, which gives them a cloudy, hazy appearance. While the quintessential Saison is light yellow, the color can range from straw to a deep, dark honey color. Most Saisons will produce a large, billowy white head.

Smell: Many Saisons will have a slight phenolic aroma (i.e., banana/bubble gum), like Belgian Tripels or German Hefeweizens. They will vary with the inclusion of different spices. Hops are likely to be detectable, as is a slight sour note.

Taste: Always complex, Saisons are spicy, tangy, sweet, citrusy, tart. American Saisons will be hoppier than their Belgian counterparts.

Feel: Saisons are exceptionally effervescent, with a thin-to-medium body. Some will even evoke the sensation of Champagne. Yes, please.

Saisons are one of the more complex beers out there in our fine world, partially due to the vague, ambiguous style guidelines and partially because of the unique flavor profile. They are sweet, yet tangy, and some are quite hoppy. The incredibly appealing mouthfeel and refreshing citrusness make the Saison the perfect beer to transition into summer, whether you’re lounging or working in the field.

Un saisonnier apres dix Saison. Salut!

Categories: Saison | Tags: , | 8 Comments

St. Bernardus Abt 12

Beer:  St. Bernardus Abt 12 Abbey Ale
Brewery: Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV
Style: Quadrupel
ABV: 10.0%

Serving Style: Bottle
Glassware: Wine glass
Drinking Establishment: Kerensa’s kitchen
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:

Sight: Dark garnet, near black body with a beige one-inch head that quickly wanes to a near nonexistent head that leaves a trace of lacing on the edge.

Scent: Rich roasted malts and overtones of tart cherries and plums.

Flavor: I know heaven isn’t technically a flavor. But. Wow. The flavor profile is that of heaven. The complexity is balanced with heaven. The first note is heaven, and the back is heaven. Heaven! (Okay, fine–molasses, caramel, raisins, and plums….from heaven.)

Feel: Medium, smooth mouthfeel with lively carbonation. And heaven.

The booze note in this is shockingly nonexistent for 10.0% (translation: drinking one of these beers is the equivalent of drinking 3 Amstel Lights or 2 Boston Lagers). I can’t explain it, but this is my perfect beer. Well, I’ll try to explain it. It tastes like all of the good beers I have ever had in my life in one beer. Not in the card game Kings kind of way (i.e. pouring a little bit of everyone’s drink into one glass, ahem, plastic cup, and making one unfortunate soul drink the warm elixir at the end of the game). Like, in the, this is the perfectly crafted beer kind of way…in the I never thought I could find everything I am looking for in one beer kind of way. With an ABV tag of 10%. I know I need to thank this guy:

Bernie.

Concluding remarks: St. Bernardus has been brewing perfection since 1946. They describe the Abt 12 as “the absolute top quality in the hierarchy of the St. Bernardus beers…the showpiece of the brewery.” I have no idea what malts St. Bernardus uses, but I want to swim in a pond, nay, ocean of them. For eternity. I could go on about the nuances, but I have to reiterate, this is one of the best beers I have had in my life. PLEASE TAKE MY WORD FOR IT AND GO GET ONE RIGHT NOW. OR TOMORROW. If you don’t put this in your Top 10, I will reimburse you for your purchase. Seriously, you can track me down and get your cash. OR you can track me down and give me the BIGGEST HIGH FIVE EVER because this will likely be one of the best beers you ever have. And, if not of all beers, then ABSOLUTELY the best Quadrupel on the face of this earth. Well, BeerAdvocate rates it number 3, after Westvletern 12 (which is nearly impossible to try outside of Belgium) and the Rochefort 10.

Categories: Belgian | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GUEST POST: Gulden Draak Ale

Beer:  Gulden Draak Ale
Brewery: Brouwer Van Steenberge
Style: Dark Tripel
ABV: 10.5%

Serving Style: Bottle
Glassware: None/Bottle
Drinking Establishment: NJ Transit: NJ Coastline Train
Primary Consumer: Jason**, polyinstrumental Washington Heights resident extraordinaire
Guest Reviewer Qualifications: An avid beer drinker (albeit, champion of the macro-lager)

**FOR THE RECORD THIS PHOTOGRAPH IS NOT OF JASON. IT IS, HOWEVER, A PHOTO OF A YOUNG SATYR ON NEW JERSEY TRANSIT DRINKING A BEER. (THANKS, GOOGLE IMAGES, YOU RULE.)

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OVERALL RATING:

Sight: Since I was drinking on the train, I opted for the straight-out-of-the-bottle approach. This bottle is dark brown with an all-over white label to shield it from the light. I tried to look down inside through the opening but then realized how strange I probably appeared to the other passengers and ceased my investigation. It is a dark beer in a very dark bottle.

Scent: Strong alcohol scent. Not good for inconspicuous train drinking. In my estimation I attracted more suspicious and/or disapproving glances than usual but there may have been other contributing factors.

Flavor: Compared to other Tripels that I have had, the Golden Dragon (named for the statue on the top of the Belfry of Ghent) has a strong and enjoyable flavor. I confess to having been unable to isolate any of the “notes” in this beer, or most other beers for that matter. I can vaguely attest to a “spicy” finish but that may just be the high ABV messing with me. I never really taste flowers or fruits or anything like that when I’m drinking. While this may be viewed as an admission of an unsophisticated taste and might conceivably be perceived as ignorance in terms of beer connoisseurship, I prefer to think that my own sensory experience is one that is completely integrated and exists on such a level that language proves to be inadequate to explain my own subjective taste experience (there is only one word for love cliché, etc.). If you think that I am trying to compensate for a lack of appropriate beer-snobbishness with philosophically pretentious rhetoric, you are probably correct. Guilty–and so what? I propose that if you drink one of these beers before continuing reading that you will hate my review far less.

Feel: Smooth and warm.

Concluding remarksSpeaking of love…my review can be summed up as follows: “I love this beer.”  This was my first experience with the Dragon, but it will certainly not be my last. My problem with a lot of these kinds of beers is that I like to drink one and then move on to something else.

When I finished this beer I wished that I had another with me. I could drink this instead of an ice tea or something, perhaps even out of a water bottle while jogging in the winter. This beer is going to get considerable rotation in the future playlist of my drinking.

Some practical considerations:  In the context of train drinking, this beer had some significant positive attributes. First, it made the kids screaming behind me way less annoying. I didn’t quite find their screams cute or anything, but
it became progressively more tolerable as the beer was consumed and I didn’t change seats. Secondly, although I don’t usually get hassled about drinking on the train, the white label and foreign language on it make me think that it could conceivably be passed off as an energy drink. Lastly, due to it’s higher alcohol percentage in less volume than my normal train ride companions (2 tall boys of Budweiser bought in Penn station), I did not have to make the precarious journey to the NJ transit restroom facility. For those of you who are unfamiliar with such a journey, it consists of airplane style toilets, nonfunctioning sinks, and lines that always seem to move at a pace of one passenger per stop.  Inside the bathroom while the train moves on past where I get off? Not today.

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THANK YOU, JASON! I’m sure our doting fan base welcomes a day without descriptions of sugarplums, fluffy clouds, tulips, or other trite beerspeak adjectives.

We are always looking for interested and interesting beer consumers to review a brew we might not have seen or had time to review in the month. Let us know if you’d like to contribute something, in exchange for internet fame, a line on your resume, an unpaid internship, a free ride, a huge tax rebate, a happy ending, and everything else everyone else has promised you in life. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.  Email us at wunderassn@gmail.com!

Categories: Belgian | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Chimay Cinq Cents (Tripel)

Beer:  Cinq Cents
Brewery: Chimay
Style: Tripel
ABV: 8.0%

Serving Style: Bottle
Glassware: Tulip-like glass (best I could get at the moment)
Drinking Establishment: a New Brunswick kitchen
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:


Sight: Cloudy dark golden body, like unfiltered cider. Bubbles come up from sediment at the bottom. Very thick, bright white frothy head. It’s kind of like looking at a cloud. Or a pillow. A cloud pillow.

Scent: Intense fruit aromas of pear and apricot, with a slight orange flavor. Some spice notes, of cardamom and cloves. Underlying yeast smell.

Flavor: Not as sweet as it smells. Not sweet at all, actually. Very balanced. One of us tasted hop on the front, the other, hop on the back; it kind of gets stuck down in your throat. Distinct spiciness in the middle. Slight noticeable taste of alcohol. A little bit of banana bread at the end, which is caused by the presence of phenols, a common characteristic of the Tripel style.

Feel: Amazing mouthfeel. Very nice carbonation and medium body.

Chimay beers have been around since the 1850s; however, the Cinq Cent is a fairly new brew, with an introduction date of 1986. Nevertheless, I would dare to call this a classic Tripel. The Chimay website describes this brew as a “rare balance.” Not that you can believe everything you read on a Trappist monastery’s website, but I really can’t agree with that succinct description more. The sweetness, alcohol presence, and hop bitterness are balanced to near perfection.

Concluding remarks:  If you’re new to Tripels, or just looking for an all-round stand-up beer, treat yourself to une petite de Chimay.

Categories: Belgian | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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