Belgian Ales cover a huge range of styles. Often the phrase makes people think of heavy, alcoholic and cloudy beers. But there are also lighter Belgian beers, and some very unusual styles as well. Belgian ales can offer flavours very distinct from your typical ale which at times can make them an acquired taste. But if you are willing to jump in there is a whole new world, or rather country, of beer waiting for you.
Trappist and Abbey ales are probably some of the best known styles of Belgian beers. But technically they are not really a style. A Trappist beer could be light, dark, 5%, 10%, dry hopped or more malty. The name is actually about the production of the beer. A Trappist beer must be produced by Trappist monks along with a list of guidelines. The general idea being that the monks are highly involved with the process at many levels, making it a beer by the monastery. Abbey beers on the other hand have a bit more leeway. They don’t need to be Trappist monks, a commercial brewery can help and the level of involvement from monks is a little less strict. This is not to say there are no regulations, or that they are worse. But it certainly gives you a window into the development of an industry.
Yet, after all this work and presumably worshipping God a bit the monks don’t even get to drink the beer. How unfair. Instead they are allowed to drink Patersbier, which translates to Father’s Beer. Usually light and not very alcoholic, this style can often be tricky for the general public to get their hands on. Really seems like the monks are missing a trick there.
Lambic beers are one of the most unique styles in brewing today, in many ways a relic of the past that has somehow stood the test of time. Which considering how random the process itself is makes the style quite remarkable. While nearly every modern brewery, even most homebrewers will use tightly controlled ingredients in vacuum sealed packages Lambic beers do something different. Wild yeasts and foreign microbes are allowed into the beer to ferment it. To do this the wort is placed in a large open vat. Here it will sit cooling and let whatever is in the air infect it. Afterwards the vats are drained into barrels, where they can sit for years fermenting and changing. This of course leads to many weird flavours, which can pretty much never be replicated again. Meaning while Lambic beers are an incredibly old style, the ones you can have today are nothing like what came before and they’ll be nothing like the ones in the future.
Saison has a French name, but actually comes from the French speaking part of Belgium. A light refreshing summer ale, it was made for the farm workers who were known as Saisonniers. The modern styles of saison are light amber in colour, quite carbonated and fruity. But in the past saison didn’t really have a defined style, and was simply what the farm was serving at the time. Often the beers reflected the areas they were made in, they weren’t going to cart in special ingredients for the farm hands after all. So each beer was a very local experience. One of the more common features that remains is they are low in alcoholic content, which seeing as they were served to farm hands through the day makes some sense.
We have our own take on Saison if it or Belgian ales in general has peaked your interest. As one of the lighter styles it is an easier way to get into Belgian ales. There is a huge variety to explore which all have a rich and interesting history.