Belgian beer is a topic thoroughly discussed over on the Bike Radar forum and hot on the heels of Dr Headgears reviews and recommendations, here is Bob McStuff with his list of must try beauty’s.
Following on from DrHeadgear’s post – all of those beers are excellent of course, but here are some more which are definitely worth trying:
I’ve suggested the first two because they are particularly famous and can be said to epitomise their respective styles. The others are just my favourites!
Saison Dupont – 6.5%
From the French speaking part of Belgium, Brasserie Dupont makes the acclaimed Saison Dupont which is generally considered to be the archetype for the style. A Saison is a northern French and Belgian farmhouse ale that has a characteristic farmyard aroma (sometimes described as “funk” or a “funky” aroma)
Saisons are quite popular with craft breweries in the UK and US, so they are commonly found in bottle shops and beer bars – it makes sense to try the “OG Saison” so that you can appreciate where these beers are coming from. It’s very common for saisons to be combined with fruit, for example Arbor brewery in Bristol makes a clementine saison which they also contract brew for M&S, so it is quite readily available. Kernel in London also make a Biere De Saison Apricot, and they are available in most good bottle shops. Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! (literally, “good Lord!”) from Montreal also make some really top quality saisons which stick in my memory.
Orval – 6.2%
Orval is a Trappist brewery but one with a difference: their signature beer is fermented with Brettanomyces. Most ales are fermented solely with Saccharomyces Cerevisae (and lagers with Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis), although there are a huge number of sub-strains and types under that heading, created by hundreds of years of breeding and brewing all over the world. However, there are other types of yeast! Brettanomyces bruxellensis is often considered an off flavour, especially in wine, and once it gets into a brewery it can be hard to eradicate. It’s often found on the skin of fruit, along with other wild yeasts, so it is a common flavour in natural wine (which is massively trendy right now!).
Brett, as it’s often known by brewers and beer fans, results in a very highly attenuated beer as the yeast is able to digest much more complex carbohydrates than its cousin. This means that the beer tends to be drier and with a relatively higher alcohol content compared to a comparable source beer fermented solely with traditional ale yeast. In terms of flavour, it’s a bit like Saison yeast on steroids: lots of farmhouse, horsey, barnyard funk and with a distinctive bite of bitterness which differs from that of the hops. It has a slight edge of sourness and is often present in sour beers, although it’s not strictly a sour yeast (sour beer are usually created either by a process known as kettle souring or by infection with lactobacillus, a type of bacteria).
Be warned: brett can continue chewing through the residual carbs even after bottling, so brett beers can be extremely lively when opened, with a long lasting, growing, light and frothy head. It is a good idea to chill them right down before opening (cold water absorbs more CO2 which will make the beer calmer). It’s also a good idea not to open them over soft furnishings, especially if they have been in the bottle for a long time.
3 Fonteinen Oude Krieke – 6%
Since DrHeadgear went for the Cantillon, I will choose the 3 Fonteinen Oude Kriek! For me, 3 Fonteinen make slightly more innovative beer, although the Kriek is obviously very traditional. I’ve attended a meet the brewer event with their head brewer and they make some really interesting beers. The standard version is relatively readily available and not too expensive (and delicious), but if you can get hold of it (and have deep pockets), the Schaarbeekse Kriek is really excellent. Most Krieks these days are made with sour cherries imported from Turkey, but the Schaarbeekse is made with the traditional wild cherries from around Brussels, which are very hard to buy today and this makes it very expensive. This is a really fantastic Kriek with loads of dark cherry and candied cherry flavour, and great funk from the wild yeasts (Kriek is fermented entirely with wild yeast). It’s a massively well reviewed beer and if you try it, ideally after sampling a few other Krieks, you’ll see why.
Oud Bruin/Flanders Red
Duchesse de Bourgogne – 6.2%
I’m going to nominate the Duchesse de Bourgogne for this. I know the Rodenbach is a good choice, but for me the Duchesse is my pick. Possibly for nostalgia purposes. They’re both almost identically reviewed on Untappd, and my review is the same for both too. Again, either this or the Rodenbach are pretty easily available at bottle shops, and they are pretty much the definition beers for the style, so they make a great reference beer if you are just thinking about other Belgian styles. Another one which is harder to come by (in the UK) but better reviewed is the Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge by Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste.
There are lots of other good Flanders Reds available, although they’re less common than saisons. Burning Sky in Sussex make a good one (called simply, Flanders Red).
Abrighost (Bokke) – 6%
Number 5 was very hard to choose. Belgian beer is dominated by traditional names who have been making beer for hundreds of years, so I wanted to choose a more modern brewery. Bokke – formerly known as Bokkeryder – are the most hipster and hyped lambic blender in the world, possibly even brewery. When I went to Copenhagen Beer Celebration in 2017 there were queues around the venue just to get a taste of their beer. They only started in 2013 but in that time they’ve managed to become extremely popular in sour beer circles.
Unfortunately none of the beers I have had from them are still in production, they tend to make everything only once. The Abrighost is a blend of the Fantôme saison (hence “ghost” in the name), blended with two of their own lambics and aged on two varieties of apricots. Which is perfect since Fantôme, founded 1988, are also very on trend and very good and were my other choice for modern-but-hyped-but-good Belgian brewery… (I have had the Fantôme saison multiple times – and it is actually possible to buy beers from Fantôme in the UK). Your best chance of getting anything from Bokke is at a beer festival or in Belgium close to where it is made (Leuven has 2 bars carrying their beer). There are no bars carrying Bokke in the UK, sadly!
I thought this would provide some flavour of some of the weirder stuff that is around if you look, and because Dr Headgear covered all the most obvious bases! You will be able to pick up some beers by Fantôme if you look for them, specialist bottle shops will carry them (for example, Beermoth in Manchester are my personal favourite – they are one of the few UK distributors for limited release 3 Fonteinen beers too). In my opinion it is always worth trying any unusual or less common beer from any brewery like this if you find them on sale, but it is worth developing a good taste for the “reference” beers described above and in the previous post because then you can get a feel for the inspiration behind the beers, where the brewer is coming from, and what the basics of the style are.
Roman brewery Tour 2018
On a rare child free weekend in the short period between the road season and ‘cross starting, the Wife and I took a drive from Lincolnshire to the heart of Oudenaarde for a weekend of walking the hellingen and some food and beer testing.
We stayed at the beautiful Beans and Dreams coffee house doing all of the touristy stuff like eating steak and frites in the town square and working our way through some of the beers in the tiny little bar near the Ronde Van Vlanderen museum.
The first full day saw us take the steep little road out of town towards the Roman Brewery.
We had been booked on a tour which ironically saw us joined by one of the cycling clubs of Antwerp who wanted to ask me loads of questions about whether Chris Froome was asthmatic or not…
The tour guide took us to one side to explain politely that the tour was predominantly going to be in Dutch/Flemish but that he would try and keep us up to speed. He seemed impressed that a British couple were so keen to take the tour.
The buildings themselves were really old and impressive. You see this brewery regularly on TV footage of all the big classics in this part of the world and the giant stills were so well polished and the barrels stacked so neatly that you knew this was a class operation.
After the tour there was a tasting which I thought would be a couple of small glasses to try but this was 15 minute free bar… My wife handed me the car keys before trying a couple of tripels and a nice ruby.
Thankfully the pricing of the shop was such that we could fill the boot of the car (using Antwerp cycling club officials as extra pairs of hands) before heading back into town.
One of us grumpily and the other one groggily.
I will let you decide who was who.
What I will say is that everyone who is a lover of Belgian beers should make the time to take a tour. People are so proud of what they produce and so passionate about it. That comes across in everything they do and say.
The theatre in the presentation of the drinks, even in a free tasting show care for the drinks, it was magical.
Once this is over and we are free to move again, who’s up for a trip?
Dr Headgear is an expert of many of the things I like in life, cycling, football and beer…
He is also a prominent poster on the BikeRadar forum and takes the honour of being the first guest to share his Belgian beer list with us as part of Beers of Belgium CC.
I tried to cover the main styles, though obviously there’s loads more out there.
Six Belgian beers that are at least worth trying!
Belgium is famed for its brewing, so here are six beers that represent my favourites in their various styles
Duvel – 8.5%
While many Belgian blondes can verge on being cloyingly sweet Duvel is remarkably crisp and refreshing. It’s a little more powerful than most, which tend to be in the 6-7% range, and doesn’t include the occasionally overpowering spices that other blondes sometimes have.
Chimay Blue – 9%
The classic Chimay, deep flavours, sweet and spicy. The caramel flavours aren’t as full on as some dubbels, making this a little easier to drink and more rewarding on the palate.
Rodenbach Grand Cru – 6%
Flanders Red ales are aged in oak barrels that produce a deep rich “balsamic” sour beer. Duchess de Bourgogne is the other leader in this style, a sweeter and slightly less oaky flavour than the Rodenbach.
Giradin 1882 (Black Label) – 5%
Gueuzes are produced by blending traditional lambics – sour beers brewed with spontaneous fermentation, the yeast is the local wind-born strain, not added to the brew. Young and aged lambics are mixed in the bottle, where secondary fermentation occurs. Gueuzes are very, very dry and sour, the typical reaction n first tasting one is pretty much “baby eating lemon for first time video”. The beers are often described as “funky” or having a “farmyard / horse-blanket” flavour. Giradin 1882 Black Label is a good introduction to gueuze, slightly less demanding than those from other great brewers such as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen.
Cantillon Kriek Lambic – 5%
Krieks are produced by letting lambic ales sit on dark bitter cherries. While there are numerous sweet industrial krieks (produced by adding cherry syrup), traditional krieks are dry and sour, with deep fruit flavours. This is the king of them.
Westmalle Tripel – 9.5%
Sweet and rich and yet hoppy and with some bitterness, Westmalle Tripel is possibly the best balanced of all the strong blondes labeled as tripel. Marvelously complex.
I have to agree with the inclusion of Westmalle Tripel on this list. If you are new to Belgian beer and want to go in at the deep end then that is a great place to start.
Please drop an email to email@example.com for the password to get to order.
The range now includes the jersey, cycling cap and T-shirt.
Thanks for supporting a home based company in Cycle Clothing UK
Thanks to our friends at Cycle-Clothing UK you will soon be able to order a “Beers of Belgium CC” jersey to show you are part of our movement for the betterment of Belgian beer (ironically, something you wont be able to say after a few).
21 Draughts, still talked about to this day.
A nondescript ferry from Hull to Zebrugge on a December Saturday evening in 2014 probably isn’t the start point for too many Belgian beer related tales. However this one starts on the vessel locals affectionately call “The Party Boat” offering super cheap weekend trips abroad to Amsterdam and Brugge.
It was £35 return including cabin and coach transfer and isn’t much more expensive now. The cabins are best described as snug. My Brother in Law who is a submariner uttered the words “Bloody hell, its tight in here” when we went in to claim our bunks.
I had a pre determined reason to go to Brugge that weekend. It was partially Christmas shopping and partially recce for my trip to the Ronde Cyclo for the following spring. What followed was something quite special!
We left the ferry and took the coach into Brugge before meeting up with a friend of mine (another cycling nut) from Amsterdam. The train and coach station converged so it was easy to meet up before sauntering across the cobbles into town.
I know that people criticise Brugge for being commercialised and more expensive than other towns in Flanders but there is a magic and ambience to the place that I think is unique.
After getting a breakfast we looked for somewhere to quench the sort of thirst only a night bobbing about in the North Sea can give you. 21 Draughts was the destination we found.
The service and expertise were amazing and it was there I took my first sips of delights such as Brugge Trippel and Bornhem, drinks that remain on my list to this day.
As opposed to getting out and sightseeing for the day, we didn’t leave until we needed to catch the last shuttle to the boat back to Hull, only pausing for a cone of frites and mayo… naturally.
When I went back for the RVV cyclo the bar was still there and the wife enjoyed one too many before driving to Oudenaarde to meet me the next day after the sportive. However the next time we went back to the town the bar was closed and gone.
21 Draughts is still loved and talked about in our family and much missed. A lovely spot just back from the square and reasonably stocked and priced.
It’s trips and experiences like these that make my love for Flanders and its ale so strong, and despite my favourite bar no longer being there, I hope one day to take the foam off one in the the town.
I like Leffe!! there I said it.
I did have a debate with a barman in Oudenaarde about whether or not its valid to class it as a Belgian beer in the sense we want to convey on this page, but I maintain it is.
There is a definite advantage to having it on draught and there is a bar on the square in Bruges that serves near enough all the varieties from a barrel and chilled perfectly.
Whether its because I had a hammering in the hills on my bike there in 2015 that the evening drink and mixed grill there was the best steak and ale I had ever tasted!
In terms of value and as a taste of Flanders it is legitimate to buy it and drink it in the UK. There is an element of snobbery about buying Belgian beer in Tesco (when Waitrose sell Westmalle for example), but the value on offer when the larger bottles are sold in a 2 for deal shouldn’t be ignored because its not a rare brand or brew.
So whilst I wouldn’t necessarily choose Leffe in my top 5 beers, or buy it that often in Belgium where the choice is phenomenal. I do drink it and in the winter I spent many a happy Sunday enjoying one after a cold and rainy training ride whilst watching the cyclo cross on GCN… and surely that is the barometer for any drink?
I just wanted to add some context on how I play to review ale on this site.
If you are looking for a comprehensive review of depth, layered flavours and what there are hints of, you might be disappointed. It’s going to be a conversation about the drink and the places you can enjoy them in.
I am going to stop short of saying the phrase “beer fuelled travelogue” but you get the picture.
My plan is to start with a countdown of my top 5 Flemish beers to give you an idea of the sort of drinks I like to enjoy and the reasons why.
The list has changed a bit in recent times, but there are some classics still on the list.
Welcome to Beers of Belgium CC, a side project to the Fendrien website.
My idea has been to combine my love of Flemish cycling (the crux of the whole site) with my love of their ale.
The plan is to develop themed kit and offer reviews of the beers along with places to drink and buy them.
There will be a review of a brewery tour I undertook in Oudenaarde and some pictures of some drinks.