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.