The Best Beers for the Season Part II
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
In Best Beers for the Season Part I, I discussed several beer styles that are perfect for holiday/cold weather drinking. These styles were relatively straight forward variations of ales. They are heavier, bolder beers with heartiness as a defining characteristic. Similarly, beers from Belgium have a hearty character that is delivered in less of a groin-kick manner. They are warming, sweeter, lusher and more complex than the beers I highlighted in Part I. These qualities add up to a unique cold weather drinking experience that complement the comfort foods we gravitate towards during the drudgery of winter and fend off the chilly temperatures of the season.
Because Belgian beers have so much to offer in flavor and complexity, they require a bit of an education. Here is a fast and dirty look at a few Belgian beers. Trust me there are volumes to learn and I have condensed the info as much as possible for you. At the end of this article I have more interesting Belgian beer facts.There are more than 1,500 styles of beer brewed in Belgium, but I will only concentrate on Saisons, Strong Pale Ales, Dubels, and Tripels.
To me the Saison is perhaps the best table beer-- period. Saisons are usually crisp, carbonated pale ales with little to no hop presents and max out around 8% ABV. They are delicate, balanced beers that may have some slight fruit or spice notes, but these are not overpowering. They pair well with almost all foods and especially good companions to the fare typically served during the winter months.
Roasting a turkey? Yup the Saisons hints of fruit and subtle tartness pairs well with roasted poultry. Going with a nice ham on the table? The lightness of body makes cuts the saltiness of cured meats like a knife. Make a lot of chili? The crispy effervescent mouthfeel reduces the heat and acidity. Seafood? The slight fruit notes bring out the salinity and the carbonation cleans the palate. Roasted or stewed beef or lamb? See all the above. In fact, Saisons are so versatile they are one of the few beers that pair well with salad or vegetables. My two favorite Belgian Saisons are Saison DuPont and Fantome.
Belgian Strong Pale Ales
These Belgian beers are ideal for cold weather drinking. There is little to no hop presence, but these beers are full bodied and usually have a nice boozy warmth. These should be go-to beers after a day of fighting Artic-like weather, shoveling snow, while preparing dinner, or as an after-dinner treat. If you want to pair them with foods, they pair well with spicier foods and game meats such as venison. It is also compliments creamier cheeses. Try it also with non-chocolate desserts such as baklava, nut roll, or Linzer Torte. Delirium Tremens and Duvel are two excellent and readily available examples of this style.
A common misconception (one that I also had and repeated) is the term Dubel is a reference to doubling of ingredients of a “Singel”, a relatively scarce beer brewed in Belgian that seldom makes its way out of the monastery. In fact, there is no real connection between Singels and Dubels. The Dubel is a brown ale of a dark red to brown color that doesn’t come from roasted malts but from caramelized candi sugar (sugar derived from beets). These beers can have deep notes of plum, fig or raisin as well as chocolate or burnt caramel flavors. They may also have hints of spiciness. These are great dessert beers and pair very well with chocolate desserts. If you choose to have one with dinner they pair well with red meat stews. Chimay Red and Corsendonk Pater are two Dubels that I recommend.
Because they don’t used caramelized sugars and are brewed with Pilsner malt, Tripels are lighter in color than Dubels and look more like a pale ale. These beers are very drinkable despite being high in ABV and can lead to disastrous results when consumed without respect for their strength. They are full of lush flavors of bananas, dark fruits, hints of citrus and sometimes a slight spiciness. These are end of day, sitting around the fire sipping-beers. The have a full-bodied mouth feel that is quite fulfilling and deliver a boozy warming flush that effectively takes the edge off a cold day. My favorites in the style are Tripel Karmeliet, Chimay White and Gouden Carolus Tripel.
More Belgian Beer Facts
Beer is to Belgium as wine is to France—their culture is steeped in it.
Belgium beer dates to the First Crusades or around 1095 BCE.
Belgian Trappist Monks belong to an order of monks called the “Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance” and follow the Rule of St. Benedict
The 48th Rule of St. Benedict says they must perform labor. To this end, Trappists abbeys make things such as cheese, bread, and clothing to sell to support themselves and their work but Trappists are most famous for their beer.
A beer is called Trappist if and only if it is made in a Trappist monk brewery
There are only eleven Trappist breweries in the world and only six are Belgian. These are: Brassiere de Rochefort, Brouwerij der Trappisten Van Westmalle, Brouwerij Westvleteren, Bierres de Chimay, Brassiere d Orval, Brouwerij der St. Benedictusabdij (aka Achel)
Abbey beers are not necessarily brewed by monks
Belgian beers derive their unique tastes from their fermentation process, yeast strains and the use of candi sugar (sugar made from beets)
You should only refer to beers brewed in Belgium as “Belgian beers”. Dubels, Tripels, etc. brewed somewhere else as referred to as “Belgian-style” beers.