The Belgian Perspective: Drinking North American "Belgians"
Well we just got back two days ago. We are in the process of writing a full gamut of articles about our Belgium experience. The time table is incomplete, but please expect some Top Places lists and Beer Tour Maps in the next week.
For the time being, we are having a hard time walking away from our magical beer experience abroad. I think that we are having a bit of Belgium withdrawal.
To cure this problematic dilemma, we have selected a few Belgium styled North American beers to try and water our burning desire for more Belgium! After drowning our livers in Belgium beer for 11 days straight, we think we finally have the refined flavors down – bruin, blonde, trippel, gueuze, and lambic.
There are good ones and there are not so good ones. For instance, our good bruins finished full of fruit and cocoa, while our bad ones finished with a metallic aftertaste.
So, we are turning to a few wondrous beers from the Western Hemisphere.
- Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian IPA
First, Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgian IPA (i know, i know – they don’t make IPAs in Belgium). Raging Bitch is a 8.3% ABV brewed with a Belgian yeast called “Diablo” and dry-hopped with Amarillo hops.
I have no problem drinking this beer – its damn good. But, its not a Belgian beer. In fact, I am kind of bothered by the American trend of adding Belgian yeast to an American beer and calling it “Belgian.” But, I know that this is a harmless trend – a melding of the best of America (its hops) and the best of Belgium (its yeast).
With that all being said, the beer is very good. But the Belgium flavoring only survives the first few sips. After that – its all Amarillo hops. I would drink this beer any day – but not after 11 days of Belgians. It just cannot cut the mustard.
- Unibruoe Trois Pistoles
Next up – Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles. UTP (as I affectionately call it) is one of the greatest Belgian styled beers to ever be brewed on the continent. I have no problem saying that because no one knows how to match the classic Belgian taste like Unibroue. After enjoying countless exceptional Belgian brown ales, I now better understand and appreciate UTP.
Unibroue masterfully blends the body of a cola, the scent of overly ripe fruit and the bursting tart boozy flavor of a wonderfully concocted Belgian bruin ale. The color is dark, the pour is soft and the aftertaste is pleasant and diverse, changing with each swish. When you leave the booze in the glass it becomes sour, just another surprise for the drinker.
This one is a can’t miss for any beer drinker. Luckily – its easy to find.
- Russian River Temptation
Last up is our attempt to find a Belgian styled sour ale. Russian River typically takes the cake for the best sour ales in the Western Hemisphere. The Santa Rosa, CA brewer is only met by US brewers Avery and Jolly Pumpkin when it comes to sours. But in the end, Russian River reins supreme.
For our evening we selected Russian River’s Temptation, which we thought might best match the Belgian gueuze styling. The gueuze is a blend of old and young lambics. This type of beer is seriously unmatched in the USA. There simply are no lambic producers of note. But, Temptation is a blonde styled ale, light in color, body and maltiness – allowing us to best mimic the lambic styling.
We have enjoyed Temptation on many different occasions, on tap and from the bottle. This particular bottle comes from the first batch of 2009, which we obtained from Full Throttle bottleshop in Georgetown, Seattle this past summer. The beer has been resting well down in our cellar, where the active yeasts have now settled to the bottom of the bottle.
Temptation is brewed during a complex process. First, the beer is brewed and fermented in French Oak Chardonnay barrels over a period of 12 months. During that time, Brettanomyces (a wild strain of Belgian yeast) is added and allowed to do its worst to the beer. Finally, the beer is refermented in the bottle – allowing it to attain its soft carbonation.
This beer is the most wine-like of the series of sour ales that Russian River produces. In fact, the beer is almost that of a champagne bitterness, with a very sharp finish. The sour flavor does not dissipate quickly, leaving the drinker with much to savor over the life of the bottle.
We love Temptation – we do. But, we still prefer the red and brown ales of Consecration and Deviation much more. The heavy fruity and malty beers do very well with the sour Brett flavor. Blonde and lambics tend to be entirely one-sided.
Well, its a great experiment. In some instances it bettered our appreciation of North American beer – in some cases it worsened it. We hope to find some better Belgian lookalikes soon.