by Joe Wiebe (thirstywriter.com) | July/August 2012
Belgian beer is considered by many craft beer aficionados to be among the best in the world. But what exactly is Belgian beer? The category actually encompasses a wide range of styles, including wit (white ale), saison, golden/blonde ale, Trappist/abbey ale and sweet/sour beer, such as gueuze, lambic and kriek.
The entry point into Belgian beer for most people is the wit. Maybe you have had a Hoegaarden in its characteristic hexagonal glass or a North American equivalent. Local craft brewers have been making exceptional white ales for several years now—Central City’s Red Racer White Ale is a great option, for example. This cloudy, light wheat beer is similar to the German hefeweizen, but the Belgian yeast imparts more of a spicy character that brewers often enhance by adding bitter orange peel, coriander or other spices.
Adding unusual things to beer is something the Belgians do more and better than any other region around the world. Fruit, spices, candied sugars, black pepper and wild yeasts that most brewers would consider dangerous to beer all get tossed in the brew kettles in Belgium, and the results are often stupendous.
Saisons, or farmhouse ales, were traditionally brewed by farmers for their workers to drink after a long day in the fields. Spicy, peppery and refreshing with a slightly sour tang in the background of the beer, Driftwood Brewing’s Farmhand Ale is a fine example. There are some great Belgian originals available in Vancouver, too, like Saison Dupont and Saison De Dottignies.
Trappist/abbey ales are generally brown ales that are dark, strong and slightly sweet, with complex fruit and berry flavours in the background. Dubbels (a type of Trappist ale) are generally 6-8% alc/vol while a tripel might be 9-10%.
The best place to try the whole range of Belgian beers in Vancouver is BierCraft, a chain of two restaurants (one on Cambie and one on Commercial) that features Belgian beer and food exclusively. There you can try a “Flight to Belgium” sampler of four different beers for $10. Another good choice is Chambar, and the Alibi Room and St.Augustine’s also serve a few Belgian beers among their multitudes of BC and Cascadian taps.
You can also find some excellent Belgian beers in the city’s liquor stores (both private and government outlets). Look for a small bottle with a pink elephant on it: Delirium Tremens is considered one of the best beers in the world. There’s also Moinette Blonde, Fruli, Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne, Cantillon Gueuze, Rochefort, La Chouffe and so many others.