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Friday, April 13, 2012

What's a Belgian (Style Beer)?

It’s Belgian style month here at Jolly Good Fellows and we have been stoked to find all sorts of cool choices to sample.  While Skye has been working hard to figure out a way to do some cool comparisons of original to adapted Belgian styles (hey come on, he gets to drink more beer that way), I thought I would go a little different direction and quickly look at what it means to be Belgian. 
This is a sampling of a few just from Belgium.
(Original here)

Belgian style beers seem to be all the range.  A quick research trip to the local Total Wine outlet offered ample evidence that everyone seems to be brewing a “Belgian style” something.  So, again, what does it mean to be Belgian?

Now before you start worrying about who are the Walloons or the entry of the British into the First World War as a result of the Germans swinging through Belgium, we aren’t going there.  No discussion of Leopold II and the Belgian Congo.  No chocolates, no diamonds and no EU politics.  Nope, not this time.

Belgian-style beers are closely linked to the seven Trappist monasteries that are engaged in commercial brewing.  Six of these are in Belgium and one is in the Netherlands.  They were originally occupied in 1836 as the monks left France in the face of the Revolution and began selling beer in 1861.  The Trappist monks are part of the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance and follow the Rule of St. Benedict.  The order was founded in 1664.

As part of the Rule of St. Benedict, the Trappist monks are allowed to sell goods to the public to support their order.  Since they have not taken a vow of sobriety, this includes their now famous ales.

Now how does this relate to Belgian style beer?  Well, Trappist is not a style, but a term of origin as only the seven Trappist monasteries are allowed to use the name or permutations of it.  (Same idea as Champagne – only sparkling wines from that region of France can be called champagne.) So by referring to “Belgian style,” commercial brewers can brew in a style similar to the Trappists, but not infringe on their intellectual property rights.
The current Belgian Trappist producers are:
  • Achel, sells Blonde (8% ABV), Brune (8% ABV), Extra Blonde (8% ABV), Extra Brune (8% ABV).
  • Chimay sells Red Label (dark, 7% ABV), White Label (Blonde/Tripel, ABV 8%) and Blue Label (dark, 9% ABV).
  • Orval sells a "unique"[5] dry hopped 6.2% amber beer.
  • Rochefort sells three dark beers, "6" (7.5% ABV). "8" (9.2% ABV) and "10" (11.3% ABV).
  • Westmalle sells Dubbel (7% ABV) and Tripel (9% ABV),
  • Westvleteren sells Green Cap or Blonde, (5.8% ABV), Blue Cap (dark, 8% ABV) and Yellow Cap (dark, 10.2% ABV).

Now Belgian brewing is certainly broader than just the Trappist examples listed above, but given the rise of these breweries in and around the time of Belgian independence (1830), their seems to be a close tie. 

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