At Farrell Distributing we pride ourselves on supporting iconic and authentic Belgian breweries. During the month of July we’ll be highlighting some of the best Belgian beers that you can buy in the Green Mountain State. We’ll also explore Belgian beer styles and provide resources for you and your staff to aid in furthering their beer education.
SOME BELGIAN WHEAT STYLES
Two iconic beer styles were developed in Belgium that both rely on wheat in the mash: SAISON and WITBIER. Here are some of our favorites.
SAISON: “Belgian Farmhouse Ale brewed to refresh seasonal farm workers after a long day’s work in the fields. Special yeasts produce spicy notes of white pepper and lemon, fine carbonation & a dry finish.”
BRASSERIE DUPONT (Tourpes, Belgium) – SAISON DUPONT – 98 on RateBeer.com! The Dupont brewery was established in 1844 in Tourpes, Belgium on land that was formerly part of a Benedictine abbey. The brewery is most well-known for producing Saison Dupont, the benchmark of one of Belgium’s most influential beer styles. It is the most admired and imitated Saison in the world and has been named the “Best Beer in the World.” Full-bodied and malty, Saison Dupont is beloved for its distinct peppery bite and unique flavor derived from Dupont’s signature strain of yeast. 12.7oz/12 (#02156), 750ml/12 (#02150), 5.16 gal. logs (#04124).
- FEUILLIEN (Le Roeulx, Belgium) – SAISON – St. Feuillien’s Saison is what the Belgians call a “beer of the terroir”; a traditional farmhouse ale with all the rich ﬂavors of the fertile land of southern Belgium. The region of Hainault, where St. Feuillien is located, is the traditional home for this style of beer. It originated as a beer made by and for farmers. Thirst quenching, not too strong, and great with food. A warm, golden blonde with a beautiful farmhouse character featuring hints of melon and apricot. Full-bodied, fruity and yeasty, Saison has a rugged, charming character with a lot more ﬂavor than it’s 6.5% ABV would suggest. Winner of the Best Saison in the 2009 World Beer Awards, this is a beer with the pedigree and the quality to become a classic in the style. 11.2oz/6/4 CANS (#01726).
WITBIER: “Refreshing beers made with a substantial proportion of un-malted wheat in addition to barley malt, plus dried orange peel and coriander.”
HOEGAARDEN (Hoegaarden, Belgium) – ORIGINAL WITBIER – 2016 World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner! “Perhaps they had too much time on their hands. Or they were sick of the sacramental wine. Maybe it was divine inspiration? We’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that the Hoegaarden monks were the first to discover the unique recipe for wheat beer around 1445. 500 years of hard work went into making this beer that features the aroma of orange peel, coriander and herbs that the merry monks imported from sunny Curacao. Speaking of which: pouring Hoegaarden is just like letting the sun fall into your glass: light yellow and naturally murky. And the soft foam adds a cloudy finish. And then there’s the soft taste, light and slightly sweet and sour and with subtle citrus notes… ah, just go ahead and taste it instead of reading about it!” Available in 11.2oz/4/6 bottles (#32031) and limited draft. If you’re interested in working with Hoegaarden kegs, please email Mark Moore.
BRASSERIE DE BRABANDERE (Bavikhove, Beglium) – WITTEKERKE WILD – Not your typical Witbier – this one has a sour twist and is a beer to blow your mind and refresh your soul. Harvest…….The wild idea to use the microflora derived from the Petrus Oak foeders into another beer has never seen before. Through a new technique at Brewery De Brabandere they are able to harvest those wild yeasts and bacteria that live on the inside of the oak foeders. Unleash…….By unleashing the microflora into Wittekerke, their sessional wit beer, a unique refreshment is created. A wild idea in first fermentation. The refinement and refreshment of Wittekerke Wit united with the harvested and unleashed wild yeast and bacteria, results in a unique balance of wit beer and sour aromas. This ultra-flavoured and refreshing session beer is easily accessible for everyone … and demands for more than one! Wittekerke Wild, The Ultimate Sour Refreshment! 5.0% ABV. Available now in 16.9oz/6/4 cans (#04197) and 7.9 gal. kegs (“A system” coupler, #35921).
The Trappists are a members-only group of Cistercian monasteries which produce high-quality Abbey Ales, cheeses, preserves and other products to support their missions. There are currently eleven breweries which may use the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo on their beers: six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in the US, one in Italy. To find out more about the Trappist mission, you can visit the International Trappist Association website.
We are proud to represent four of the Trappist Breweries. Three from Belgium (Orval, Westmalle & Rochefort) and one from the Netherlands (La Trappe). Since it’s Belgian beer month, we’ll focus on the three from Belgium this week.
ORVAL (Belgium) – Brewed and bottle-conditioned at Notre Dame d’Orval monastery, founded around 1070 CE in the pastoral Belgian countryside. According to legend, Princess Matilda was passing through this region in about 1070 with her retinue. She stopped at a clear spring and trailed her hand in the water – and her wedding ring, a gift of her recently-deceased husband, slipped off her finger and sank. Distraught, she knelt and prayed fervently for its return . . . and a trout swam to the surface with the ring in its mouth, returning it to her. She is said to have claimed “Truly, this is a golden valley!” (French: Or = gold; val = valley) She gave the land to the church, and the trout with the gold ring can be seen to this day in the Orval logo. Orval only sells one beer in the US: ORVAL TRAPPIST ALE. Three different malts, two types of hops, Belgian candi sugar, complex fermentation with multiple yeasts, dry-hopping and bottle conditioning all contribute to great character and complexity. This vintage-dated and unique beer can be cellared up to five years. (“Oude Orval” stickers are available for those accounts who chose to cellar it.) Sunset-orange color; a fruity and slightly acidic bouquet, firm body, profound hop bitterness, and long, dry finish. Orval is bottled with Brettanomyces, a yeast strain that leads to superb dry complexity and ageworthiness. Food pairing suggestions: Mild semisoft cheese, warm brown bread, fresh pears, steamed mussels, clams in Pernod cream sauce, oysters, smoked salmon and trout, and calamari. 99 on RateBeer.com.
WESTMALLE (Belgium) – The monastery – “Abdij der Trappisten van Westmalle” – is located in the village of West Malle, Province of Antwerp, Belgium, and was founded in 1794. The brewers take great pride in maintaining careful control over the brewing process – all hops are added by hand and no chemical additives of any kind are found in Westmalle ales: they are the flavor of nature, of tradition, and of dedication. Brewing began soon after founding, and Westmalle Dubbel was first brewed for consumption within the Abbey around 1836; Westmalle Tripel was introduced in 1934. Both the Dubbel and the Tripel are considered by many tasters as the benchmarks for the style. Westmalle is one of only eleven Trappist breweries in the world.
- Westmalle Dubbel – When monastic communities began to brew an ale for sale to the public, it was often a stronger brew than the ale the community consumed in the abbey. Brewing scholars aren’t certain, but in the days before universal literacy, this “second style” could have had the barrels marked with two X’s . . . which possibly led to the name “dubbel.” Brown-amber color, subtle dark-malt aroma balanced by Belgian yeast character. Deeply malty, with a gentle, dry finish that hints at tropical fruit. Food pairings: After dinner with espresso, paired with sweeter soft cheeses. Try with beef remoulade and rich sauces, or with vegetable soup, or with root vegetables: carrots, beets, parsnips. Pairs beautifully with morel or chanterelle mushrooms. 99 on RateBeer.com and 96 from the BeerAdvocate “Bros”.
- Westmalle Tripel – The tripel style was originated at Westmalle starting in 1931; it was first sold in 1934. The name “tripel” probably comes from the protocol established by “dubbel” – it was the brewery’s “third beer.” There are hundreds of breweries producing tripels today, but a tripel will always be stronger and lighter-colored than a dubbel from the same brewery. Glowing orange-gold color, herbal aroma, and complex flavors that meld rich malt sweetness, warmth, hops, and powerful drinkability. Food pairing: As an aperitif with cheese or assorted hors d’ oeuvres. Try with rich main courses or enjoy after dinner with fresh fruits and cheese. Westmalle Tripel is excellent with fresh steamed asparagus! 99 on RateBeer.com and a perfect 100 from the BeerAdvocate “Bros.” Available in
ROCHEFORT (Belgium) – The Abbey of St-Remy, in the southern part of Belgium, was founded in 1230, and the monks began to brew beer sometime around 1595. The beautiful small brewery in the abbey, Rochefort Trappistes, is one of only eleven Trappist breweries in the world and makes full-bodied, deeply flavored dark ales. They are bottle-conditioned and among the world’s most highly-respected beverages. The beers from Rochefort are named after its original gravity measured in “Belgian degrees” – a brewing scale no longer used today.
- Rochefort 6: First sold to the public in 1953. Reddish-brown color with amber-gold highlights; soft body leads to earthy flavors and an herbal character. Refined, soft spiciness in the bouquet finishes with a bit caramel. Bottle-conditioned for soft natural carbonation. 7.5% ABV. Food pairing: Cream soups and rich dishes; can support vinaigrette dressing. Wonderful to clear the palate when served with concentrated, creamy foods. Also great with burgers! 98 on RateBeer.com. 11.2oz/12 bottles (#00705).
- Rochefort 8: Originally called “Spécial,” Rochefort 8 dates to the mid-1950s. Deep brown color; the flavor is vigorous and complex, with firm body to support the strength. The aroma has elusive notes of fresh fruit, spice, leather, and figs. 9.2% ABV. Food pairing: Great with full-flavored dishes like pate, duck, or wild game; shows well with strong-flavored cheeses. Also wonderful alone as an aperitif. Perfect 100 on RateBeer.com! 11.2oz/12 bottles (#00706).
- Rochefort 10:Although written records of brewing at Rochefort date to 1595, Rochefort 10 was developed in the late 1940s and early 50s. It appears on virtually every list of the world’s finest beers. This 11.3% ABV Quadrupel is dark brown in color. Great strength balanced by a complexity of flavors and firm malt backbone. The bouquet covers a wide range: port wine, leather, apricots, oak, spices – a deeply intriguing beverage. Food pairings: Lamb shanks with juniper berries, wild chanterelle mushrooms, truffles, or dishes with intensely reduced sauces. Perfect 100 on RateBeer.com!
BELGIAN STRONG ALES
This is a catch-all category for beers strong in alcohol content that don’t adhere to other style guidelines. Strong Pale Ales & Strong Golden Ales are akin to Tripels. Strong Dark Ales are similar in flavor to Quadrupels. Beers in this category may or may not be brewed with candi sugar or honey to raise the alcohol level without adding body to the brew. Here are some of our favorite Belgian Strong Ales…
DUVEL (Belgium) – 98 on RateBeer.com, 95 on BeerAdvocate.com and a perfect 100 from “The Bros!” A Duvel is still seen as the reference among strong golden ales. Its bouquet is lively and tickles the nose with an element of citrus which even tends towards grapefruit thanks to the use of only the highest-quality hop varieties. This is also reflected in the flavor, which is beautifully balanced with a hint of spiciness. Thanks to its high CO2 content, this beer has a wonderful roundness in the mouth. A Duvel is both the perfect thirst quencher and the ideal aperitif. Duvel is a natural beer with a subtle bitterness, a refined flavor and a distinctive hop character. The unique brewing process, which takes about 90 days, guarantees a pure character, delicate effervescence and a pleasant sweet taste of alcohol. Apart from pure spring water, which is the main ingredient of beer, barley is the most important raw material. Barley must germinate for five days in the malt house, after which malt remains. The color of the malt and as a consequence also of the beer is determined by the temperature. Duvel obtains its typical bitterness by adding various varieties of aromatic Slovenian and Czech hops
DELIRIUM (Belgium) – The iconic “pink elephants” spark fond memories for those who have traveled through Brussels and visited the Delirium Café. DELIRIUM TREMENS is a Belgian Strong Golden Ale that tickles the palate with tight carbonation and lush flavors of stone fruit and white flowers. With a 94 on RateBeer.com and a 91 on BeerAdvocate.com, this beer is well loved by many
BOSTEELS (Belgium) – Pauwel KWAK – To an American beer lover, KWAK is something of a conundrum. What style is it? What other beers would you compare it to? What, exactly, IS Kwak? The long answer is complicated. Kwak is a beer created by the Brewery Bosteels to be very much unlike anything else on earth. An undeﬁnable “Belgian-ness” is certainly present. Surely Kwak could come from no other country, but beyond that parallels with other beers fall apart. Kwak is full-bodied and malty, with beautiful, juicy caramel notes. Lightly hopped, Kwak has just enough bitterness to offset it’s malty sweetness so the ﬁnish is demi-sec and “moreish”. Short version: 8.4% Belgian Strong Amber Ale. Great with food, Kwak is the perfect Belgian Ale for any beer list anywhere! 92 on RateBeer.com! Available in 750ml/12 bottle cases (#01686) and 5.16 gallon logs with American Sankey couplers (#02657). Also from Bosteels: TRIPEL KARMELIET – A Belgian Strong Golden Ale, RateBeer.com ranks it as the NUMBER ONE TRIPEL in the World and scores it 99/100!!! BeerAdvocate ranks it as the #5 Tripel on their site and gives it a 94 and “The Bros” concur. Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine rates it 99/100, as well! …and the World Beer Awards once named it World’s Best Ale… Not too shabby, right?
KASTEEL (Belgium) – The #1 selling beer of Brewery Van Honsebrouck, KASTEEL ROUGE (8%) is created by blending a Belgian Strong Dark Ale (Kasteel Donker) with the liquor of cherries used for specialty chocolate and confectionery in Belgium. The union of these two excellent products creates a beer that can be best described as a chocolate-covered cherry. The yeast esters lend a spicy character which pulls the entire brew together. A color of deep black cherry lends to strawberry colored foam. Rouge is unique, decadent and sinful like the desserts we cherish and what is life without a little excess? Download the sell sheet PDF. The first shipment came with MINI COOLER BAGS for each 4pk! A Also in stock from Kasteel: BARISTA CHOCOLATE QUAD – This Belgian Strong Dark Ale is infused with Belgian chocolate, coffee beans, making it a delightful after-dinner sipper
Flip Through Our Belgian Portfolio
Belgian Beer Tastings
- July 14th-21st – National Belgian Beer Week – Click here to see the main Facebook event page. Three of our importer partners – Artisanal Imports, Merchant du Vin & Global Beer Network – have teamed up to sponsor a National Belgian Beer Week from July 14-21 and we’re going to celebrate here in Vermont as well! Let us know if you’re planning an event or feature and we’ll add it to the schedule! Follow #BelgianBeerWeek on Twitter and Instagram for updates from around the state and around the country.
- Tuesday, July 18th – St. Arnoldus Day – Bibe Cervesiam Non Aqua. – “Drink beer, not water.” St. Arnoldus, the Patron Saint of Belgian Beers, centuries ago cured the village plague by encouraging them to drink beer for its healing qualities. Raise a chalice in his honor!
- Friday, July 21st – Belgian Independence Day
“Belgium is renowned for exporting some of the world’s finest food and beverages. From chocolate to Abbey Ales, a commitment to tradition and quality is evident in Belgium’s artisan products.
This July, a group of beer importers have banded together to sponsor a National Belgian Beer Week. They will be hosting events around the U.S. from July 14th through the 21st to celebrate the rich brewing history of Belgium.
To get you prepared for Belgian Beer Week, I’ve put together a primer on the major iconic beer styles that originated in Belgium. Keep an eye out for events around Vermont – I know there are at least a dozen planned already!” Continue reading and watch the tasting video…
The bar for saison-style beer is high
Featured in the Burlington Free Press – http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2016/04/14/bar-saison-style-beer-high/83038952/
The saison family of beers can be bewildering. What was once a simple fact of life working on a farm has grown into a huge and hotly-contested category of Belgian- and French-style ales. Saisons can range from pale and crisp, to dark and dense and from barely fermented to high-octane.
To best understand saison I think it’s helpful to note that it’s really a grouping of beer styles, not just a single style. Saisons fall under the category of “farmhouse ales,” beers which were brewed by farmers with whatever ingredients they had on hand. The farmhouse ale tradition as we know it started in Belgium and France, where in the fall farmers would use some of the year’s grain harvest to ferment beers to be drank the following summer. Barley, wheat, rye, oats and spelt were all commonly used. Hops were used, too, if available, and spices might be added.
Belgian farmer-brewers dubbed their beers, “saisons,” which translates literally to “season.” When the beer was ready in the summer, it would be issued to the “Saisonnières,” the seasonal farm workers, in order to slake their thirst after a long day’s work. These beers were all over the map in terms of style and ingredients, but the main principle was to be thirst quenching. (As a side note, the French dubbed their farmhouse beers “bière de garde,” or “beer for keeping,” since it was held until the summer months. Bière de gardes tend to be maltier and less spicy than saisons.)
As the style evolved and modern brewing technology was implemented, saisons started to become more standardized. The malts used were paler in color, the average alcohol level crept up to between 5 and 7 percent, and a specific family of yeasts were used. These saison yeasts produce beers with a crisp mouthfeel, high carbonation level, flavors of lemon, white pepper and hay, and have a bone-dry finish. A hint of acidity is acceptable and harkens back to the old-style of brewing. Historical saisons were likely infected with wild souring yeasts and bacteria, which augmented their refreshing character.
Many brewers attempt to master the saison style, and only some are truly successful. The yeasts are notoriously difficult to work with and the bar is set incredibly high. It is widely agreed that Saison Dupont is the benchmark for the style, and the level of finesse that Dupont achieves is difficult to replicate.
There is a good deal of controversy right now surrounding the use of the term “saison.” According to Shaun Hill, of Hill Farmstead (Greensboro, VT), some Belgian breweries are lobbying to get an appellation status for the term, similar to European wine and cheese appellations. You can only make real Champagne in Champagne, France, and the brewers at Brasserie de Blaugies and Brasserie Dupont believe you can only make true Saison in Belgium. Out of respect, many American brewers choose to call their Saison-style beers “farmhouse ales,” a much broader catch-all category of Belgian- and French-inspired beers.
Brasserie Dupont “Vieille Provision” a.k.a. “Saison Dupont” (Tourpes, Belgium)
Established as a farm in 1759 and later as a farm brewery in 1844, Brasserie Dupont has long earned its place as an iconic producer of farmhouse ales. According to Dupont’s U.S. importer, the brewery almost stopped making its Vieille Provision Saison in the 1980s. But after it released this beer in the U.S. market, there was renewed interest in the style and it eventually went on to claim its crown as king of the style. Saison Dupont boasts all the hallmarks: flavors of lemon peel, white pepper and hay, a crisp dry finish and high carbonation level. Truly perfect.
North Coast “Le Merle” (Fort Bragg, California)
“The Blackbird” is particularly food-friendly, and has elevated many a meal. It carries with it a unique flavor that I haven’t found in other saisons. The best way I can describe it is honeydew melon. It has a brightness and juiciness that co-exists with the classic peppery spice from the yeast. The late beer writer Michael Jackson exclaimed it is, “More than a serious beer—it is outstanding…. Dizzying, appetizing, refreshing.”
Ommegang “Hennepin” (Cooperstown, New York)
Named for the famed explorer Fr. Louis Hennepin, this take on the style has a touch more hops than others. It also includes subtle additions of coriander, sweet orange peel, ginger and grains of paradise. When spices are used in the Belgian brewing tradition, the idea is to accentuate and augment flavors produced by the yeast. Spices are used judiciously and add a layer of complexity not found in other beers.
Foolproof “La Ferme Urbaine” (Pawtucket, Rhode Island)
This “urban farmhouse ale” kicks things up a little bit with a higher-than-average, but very sneaky, 7.8 percent alcohol by volume. Not only that, but it comes in 12-ounce cans, for optimum urban refreshment. But before you go thinking that this beer shouldn’t be included in the saison canon, La Ferme Urbaine is brewed with barley, wheat, rye, oats and spelt, honoring the multi-grain farm-brewing style of Belgium and France.
Hill Farmstead “Florence” (Greensboro, Vermont)
Here in Vermont, the absolute best Saisons come from Hill Farmstead, although Shaun Hill has taken to calling them “farmstead ales” for the reasons outlined earlier. In keeping with the spirit of the style, Florence is brewed with a portion of organic wheat which was grown near the brewery in the Northeast Kingdom. Furthermore, Hill inoculates with his farmstead ales with his house yeast culture, some of which was cultivated from the ambient air around the brewery. Bright and crisp, Florence is a beer which would slake any farmhand’s thirst after a day in the fields.
What’s your favorite Saison? Let me know about it on Twitter: @aPhilosophyOf
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf.