The Pale Side of Belgian Beers

Are you a beer nerd if you take the time and energy to print out the entire BJCP 2015 Style Guidelines, putting each page in a plastic cover, and filling a three ring binder with the completed copy? As I sit and prepare to get the low down about the pale beers of Belgium I can’t help but think that my binder may be a little over the top. I may have taken it out when friends and family were over so we could properly evaluate the beers we were drinking, and I find it amusing to just open a page and start reading away. What beer nerd doesn’t though right? Anyways, lets crack open a beer (and my binder) and dive into the details about these awesome pale Belgian brews.

Blonde Ale: As the name suggest we are looking at a golden colored ale that fits into the Strong Belgian Ale category. Color can range from a light to deep gold and a good head with lace is a must. Aromas will be somewhat subtle but also complex. Light sweetness and fruity esters are common along with a spicy or earthy hop nose.  The front of the beer as it comes into your mouth may be a little grainy and sweet, but the finish will be fairly dry with some alcohol lingering in the after taste. The yeast should have very soft flavors which may come off as orange or perfume-like, and a light hop flavor accompanied by some honey and/or caramel provide spicy or earth like flavors with a dose of sweetness to your palate.  Mouthfeel should be medium to high in carbonation with a medium body. This style has a cleaner profile than most Belgian beers and can even be lager-like.

Stats:

IBU’s: 15-30

SRM: 4-7

ABV: 6-7.5%

Belgian Pale Ale: A creamy white head that dissipates quicker than other Belgians brews along with an amber to copper color that is pretty clear make up the general appearance of this style. Referred to by some as the everyday or session beer of the region they focus on being balanced and highly drinkable. The aroma consists of toasty and biscuit-like flavors from the malt  with low hop aroma and some moderate fruitiness. Somewhat sweet with pear and/or orange fruit flavors welcome the beer into your mouth with a finish that can be either moderately dry or sweet with a touch of bitterness. Style dates back to the mid-1700’s with some post World War Two varieties showing British influence (yeast and hops).

Stats:

IBU’s: 20-30

SRM: 8-14

ABV: 4.8-5.5%

Belgian Golden Strong Ale: As the name suggests this beer is highly attenuated and complex. Yummy! Color will come in anywhere from yellow to medium gold and with a nice clarity to it. Typical is a long lasting head with Belgian lace and do expect this one to be quite effervescent. Put the glass to your nose and sniff for flavors of fruity esters, low and peppery phenols, perfumy and/or floral hops,  soft and low alcohol intensities and a light character driven by the sweetness of the grains.  The combination of alcohol, fruit and spice come together excellently in the flavor and are well supported by the malt character. Low levels of peppery phenols and low to moderate hop spiciness add to the overall flavors and the finish can have some medium to high bitterness to it. The light mouthfeel and smoothness of the alcohol make these high gravity beers rather smooth for how big they are.

Stats:

IBU’s: 22-35

SRM: 3-6

ABV: 7.5-10.5%

 

Belgian Beers and History

When I first heard someone use the word “trap” and they weren’t referring to a door or a catching device I assumed they were talking about Trappist beers. After all they are delicious and dripping in history. However, my beer brain was incorrect as the person was talking about some type of music sub-genre. Music aside lets jump into this beer style and get to know both Trappist and Abbey Ales.

Belgium is a small country in Europe that is surrounded by Germany, France and the Netherlands. Due to their location they have been through numerous wars and other upheavals but have never lost their niche for producing unique and complex beer styles. Some of the earliest mention of these beer drinking northerners comes from Caesar himself. This was around 2800 BCE and these northerners consisted of Celts and Germans who were called collectively the Belgae. Monasteries became brewing centers in the eighth and ninth centuries as a way to support the monks (they were required to work to support themselves) and make sure things functioned smoothly. Moving forward to 1067 the writings of abbess Hildergard of Bingen stated that beer was mainly made from oats and she liked her nuns to drink beer as it gave them “rosy cheeks”. As we reach the thirteenth century documents show that beer was being created using barley, spelt, and most likely rye. Hops were not on the scene yet and the use of gruit (5 pounds per barrel of beer) was common. Religious or political powers held the rights to sell the gruit and the Gruithuis building is still standing as an ode to the big business of this mixture. By the mid 1300’s hops were introduced and the first taxation on hopped beers was recorded. Brewing during the 17th century moved beyond the monastery walls and there were numerous public breweries producing local beers. There was a series of wars (Spanish Succession, Austrian Succession, and French Revolution) that dramatically diminished the production of beer, and, finally in 1831, Belgium gained independence under King Leopold. This once again allowed Belgians to start brewing and beer was one thing that had remained fairly untouched by foreign outsiders and invaders.

The Belgian beers we know today start taking shape around the mid 1800’s. Monasteries started making beer again after rebuilding from the French Revolution and we see now well know brands such as Chimay starting up. In the early 1900’s we see massive amounts of imports coming into the country due to low import costs, and they dominate local beer sales. World War one was a huge blow for brewing as the Germans raided breweries for copper equipment. Belgian beer struggled to survive until 1919 when the sale of gin was banned and breweries started to create stronger beers to fulfill the needs of those looking for a gin replacement. At this point some historical Belgian beer styles were gone, others had survived or been slightly altered from their original versions and a new set of styles were being developed. World War two was another blow to the Belgian brewing industry, but the recovery was much quicker than in the past.

One thing I love about Belgian beers is that they treat brewing as an artisanal trade and give the artists (brewers) the support needed to create their own unique variations of traditional styles. This may be the top reason I am dying to get over to Belgium and explore the huge array of styles, tastes and brewers creations. Belgium wasn’t forced to abide by the German Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law) so the use of herbs, syrups, microorganisms, unmalted grains and a host of other non-traditional materials has been helping to shape the unique beers of the region. Yeast is a big player in most Belgian beers and that is a unique trait of the region. When talking about Belgian beers it is important to know what esters and phenols are as they are both players in the taste and aroma of Belgian beers. Esters are generated by yeast and usually provide a fruity aroma to beers. These include banana, pear, honey, apple, roses and can even be solvent-like in some cases. Phenols are sometimes called “phenolic” and caused by the aroma of volatile phenols. They tend to have aromas scubas clove, smokey or or medicinal.

Classic Popular Beer Styles:

Belgian Dubbel:

Appearance: SRM 10-17 (deep reddish-copper), generally clear, large, dense and long-lasting creamy off-white head.

Aroma: complex; rich-sweet malty (caramel, chocolate, toast; but never burnt), moderate fruity esters (raisins, plums, cherries), can include banana or apple, spicy phenols and higher alcohol (rose, light clove, peppery), low to no spicy, herbal or floral hop aromas, malt most prominent with  esters and a touch of alcohol

Flavors: rich sweet malt flavor, finishes dry, medium to low bitterness, ester and phenol with some alcohol and malt interplay, low spicy, herbal or floral hop flavor is optional but not usually present

Mouthfeel: medium-full bodied, medium-high carbonation, low alcohol warmth, smooth

Other info: originated in monasteries in middle ages, revived in mid-1800’s, 6.5-7% ABV, traditionally bottle conditioned,

IBU: 15-25

SRM: 10-17

OG: 1.062-1.075

FG: 1.008-1.018

ABV: 6-7.6%

Belgian Tripel:

Appearance: deep yellow to deep gold, good clarity, long-lasting creamy, rocky, white head resulting in Belgian lace on the glass as it fades

Aroma: complex bouquet, spiciness, fruity esters (citrus fruits), low hop and alcohol aromas (perfumy, spicy, floral), alcohols are soft, spicy, and low intensity, malt character is light, grainy-sweet, or slight honey like

Flavors: combo of spicy, fruity, and alcohol flavors supported by soft, rounded grainy-sweet malt impression, very light honey notes, low to moderate phenols are peppery in character, esters citrus fruit low to moderate, bitterness is medium to high from combo of hops and yeast produced phenolics, substantial carbonation, lends to dry finish with moderate bitterness after taste with substantial spicy-fruity yeast character, grainy sweet malt does not imply residual sweetness

Mouthfeel: medium to medium-light body, highly carbonated, little to no alcohol warming sensation, effervescent

Other info: high in alcohol but doesn’t taste it, high attenuation, dry finish, traditionally bottle conditioned

IBU: 20-40

SRM: 4.5-7

OG:1.075-1.085

FG: 1.008-1.014

ABV: 7.5-9.5%

Belgian Dark Strong Ale:

Appearance: deep amber to deep copper, more deeply colored than golden, dense and huge persistent cream-to light tan colored head, can be clear to somewhat hazy

Aroma: complex, rich-sweet malt presence, significant esters and alcohol, malt is rich and strong; can have bready-toast quality with deep caramel qualities, fruity esters strong to moderately low (raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig, prune), phenols (peppery, maybe light vanilla), no dark roast malt aroma, no hot alcohol to solvency aromas

Flavors: similar to aroma, malty rich on palate, can have sweet impression if bitterness is low, moderate dry to dry finish and can be moderately sweet, medium-low to moderate bitterness, alcohol provides some balance to malt, complete and varied flavors should  blend smoothly and harmoniously, should not have a heavy or syrupy finish

Mouthfeel: highly carbonated but not sharp, smooth but with alcohol warmth, body can be from medium light to medium full and creamy. Most are medium bodied.

Other info: Trappist versions tend to be more drier than Abbey versions, traditionally bottle conditioned, sometimes know as Trappist Quadruple, most are simply known by their strength or color designation. Like a larger Dubbel

IBU: 20-35

SRM: 12-22

OG: 1.075-1.110

FG: 1.010-1.024

ABV:8-12%

 

Also check out Bitchin’ Brewers (a sub-company of mine) post on Flander’s Red and Oud  Bruin  for a deeper look into other styles of Belgian beers

 

Good beer goes beyond just taste

 

This awesome article really gets to the point of why we love great craft beer and the people, communities, and passions that go into creating it. It’s so much more than just a fermented beverage we share with friends. If you haven’t explored the history of beer you are missing out. Beer has helped shape our world and lives in many ways, and today we are seeing small breweries breaking away from the commercial profit-based models to go back to brewing unique beers that are regionally focused and artistically crafted. ” If it was all about taste, my enjoyment would end when the glass is empty. But by allowing myself to be aware of a greater picture, the story behind the beer and the people who made it, I will enjoy the beer far longer.” This is one of our favorite parts of this story and captures the essence of what craft beer culture is all about.  Grab a brew, settle in and check out why taste is only a small part of why you love those local craft beers….

If Taste is All You Care About in Beer, You’re Missing the Point

Brewing, business, and the big guys: Selling out to stay Alive in the Beer World

The “City by the Bay” with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and unique charm is also home to Anchor Brewing Company. As far as history is concerned, Anchor ranks right up there with the other pioneers of the craft beer industry. Its roots date back to the gold rush era when a German named Gottlieb Breklele landed in the city and started making beer. The brewery was sold in 1896 and the name Anchor was introduced. The historic earthquake and fires of 1906 destroyed the brewery, and it was rebuilt in a new location a year later. Due to the lack of cold storage and refrigeration in the late 1800/early 1900’s,  the brewers at Anchor came up with a new way to create their beers. In order to cool the beer quickly, they used shallow fermentors and a lager yeast that was trained to perform at higher temperatures than traditional strains. This unique method thus produced what Anchor trademarked as “steam beer”. This beer style is also known as the California common as far a BJCP guidelines go.  Anchor has gone through a series of hardships and re-births since its inception and is dubbed the oldest craft brewery in California. It’s a flagship company when you think about beer history in California and is now owned by international giant Sapporo Holdings LLC.

The acquisition was announced earlier this month and Anchor joins numerous other craft breweries that have decided to sell to the big guys. What does this mean for craft beer? Should we slam these breweries for “selling out” or is this just another part of the business in the beer industry? There is an emotional aspect to this as well and, with the history of Anchor being so iconic, the shock of it not being owned independently may take a little bit to get used to.  Did ex-owners Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio (who are both former Skyy Vodka executives) make the right choice for the brewery?

No matter the history of a business it continues to need revenue and growth to stay competitive in the marketplace. This is where my heart for supporting small businesses and my MBA background clash. I truly feel that small, independent local businesses are the heart and pulse of communities. They provide a culture that is creative, passionate and supportive of others and this can be a great tool in uniting people. Starting and running a small business is no small feat and kudos to those who have the courage to do it.  We have seen the rise of small breweries all over the country and these small independent brewers keep pushing forward in an ever increasingly competitive marketplace.

I have sat and pondered over the reasons why I think breweries sell out to corporations and have come to a couple conclusions. First, and most obvious, is the money aspect. If you have investors who helped you get your brewery off the ground or some other form of large debt a chance to pay those debts off and make a large profit at the same time is enticing.  Secondly, if your business plan is to go large, increase distribution, and have access to markets that were previously out of your reach being acquired by a large corporation can open those doors for you. There are breweries who have done these things without being bought out (Sierra Nevada and Stone are two great examples), but for most breweries that type of growth seems close to impossible. Going with a corporation (who already has the channels and resources needed to take a brewery to the next level) seems, well, simply easier. Lastly, if your brewery is at the point where you are being looked at by the big guys for a buyout chances are you are spending more time managing a business than in the brew house or on the brew floor.

Am I an advocate for these mega corporations buying out local craft breweries? No, however, I do recognize why some breweries go that route, and, honestly, for some of them, it makes good business sense to do so. For Anchor Brewing, I think that brand has a great history but in today’s market, they struggle to stay competitive. When was the last time you purchased an Anchor beer? Honestly, I can’t remember when I did. From what I recall their beers are ok, but with so many other local breweries putting out good beers I simply choose them over Anchor.  Competition in the marketplace has knocked on Anchor’s door and to stay in the game they have decided to let the big guys fight for them.

In an article titled First Beverage Group Acts as Financial Advisor to Anchor Brewing in its Sale to Sapporo Holdings (BrewBound.com) it states “The company’s sale to Sapporo will allow Anchor the capital and resources to continue to operate out of its historic Potrero Hill brewery and to keep its current management team in place. The investment by Sapporo will also provide improvements in production processes and support for Anchor’s new public taproom, scheduled to open soon. Anchor will also benefit from Sapporo’s global distribution network by gaining access to new international markets.” With Anchor’s declining sales and competition coming from both small and large competitors they will undoubtedly benefit from this buyout, but as a supporter of independent breweries, I will not be buying Anchor.

We are going to see other buyouts and changes in the industry, and the world of beer will continue to evolve and grow.  I recognize the reasons why a brewery like Anchor would sell out and from a purely business perspective, I think they made the right choice. However, my dollars and the beer I drink will continue to come from independent breweries who remain true to the craft and push the boundaries on creating and crafting awesome brews. Local Beer Works was created as a way to connect independent breweries with consumers and is a platform to support the community and culture of craft beer. So, I wish Anchor good luck and the best in the future, but in the end they are now just another arm of Sapporo Holdings LLC and no longer a member of the independent craft beer community. I raise a beer (from a local brewery of course) and cheers to the history and contributions Anchor brought to craft brewing while also saying goodbye to the independent status of California’s first beer company.

Is the craft beer market still on the rise?

It’s past the first half of 2017 and craft beer companies should be happy due to market growth of 5% for craft brews. With new breweries popping up left and right it’s not hard to believe this growth is occurring, but what does it mean for the long haul? Are we about to crash into the glass ceiling of craft beer? As scary as that may sound don’t lose too much sleep over it. Craft beer is growing and even though the pace of growth has slowed some it doesn’t mean we are going to be losing our local breweries anytime soon. As with any market, there is a supply and demand issues as well as competition for market share. As far as demand goes it seems that many people are putting down their Bud Lights and picking up a local craft beer instead. Younger generations are skipping the corporate guys and putting out for the small independent breweries. Home brewing seems to be on the upswing as well, and wine and spirits can’t deny that craft beer is here to stay. A nice look at the numbers explaining the growth rate as well as existing and up-and-coming breweries is laid out in the article below.  So grab a pint and get to reading it!

Cheers!

By: Ashley Johnson

 

2017 mid-year U.S. craft beer analysis: 5% growth shows a slowing, maturing market