Belgian beer is the real deal. There is such a specialized diversity of brewed products in Belgium that it boggles the mind. Everything from tart fruit-based Lambic styles to heavily malted Trappist brews have centuries of history and throngs of enthusiasts behind them.
It’s clear that Belgian beer is tasty, and can certainly be enjoyed on its own, but what to do when the urge strikes to drink a Belgian beer at mealtime? Let’s explore some of the Belgian beer style categories and some food pairing suggestions so we can deal with the possibility of that striking Belgian beer urge.
We’re nearing the end of the season for drinking White Beer (Blanche), but the seasons alone do not control our beer drinking autonomy. This wheat beer style is light, aromatic and usually spiced to some degree. Rich, nutty cheeses are a great pairing here, and this Blanche/nutty cheese combination can serve as a wonderful appetizer course.
Golden or Blonde ales are a wide stylistic category that tend to be lighter in color than many of their Belgian brethren. However, some styles can be mightily high in alcohol, dry-hopped, and even occasionally oaked, so it’s best to do a bit of research before making your purchase so you know what you’re getting. Mid-weight chicken and pork dishes often match well with this style; throw in some grilled potatoes and root vegetables and you’ll be a happy camper. If you dare to mow your lawn while drinking a Belgian beer this would be a good category to explore while primping the back yard for the last few times this year.
Flanders, one of the three official regions of Belgium, has long been known for its oaked, sour Red Beers that bring a sort of sweet/tart flavor to the palate. These pair extraordinarily well with sharp cheeses, grilled meats and even big salty pretzels! Yum.
Lambic style beer usually shocks, amazes and delights first time tasters. This style is produced by spontaneous fermentation undertaken by ambient yeast that resides southwest of Brussels, the major contributor being a local Belgian strain of Brettanomyces. The liquid resulting from this unusual fermentation is a dry, bracingly sour, almost cider-like beverage that is often flavored with fruit syrups, though the best are flavored with real fruit. These products are magical when paired with fresh fruit which echoes the tartness of the beverage; Lambics also work very well with less-sweet fruit-based desserts.
True trappist beers and abbey ales are made in a wide range of styles, and therefore the category as a whole is difficult to pair with food, but you can count on these types of beers working well with hearty fare. Big, salty, savory dishes will compliment the inherent weight of beers in this category – think about a big hunk of steak with your next Belgian Dubbel.
Now that Fall is here, it’s time to explore the world of bigger Belgian beer styles.
Nathan Frye, CWE, CS, FWS
Grapes Wine Market