This was my second trip to Belgium, but my first as a brewer. I went looking for inspiration, to taste some of the best beers in the world in their native land, but also see what's new, what's developing, what direction Belgian beer is taking.
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Here are 4 beers that will tempt any wine lover to come over to the malty side.
Portland's Cheers to Belgian Beers is both a competition and a beer showcase. Each year, the previous year's winner selects a yeast strain, and in the winter prior to the fest, brewers throw darts to determine which style of beer they will make using that yeast. This gives them just a few months to craft their beers for competition. A combination of adventurous creativity, resourcefulness, and traditional Belgophilic inspiration seemed to be the keys behind the festival's most successful beers.
This Christmas beer from Brouwerij Slaapmutske tells you pretty much all you need to know in the scent: toffee pudding, sticky prunes and dates, hints of mulling spice and orange zest. Let it warm up a bit—it is a nightcap, after all—and you'll be wrapped in rich molasses and toffee flavors and hints of brown bread with raisins. This beer is brewed without spices; it doesn't need them, since there's plenty of fruity yeast esters and deep tones from the malt.
With a pudgy Santa embracing a forthy glass of beer on the label, you might expect De Ranke Père Noël to go all-out winter spices on you, but it's really a Belgian strong pale ale—a creamy, hoppy beer for lovers of Belgian IPAs. It clocks in at 7% ABV, and we like it quite a bit.
If you haven't tasted a traditional Kriek or Framboise before, you're in for a surprise. They're funky and acidic, with hints of shoe leather and wet dog. These days, you'll frequently see fruit beers with added sweeteners and fruit juices—lots of folks love them, but we encourage you to try the real thing sometime. Traditionally sour fruit lambics may not be beers for beginners, but they're a palate-expanding experience we highly recommend.