Observation From Belgium, Part I

I’m just returned from Belgium and not one, but two beer festivals, plus a tasting at a great cafe in the countryside surrounding Brussels. My health lasted just long enough to get me through the lot, breaking down utterly moments before my flight yesterday. Now I have 24 hours to get healthy again so as to present a seminar on crafting a beer menu with my friedn and colleague Lew Bryson at the Nightclub and Bar Show in Las Vegas. Yep, this beer writing stuff is non-stop glamour.

In the meantime, however, I’ve something to get off my chest, and it’s about all this “Belgian style” stuff going on in the United States these days. Simply, it don’t exist! Period. “Belgian style,” or even “Belgo-American style” is a complete fallacy. I tasted a great number of Belgian beers over the past few days, from lambics to session ales to Trappists to over-spiced disasters, and you know what? They had pretty much nothing in common save for the word “Belgium” on the label.

Tomme Arthur from Port Brewing/Lost Abbey wrote a column in the latest Ale Street News about his refusal to say “Belgian style” and preference for “Belgian inspired,” which pretty much echoes my feelings of the past several years. He’s right. It’s time to consign “Belgian style” to the dustbin of misused and abused beer terms. The Belgian brewers who are producing gorgeous beers with massive amounts of character and unique appeal deserve as much.


2 Replies to “Observation From Belgium, Part I”

  1. Totally agree – recently back from Belgium myself – 6 long weeks – and I enjoyed so many different beers, the only way you can compare is to take each one separately in North America and compare it to a specific Belgian beer – but not as a whole. I hope you had the chance to enjoy some Ciney Blonde – one of my all time favourites – wish I could get it here in TO… A bientot!

  2. Quite so. Belgian-* is simply a marketing shorthand for foreign breweries to say “this is really good beer”. The Southampton Abbot 12, for example, has a label loaded with nonsense about Belgian Trappist breweries making a “quadrupel” and the beer itself is little more than drain-worthy. But, if you should mistake this beer for a Belgian beer, well, that would be the aim of this game.

    The beer industry, particularly the industrial breweries, has for many years lived off its marketing efforts. The new, small breweries, sadly, are following in their footsteps rather than trying to make good beer that will appeal to both the industrial beer-drinker and the beer “rebel”.

    Ironically, when these “rebels” (or “geeks,” as they prefer to call themselves) come to Europe, they find beers that they enjoy along with the old men in the corner pub who can’t be called rebels or geeks even by fantasists.

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