Beer Style Guide – Belgian Ale
Belgian Pale Ale -
The Belgian style of Pale Ale is a very drinkable, with some classic Belgian flavors but a modest gravity and more hop balance than most Belgian styles. Designed to be balanced, easy drinking beers, they are about 4-6% alcohol and are made mostly with pilsner or pale malt supplemented by some Belgian caramel malt varieties. The yeast often imparts some fruitiness but is more subdued than a Trappist beer yeast. Hops provide even bitterness and some flavor and aroma, but the balance is more towards malt character than in an American or English Pale Ale.
A dark amber Abbey ale with higher than normal alcohol and full, fruity flavors. Dubbels are usually made dark with the help of dark candi sugar and/or syrup, which also lends some raisin-y caramel flavors. These flavors are sometimes enhanced by the use of Belgian Special B, a very dark caramel malt. Dubbels feature Trappist or Abbey yeast strains that create fruity, dry beers with remarkable complexity.
One of the strongest of the monastic beers from Belgium, Tripel is a pale colored beer with high alcohol content (7-10%). This style of beer is usually made from pilsner malt with the addition of light candi sugar to create a thinner, more drinkable body. The yeast is usually the showcase of a Tripel. Classic yeasts come from the modern Trappist and Abbey breweries and exhibit high alcohol tolerance, strong attenuation, spicy and fruity aromas and flavors, and a high level of complexity. Tripels are highly carbonated, which brings out the dry finish.
Golden Strong -
This style of beer is a scaled up Belgian Pale Ale. It is quite similar to a Tripel, but can be even more dry, with an even higher alcohol level, and enhanced bitterness. Duvel (“Devil”) is the classic example of the style, and many subsequent examples have also used “devil” related imagery or words. Fruity or spicy contributions from the yeast are common, as is a warming alcohol note. Lots of complexity and often quite smooth, despite the high alcohol content.
Dark Strong -
One of the biggest Belgian beers; a complex and intense treat. Crafted by some of the Abbey and Trappist brewers, this beer has the same fruity/spicy yeast character of a Tripel or Dubbel, but with an even higher alcohol level and a lot of malt/caramel intensity. Dark plum, toffee, and raisin-like character can come from crystal malts or dark candi syrup. Some type of simple sugar is often used to keep the alcohol high while preserving a medium body to the beer.
Saison is a very flavorful Belgian farmhouse ale with some unique characteristics. Though Saison was traditionally made during the winter months as a keeping ale for summer, the Saison yeasts have a unique ability, shared with a handful of other Belgian yeasts, to ferment well at very high temperatures. They tend to produce fruity and spicy flavors, often with a lemon-like component. Some Saisons use spices in the boil, but more often the spicy flavors come from the yeast selection. Saisons are usually very dry, with an alcohol content a bit higher than normal. Some examples have hops added to the end of the boil for aroma and flavor. Modern brewers of Saisons have a quite a range of interpretations, and it is considered a very open style.
Biere de Garde -
This is a French style of beer that ranges in color from blond to brown and is characterized by a period of lagering and a malty body. Biere de Garde was traditionally made for long term storage, and as such was a higher alcohol beer (modern examples are about 6-8.5% or so). The lagering period lends a smoothness to the beer while a high attenuation level, aided sometimes by the inclusion of sugar in the recipe, means that the finish is dry.