You may have noticed there is a lot of talk around here about Belgium. The fact simply is that there are more indigenous styles and more small brewers in Belgium than any other country. Other lands may have had as many (...maybe...) but they have fallen by the wayside, overtaken by mass manufacturing. To a greater degree than anywhere else, Belgium has refused that urge. If you are going to talk about fine beers you are just going to have to accept that as a fact. Gregory Noonan of the Vermont Brewery and Pub in Burlington Vermont wrote of a dubble recipe he included in his Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers' Handbook:
Belgian monks, and the commercial breweries that copy this style, invariably brew with dark candi sugar rather than dark malts to color and flavor their brews...The yeast strain should give a hint of butteriness (diacetyl) to your brew. This beer always seems to come out beter if you shave your head in the fashion of a monk's tonsure and speak French while brewing it.Rajoutte says in Belgian Ale that the style has "a faint hop aroma, usually a generous malty nose with differences in aromas created by yeasts specific to the brewer" and describes Leffe Brown as a sterile pasturized version of the ale. Give me the yeasty dregged real ale version any day.
Bornem Dubble, Chimay Red, Ommegang, Unibroue's Maudit
One of my favourite styles of all of the Belgian Ales is the dubbel and I have found four to discuss.
- Bornem Dubbel: 8%,330 ml in a mixed six from the brewer, Van Steenberge - here is the brewer's web page for the beer. I was a bit surprised by this one as I had awful expectations after the amber ale. The beer poured with a big loose beige head like stiff beaten egg white...except it was beige. It was the lightest dubble I have had - not unlike 50% Chimay Red and 50% Newcastle Brown Ale. In the mouth there is some heat but less spice than I would have liked. I am happy to report that there were no off flavours but unfortunately not enough flavours. The yeast was balanced with a decent biscuity aspect which was balanced by a herby twiggy rustic hoppiness. I am not certain whether there was much orange peel which there really ought to be. All in all not really poor but a bit lifeless for a dubbel. Advocatonians seem to like it a little more than I do. Well, at least no one call it "raisin bran" like with the amber.
- Unibroue Maudit: 8.0%, 6 x 341 ml at the Beer Store year round. Compared to the Bronem, this is the real thing. Pie pastry yeast, orange peel and spice. Heat and dark brown rich. Unlike the roughness of the Bornem's hops, these are rightly frail and antique. I did not get a great head off the pour and, compared to my recollection of the corked 750 ml bottle, this twist-top standard 12 341 ml bottle was maybe a bit weaker than I would have liked. Maybe just a weak capping...or is that the dreaded effect of the Sleeman buy-out? Michael Jackson wrote in his Great Beer Guide:
Maudite is a darkish interpretation of the style; fruity spiced (orange peel, corriander, pepper?) and dry.BAer like - but call it a Belgian strong ale?!?!
- Chimay Red:7% single 750 ml at the LCBO. Hot but less than the Maudit, similarly medium bodied. A rocky beige head. The first taste is malty but clearly cut with drak candi sugar. It is musty and oaken, burlap hops which rim rather than cut the malt with a brown bread crusty structuring as well. The fruity flavours are fig and a small bit of raisin, orange peel is definitely there with nutmeggy spicing. In the yeast there is a core of pear juiciness. This is one of the great beers and another tomorrow might let me know more. A real monk-made Trappist ale, the monestary apparently has broadband. One advocator actually thought yeasty cloudiness was chill haze - the other 99.99% are in love.
- Ommegang: from the woods near Cobleskill and Cooperstown, NY. This is a great brewery of distinct intention and it shows in its self-titled dubble. Forget the brewing, look at the location! We hunted the place out last summer and the setting was almost intimidating in its clean intention to assert Belgium in the north-end of the Appalachians. The beer is a real assertion as well. Plum and dark chocolate from the get go which hides the heat a bit which at 8.5% is the biggest of the four. There is a bit of leather, cinnamon and butter. Then there is something else that you realize are the hops - delicate and fine, autumnal woods. Great. Greater than the Chimay Red I just had? That is worth consideration.