A bit of a ‘general blog’ subject…
I enjoy a glass of beer and have tried many. Some people think that I am a beer lover or even a beer knower, but I do not know if this is really true. The problem is, I do not like most beers. In fact, almost the only beer that I do like are three styles of Belgian beer: “blond”, “triple” and what is sometimes described as “strong ale”. Now it seems that Belgian beer is getting more and more popular abroad. On holidays I run into unexpected surprises and on the internet I see foreigner discussion Belgian beer completely missing the point. For some reason outside Belgium (and the Netherlands) people do not seem to ‘understand’ beer. The other way around, I start to wonder what breweries think of their customers. A few thoughts.
Let me start with a very short introduction. Only in Belgium (with a few exceptions) beer is brewn by monks and has been for many years. These monks are “trappists” of the order of the Cistercians and these are the only beers that can be called “Trappist”, even though there are many other traditional breweries. The trappists usually make a few kinds of beer which is partly due to the season they brew for. Contrary to “pils” (or “ale”, the normal mainland style beer), the ‘first beer’ is “blond”, it is light, but not as transparant as “pils”. In France, people seem to mix up the two, calling “pils” “blond” thus selling a normal 5% beer for “blond” which is quite a bummer if you expected something else. Blond beer can be between say, 5 to 9 percent, but usually is 6 or 7.
The ‘next beer’ is called “dubbel” (“double”) or “bruin” (“brown”); “dubbel” because it is twice fermented and “bruin” because of the colour. It is brown of colour because the ingredients have been roasted longer. Being fermented twice, this beer is stronger, usually somewhere around 7 or 8 percent.
Then there is “tripel” or “triple”, again referring to the number of times it has fermented. Tripels are usually light of colour again and have a high percentage of alcohol, somewhere arond 9, but some go up even higher.
Now these are the three ‘basic’ forms of Belgian beer. There are a lot more, “bock”s (traditionally brewn with the last corn and having more alcohol to be better able to keep it good through the winter), nowdays there are some “quadruple”s (fermented four times), there is “white” beer, lower in alcohol, fresh of taste, amber coloured beer, fruit beers and of course the earlier mentioned “strong ale”s such as Duvel and La Chouffe which look like “pils” (no ‘cloudy’ colour), but are of a higher percentage. There are more and better places on the internet to find your information about this.
Now, already in the Netherlands there are waitors not knowing what they sell. They mix up blonds with tripels, sell bock-beers as trappist and forget about the difference between La Chouffe (light) and Mac Chouffe (dark). Things get worse abroad…
Last spring (2012) me and my girlfriend were in America (New York district) and saw a lot of “Belgian style beer”s, usually awfully tasting American beer. No difference is made between blond or double, it is just “Belgian style”. Lateron I found a slightly more ‘serious’ line of beers. One of them (Ommegang) is even a line of beers ‘designed’ by Duvel, but brewn in America and quite good. Also I noticed that there is “wit bier” (“white beer”) which is given the name “witte”, but the bartenders apparently do now know what “witte” (somewhat bad Dutch for “white”) is and giving me something dark when I ask for “white beer”, meaning a “witte”. Argh, but let us say that the beginning has been made. Quite a laberinth when you do know something about beer though…
In late summer 2012 we were in Southern France and I noticed something even more troubling. On our first evening in Reims we stumbled upon a cafe with an alright beer-card including a French (?) special beer “Liloise”, I tried the blond which was alright. I got the choice between 25 centiliter (we usually have 33) or 50 (half a liter?) and got it in a Leffe glass (oh yes, in America you get your beer in a lemonade glass mostly…). So far, so good. Later it showed that normal beer in France is 90% of the time Heineken (almost the worst Dutch normal beer) and the rest Amstel (not the best either), so I actually drank Heineken before I found that out (also I got Leffe in a Heineken glass)… Lateron we were at a place where I noticed Grimbergen (a great Belgian brewery) and ordered the “blond”. No no, “blond” is 1664 (I think a French “pils” brewn under the flag of Kronenbourg), but they did have the “white”. Eh? Grimbergen white? Assuming that we were talking about the same thing, I ordered my white Grimbergen and got something that looked and tasted like white beer, but if that was Grimbergen, this was certainly their least interesting brew! Later I saw that the man was actually right when in a supermarket my eye fell on “Grimbergen blanche”. What is that? The French have Belgian beer that we (or Belgium!!) does not have? This is indeed very much true, since we later saw an advertisement for Leffe Nectar, a Leffe with honey. Some searching on the internet showed that this Leffe is only available in France and not in Belgium!! WTF?!? I have a hard enough time to find the Leffe 9 degrees (blue) and the Ruby (they also have another red, but fortunately I do not like them myself, but my girlfriend wants to try them all) and now they have beer which is not sold to people who know something about beer?
The world of beer is a strange one.