Monday, August 29, 2011

Beer style of the week; Belgian Pale Ale

Week 30

As promised, when we covered Pale Ales way back in week one of our series, we bring you a style that is maybe the most loosely interpreted and wide ranging of all your popular beer styles.

The Belgian Pale Ale, (and I’m going eliminate some that go by the “name”, but miss the target completely) is a solid year-round ale. When the style criteria are met, Belgian Pales are especially good ales to bridge the seasonal change from summer to fall or spring to summer.

Dull golden to pale copper in color with a frothy effervescent head and lots of sticky lacing is common ground. Resinous and/or citrus rind hop nose, coupled with dry malty, woody and/or barn aromas. Hop forward flavors are supported by a solid maltiness. Some sweetness (not overly so) is the norm. Dry and clean finish with a bit of an edgy, cutting yeasty bite in the throat. Refreshing, yet substantial. Accompany foods or stand alone.

The Belgian Pale is one of the few Belgian styles that originated elsewhere, as an answer to the British Pale Ale, but of course brewed with Belgian, barley, hops, yeast and water. And as is common practice in Belgium, a little dose of citrus and/or spices may be added. The ABV ranges from between 4.5% - 7%. Although, there are those fringe Belgian Pales that are rated as low as 3.5% and as high as 7.5% ABV, we have ignored them because they cloud the style to obscurity.

The Belgian Pale Ales pair well with white meats with light sauces, pate, mellow cheeses, Thai, Indian or spicy Chinese dishes, or light buttery cakes or cookies, or creamy custards.

Land of Origin

Orval – Brasserie d’Orval – Abbey de Notre Dame, Orval, Belgium – 6.9% ABV

11.7oz brown bottle. Freshness date on label. Served in an Allagash goblet.

A true Abbey Trappist Beer!
It pours slightly cloudy orange-hued copper color with a frothy white head and loads of lacing.
Smells of spices, cloves, fruit cup and distant bananas, followed by malt and wood and resinous hop.
Flavors are wide –ranging from, fruit cup, spices, citrusy hops, and sweet malt. A little candi sugar rolls in as it warms, as does some alcoholic fuminess.
An effervescent fizziness fades from the first pour and becomes very velvety and rounded.
Just a beautiful beer and the benchmark for the Belgian Pale Ale style.

Witkap Pater Singel / Stimulo - Brouwerij Slaghmuylder – Ninove, Belgium – 6% ABV

Reminiscent of a White Ale, this Abbey Single Ale is light gold to straw in color with a fine little bubbly head. Trails of lace slowly slide down with some spotty stickiness. The fizzy effervescence hides the true malt body. Wild hoppy flavors abound with sharp bitter citrus, acidic and piney esters. Some noticeable yeasty clove-like flavors lasts throughout the glass. The brew slowly transforms as the lightly sweet malt sneaks into being, creating a mild fruity taste and smoother mouthfeel.

Westvlereten - Brouwerij Westvleteren – Westvlereten, Belgium – 5.8% ABV

Served in a Westvlereten Goblet. Another true Abbey Trappist Ale from the Holy Grail of Belgian Brewers.

Pours a pale cloudy golden with a rocky snow white and lots of sticky lacing.
A yeasty Brett smell rises, but is soon overtaken by smells of green wood, sweet malt, resinous hops and a hint of banana and distant barn.
The flavors are complex and separately distinct at first gulp, and then begin the harmonious blending and mingling. Resinous Belgian hoppiness, citrus rind, caramel malt and spiced rum form as one and invite large gulps and noisy lip-smacking. The candi sugar sweetness is the unifying factor here. It’s central in all the outward flavors. By the time the initial effervescence wears down and the ale mellows, it’s gone! And you wish you had another!

Harpoon Belgian-style Pale Ale – Harpoon Brewing – Boston, MA

12oz brown bottle. Freshness on bottle.

Pours a clear, shiny amber color with an off-white, fast-fading head. Some patchy and sticky lacing lasts throughout.
A yeasty and citrusy smell rises at once then rolls into a sweet malty, hoppy mix. A light smell of wild flowers sneaks in, along with a hint a ripe fruit.
A taste of nutmeg and cinnamon quickly vanish within evenly balanced malt to hops tastes. A light yeasty flavor also fades, leaving me with the impression that I’m drinking an English-style Pale Ale, and only imagined the Belgian-ness. It’s there, but restrained.

This is that ale that I mentioned as one that bridges spring to summer, or summer to fall in fine fashion.

Worth seeking out:

Smuttynose Star Island Single – Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Rare Vos - Brewery Ommegang – Cooperstown, New York

Hitachino Nipponia – Kiuchi Brewery – Ibaraki, Japan


Quote: “In Belgium, the magistrate has the dignity of a prince, but by Bacchus, it is true that the brewer is king." - Emile Verhaeren, Flemish writer, 1855-1916

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