Chimay - Oudenaarde - de Koninck - Roeselare - la Saison de Mars - Breendonk - Val d’Or - Westvleteren - quaint towns, spéciales belges, world-class monasteries and breweries - all embroidered upon a gilded tapestry of European history that merges as a complex beer collective in the “Center of Europe.” This is the beer of Belgium.
Belgium has been applauded as the greatest beer producer in the world, a claim supported by such distinguished beer authors as Michael Jackson and Garrett Oliver. In language and attitude, Belgium dances between the Romance of the French Walloons and the Flemish/Dutch and Germanic style of Northern Flanders. With such diversity in a country the size of Maryland, Belgium produces 500 standard beers from its 115 breweries, along with an equal amount of specialty beers, or spéciales belges.
Complexity opens into a wide playing field, where multiple strains of naturally-occurring wild yeast merge with specialty malt and Noble or aged surannes hops, while adding embellishments such as Belgian candi sugar, black cherries, Curacao orange peel, black currants, raspberries and Muscat grapes, often fermented in oak barrels.
Diverse signatures spread themselves like so many wildflowers across the landscape. Although pilsner-style lager is the most common domestic and export-style in Belgium, with Stella Artois and Maes Pils leading the pack, it is the specialty categories that have earned worldwide acclaim among beer aficionados. Trappist and Abbey styles, Gueuze, Flanders red ale, Wit beers, Dubbels, Tripels, Quadrupels, Belgian dark strong ales and Blondes add to this rich kaleidoscope.
America, being the land of the spirited adventurer, had to become a part of this colorful stage. In 1996, Volker Stewart, with partners Johey Verfaille and Greg Santori, established The Brewer’s Art in Baltimore, Maryland, dedicated to producing a myriad of beers with the same artisanal characteristics associated to these Belgian ales. The eclectic feel of the stately, Mount Vernon townhouse on North Charles Street echoes the enchantment that stirs within, with brewer Steve Frazier creating the likes of Ozzy, Proletary Ale, Resurrection and St. Festivus, beers designed to fill the city’s growing hunger for sophisticated Belgian brews.
Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York, is home to Randy Thiel, the first American brewer to be formally inaugurated into the Chevalerie du Fourquet des Brasseurs, or Knighthood of the Brewer’s Mashstaff, in the Gothic Room of the Town Hall of Brussels, Belgium. Grand Master Jack Van Antwerpen presided over the elegant ceremony in which Thiel was hailed for upholding the traditions of the dignified trade – dedication, patience and a personal commitment to high standards in quality brewing. These high standards shine as the hallmark of his style in Ommegang Abbey Ale, Rare Vos, Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, Three Philosophers Quadrupel and Ommegang Witte.
Paul Arnott, of Unibroue in Chambly, Quebec, has roots in Belgium where he had dedicated ten years as a brewer under the auspices of the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourmont, Chimay, Hainaut. Such world-class Unibroue beers as La Fin du Monde, Ephemere, La Fringante, La Terrible, Maudite, Blanche de Chambly, U and U2 have been sculpted with the touch of his artistry.
Who better than these three Masters to present a comparative pairing of North American-Belgian-style beers with those Belgian beers that inspired their creations?
On Saturday, March 4, 2006, The Smithsonian Institute presents “Brewing with a Belgian Accent” at the Brickskeller, 1523-22nd Street, NW, in Washington, DC, USA from 12 until 4 p.m. Frazier, Thiel and Arnott add the Brewmaster’s perspective in this presentation of the finest in Belgian-style beer from their award-winning North American breweries.
Jim Dorsch, publisher of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and editor/publisher of American Brewer and Greg Kitsock, editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and senior editor of American Brewer are coordinators of this exciting venue. For tickets or more information:
Photo of Chimay courtesy of http://beertrips.com