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Fine Belgian ales.

When American consumers think of European beers, Belgian beer doesn't come immediately to mind. German, Irish and English beer, yes. Dutch beer, certainly But Belgian beer, not yet. Hopefully, that is changing, because Belgium is one of the founts of world beer culture.

Belgian beer styles have not taken the world by storm, like Czech pilsner or American light lager, but the huge number of Belgian beer styles belies the country's small size.

The country has nurtured a variety of unique beers, many of them with origins i medieval times. These beers offer the modern consumer a glimpse into a distant time, when beer was one of the staples--rich, nutritious liquid bread.

Numerous importers are now offering Belgian abbey ales and lambics in the American market, and several U.S. microbreweries are having some success with Belgian-style beers.

Of the importers, several come to mind: Vanberg & DeWulf of Cooperstown, NY; Phoenix Imports of Ellicot City, MD; Merchant Du Vin of Seattle, WA and All Saints Importing of Minneapolis, MN. Among American micros, the Celis Brewery o Austin, TX and the New Belgium Brewing Co. of Ft. Collins, CO.

We recently tried several Belgian brands that are relatively new to the America market. Witkap Abbey Singel, imported by Vanberg & DeWulf of Cooperstown, NY, was one of them. This is that rare "singel" in a world that seems to consist exclusively of "dobbel" and tripel" Belgian ales. Single ales are said to be th lighter, everyday ales consumed by monks at meal-times in their abbeys.

The name "Witkap" would seem to translate as "White Cap," perhaps a reference t the beer's big rocky head, which pours up with all the appearance of whipped eg white.

As the singel designation indicates, the beer is light-bodied than some of its heavier brethren, but just as flavorful. Spiciness is the keynote, starting wit a very spicy aroma (one taster got a waft that he likened to "aromatic pipe tobacco"), smooth flavors (Wintergreen(?) someone said) and a faint clovey aftertaste. A very special ale.

We also tried another Vanberg & DeWulf product, called Kwak. Yes, just like the duck call--Kwak. Whether this name will be a help or hindrance in the American market is yet to be seen, but on its merits the beer should sell. It pours dark amber into the glass, and there is a sweet fullness of flavor in the first sip. It is a rich ale, smooth and realty, with hints of molasses. There is spiciness to the aroma, perhaps with notes of pumpkin. A good strong ale.

Lastly, we tried Rubens Red, a product brewed by Brewery Du Bocq in Purnode, Belgium, in honor of the famous Flemish painter. The beer is imported by Phoeni Imports, and sold typically in a gift-pack with a counterpart bottle of Rubens Gold and a pair of handsome glasses.

It is a top-fermented, bottle-conditioned beer that pours with a creamy white head. It is smooth, light-bodied and creamy, with a delightful aroma of mixed spices. Like so many Belgian ales. this one is peculiarly restorative.

Next week, Long Trail Kolsch, Perry's Majestic organic lager, Pyramid Apricot Ale and whatever else comes our way.
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Title Annotation:Brewnotes; Belgian beer products in the U.S. market
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Sep 19, 1994
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