As a beer lover, I’ve always looked forward to fall. It signifies a change to me, a deviation from the light, crisp German lagers I drink during the summer. This time of year, I reach for something richer, spicier and heartier: ale. Specifically, Belgian ale.
A radical departure from any other style of beer in the world, the ales that emerged from Belgium roughly 1,000 years ago are all about aroma, spice, sourness, texture and fat. Not the kind of fat found on a pulled-pork sandwich, mind you, but the light, rich fat of a freshly plucked avocado.
American beer aficionados (née nerds), tired of lighter, American style mass-market lagers and-or the overly hopped microbrewer’s darling IPA, have long taken delight in attempting the near-impossible — replicating a millennium of tradition by brewing Belgian-style beers themselves. (An example of American hubris at play even behind the bar.) Thanks to trailblazers such as Goose Island Brewing and New Belgium leading the way over the past 20 years, more and more domestic beermakers are getting it right, mainly due to their innovation. (Which almost makes up for the fact that they’ve been doing it for about 1,000 less years than their Belgian counterparts.)
In particular, a trio of U.S. Belgian brews stand out:
THE BREWERY: Allagash Brewing Company (est. 1995), arguably the country’s most authentically Belgian beermaker
THE NON-BELGIAN SPOT [OR SOME SUCH?]: Portland, Maine
TASTING NOTES: A stout ale that has been aged for a year in used bourbon casks. The bitter dark chocolate is tempered by bourbon sweetness and warm oak notes.
RUSSIAN RIVER CONSECRATION
THE BREWERY: Russian River Brewing Company [http://russianriverbrewing.com/] One of the most well-respected and south after microbreweries in existence. Famed for its Pliny the Elder
THE NON-BELGIAN SPOT [OR SOME SUCH?]: Santa Rose, California
TASTING NOTES: A dark ale aged with black currants in used Cabernet Sauvignon casks. Initial aromas of leather and bourbon are followed by a rich sourness that is surprisingly buttery on the palate.
URBAN FARMHOUSE ALE [http://www.commonsbrewery.com/beers/]
THE BREWERY: Commons Brewery [http://www.commonsbrewery.com/] (est. 2011)
THE NON-BELGIAN SPOT [OR SOME SUCH?]: Portland, Oregon
TASTING NOTES: For an everyday, drinkable session beer in the lighter saison/farmhouse style (named for an ale brewed in the colder months and typically served to farmworkers in the summer), turn to The Commons Brewery’s Urban Farmhouse Ale in Portland, Oregon. Sour, crisp, and lightweight yet with a medium body, the Urban Farmhouse uses local hops to incorporate a beautiful, floral tone to an otherwise traditional farmhouse style ale.
As worldwide beer styles become more and more appreciated by the American palate, we can look forward to having a wider selection of microbrewed beer here at home – for fall, or any time of year.