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What exactly is “Belgian Style” Beer? A brief synopsis of a complex category.

Brewing in Belgium dates back at least to the 12th century, but most experts agree beermaking likely predates this timeframe. Beer with a low (by modern standard) alcohol content was brewed and sold by local abbeys as a sanitary alternative to unsafe drinking water. From these traditional breweries, the Belgian Beer has evolved into a wide range of unique brewing styles and categories spanning nearly the entirety of the modern beer spectrum. With over 300 active breweries, Belgian beer culture remains one of the most active and influential in the global beer community. To claim that this is a comprehensive guide to all the distinct and unique styles of Belgian Beer would be the height of teetotalling hubris; rather, this guide is intended to help give a basis of information from which to leap off into the wonderfully diverse realm of the greater Belgian beer universe.

The (in)Complete Belgian Beer Style guide

Prominent Belgian Styles on the Brew Scene Today

Belgian beer is deeply varied and cannot be neatly described by a single unifying definition. Belgian Beers may be brewed in Belgium or they may be brewed internationally in traditional Belgian style. Perhaps the most collective similarity within the Belgian Beer genus is the use of Belgian yeast, which provides the characteristically “fruity” or “spicy” quality it is generally (although not explicitly) known for. With such an extensive selection, you are sure to find at least one Belgian Beer style (and likely a good many) that is exactly right for you.

Trappist/Abbey Beers

Trappist beers are a singularly unique production style of beer in the brewing industry. This category of brewing dictates the manner in which the beer must be brewed as well as how the profits from its production and sale are used. To qualify as a true Trappist, it must be physically brewed within a monastery, the monks must participate in its production, and sale profits must be used in the support of the monastery (either directly or indirectly). All Trappist’s are Abbey’s, but not all Abbey’s are Trappists. Abbey Beers are similar in style or presentation to monastic beers, and the term generally describes the production rather than the flavour profile of the beer itself. The primary difference between the two categories is under the conditions of the production, with Abbey beers having somewhat more flexible guidelines to meet and still maintain their qualifier as an Abbey.

Belgian Ales

Ales brewed in the Belgian style are not entirely dissimilar to their international counterparts, with the most notable difference being the use of Belgian yeast and featuring a less hop-forward profile. Like the traditional pale ales popularized in Britain, Belgian Ambers feature rich malt, but often feature a less hop focused and spicy and/or fruited taste making for a satisfying drink. Flemish Red ale is characterized by specially roasted malt and pronounced acidic sour fruit flavour. Similarly, Oud Bruin features notes of sour and rich malts with a deep brown body. Brown Ales feature the rich malting and colour without any pronounced sourness. Scotch ales are typically dark and sweet with heavy bodies. Blonde/Golden Ales feature crisp colouring and low bitterness making for easy drinking. The name “Golden Strong Ale” is often used interchangeably with a tripel, a style discussed a bit further on.

Dubbel/Tripel/Quadrupel

The labelling of a beer as a dubbel, tripel, or quadrupel indicates several characteristics and qualities you should expect, most notably the strength, intensity, and style of each different type. This category takes its name from the marking of keg barrels brewed by monks denoting the beer was brewed with either 2, 3, or 4 times the malt content as a standard beer. This increased malt addition notably led to a higher alcohol content. Brewers differentiated these barrels with “XX” or (XXX, etc.). While these styles take their name from the methods of traditional monastic brewing, they are not true trappist or abbey style beers unless specifically labelled as such. These names (when used alone) indicate they are brewed in the traditional style without falling under the strict guidelines of the trappiest/abbey style of production. Dubblels call for double the standard amount of malt which results in a dark brown colour, deep malted flavour, and an elevated alcohol content (generally around 6 – 8 % ABV. Dubbels are characteristically bottle conditioned. Tripels call for (you guessed it) up to three times the malt as a standard recipe. Often described as similar to a strong pale ale, tripels are lighter in colour than dubbels (due to the addition of “candi sugar”) but several shades darker than a traditional German pilsner. This style exhibits the spiciness and complexity typical of Belgian yeast and are notoriously strong, making them excellent sipping beers. The Belgian Quadrupel (sometimes called Grand Cru) takes this style to the extreme, maximizing the malt content and producing a bold, incredibly flavourful, and complex taste with an alcohol content to make even seasoned imbibers blush.

Saison

Translated from the French Season, the Belgian Saison style takes its name from the seasonal ales brewed in farmhouses in the cooler months at the end of the harvest. Before the invention and availability of refrigeration, brewers would take advantage of the cool weather when bacterial activity presented less of a risk of spoilage. Due to their broad range of styles and the unique conditions and ingredients used in their creation, Saison’s did not historically share enough notable similarities to distinguish them as a specific style outside of being a refreshing summer beer. After the brewing process, Saison’s were stored and conditioned for the summer, when they would be served to itinerant workers as a source of clean nutrition and hydration. Today, the style is regarded generally as a moderate to high ABV and highly carbonated refreshing drink with notes of fruit and spice accentuating its bright character.

Lambic

This wheat-based beer is distinct from other Belgian styles in its fermentation. While the majority of modern brewing uses specialty brewer’s yeast to ferment, Lambic beers rely on open air exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are native to their region of production. After fermentation, the Lambic is subjected to varying degrees of conditioning or aging which ranges from young (3-6 months) to mature (up to three years). This process gives this style a distinctive profile, often described as dry, cidery, and sour. There are four categories of Lambic beers – Lambic, Gueuze, Fruit Lambic, and Faro – each of which feature varying degrees of aging and/or blending of the individual styles and/or the inclusion of additional ingredients.

Stout

Following the theme for most of the Belgian styles we have discussed herein, stouts brewed in Belgian style exhibit the expected and characteristically dark colour and rich flavour found in stouts in general but with the added layered complexities imparted by use of Belgian yeast. Unlike many of the other classic Belgian Styles, this style does not boast its own category in global competition and is not defined strictly within the nation itself. The Belgian stout category features beer ranging from dry to sweet and strong to weak (to be fair: less strong). The sweeter versions of these are likened to the once popular British style of milk stout, while the stronger versions often carry the title of “Imperial” and are markedly higher in alcohol content and/or roasted maltiness.

White, Wheat, & Witbier

The multicultural makeup of Belgium and its influence on its representative brewing styles form the namesake for this beer style. This style is top fermented, leaving yeast and wheat protein suspended which gives the beer a pale cloudy colour in its finished form. It is this haziness where it derives its white, blanche, or witte name. Although produced under different brands and with different flavour profiles, traditional Belgian wheat beers are hazy and lightly coloured, moderately strong, and nearly always spiced with lively coriander or bitter orange. This beer is crisp and rich but not overly heavy, making it particularly enjoyable as a summer refreshment.

Break into Belgians

As mentioned at the outset of this writing, the incredibly broad and nearly limitless diversity fostered in the Belgian brewing culture over the last thousand years makes it impossible to adequately identify all the distinct examples that abound in this style. With its rich cultural heritage, historical significance, and breadth of variety, Belgian beer offers more than refreshment; it offers an experience. While the depth of complexity found in this brewing style may seem overwhelming, there are so many completely different beers to be found that there is without doubt a character and flavour profile that is ideal for your taste. Although you cannot enjoy every day in the idyllic Belgian countryside with a fresh draught in hand, Beerfarm can bring a bit of Belgium to you with their growing selection of the most popular Belgian styles. Don’t be afraid to expand your taste this way and you can guarantee a new favourite awaits.

Making a Statement on Stout: 

A guided brew tour of this enduring classic

Strong. Hardy. Robust. All of these adjectives come to mind when you hear the word Stout. But does the character of this beer really warrant such a tough-guy reputation? Stouts are known as strong, dark beers. But have they always been? Are they still today? The answer to both questions is yes and no. Let’s look at the history, development, and relevance of this ever-popular beer style and see how it came to be the brewhouse heavyweight and microbrew staple that it is today. Within this guide you will find information relating to the foundation of Stout as a style, the contributing factors that encouraged and shaped its development, and the way people are enjoying the beer globally today. In the following guide you will be able to explore:

      

What is Stout all about?

Not all beers are created equal, stouts perhaps least among them, and certainly without equal in the realm of dark beer. A category of beer that has earned its distinction from others, the Stout is regarded as a big deal, a beer-drinkers beer, and a sometimes-formidable opponent when poured in a deep glass. In contemporary parlance, a Stout is naught but a dark ale; in reality, it is a refined and delicious masterpiece. It is often but not always strong, and ranges from light to heavily bodied. It enjoys a wide popularity in nearly all venues of alcoholic consumption and boasts a plethora of unique substyles. It is often anticipated (and therefore avoided by those unfamiliar) to be overwhelmingly powerful in character or strength or otherwise too intense. This is not always the case, and to the contrary, in many of its embodiments Stouts are regarded as some of the smoothest, most pleasantly flavoured, easy-drinking beers that will satiate even the trepidatious pub crawler. While historically relatively similar to each other, more modern interpretations of the Stout style include late-stage additions of exotic ingredients to enhance and expand on their rich profile, setting them apart from each other yet further defining the distinction of the style itself. Classically, this style has a distinctly British heritage, and even in its most current forms still carry most of the characteristics of its earliest UK development. Although some historically significant styles have fallen into obscurity, innovative brewers are ever reinvigorating the style. Fresh takes by enthusiastic brew masters feature an assortment of flavours from peanut butter and coffee to bourbon or even chilis, all adding richly layered depth and complexity. With all this assortment and a steady demand for the style, there is bound to be a Stout in your future, but first, lets talk about its storied past.

The earliest recorded usage of the word Stout in relation to beer was found in a 1677 excerpt from a document included in the Egerton Manuscripts, a collection of historical texts gifted to and held in the British Library since 1829. In this manuscript, the sense of the word’s usage was that it described strong beer and not dark beer. So why did we start associating Stout with dark beer? Intrinsic to the development of the Stout, dark beer called porter has long been associated with the style. Porters (named after their popularity among the British workers bearing that name) were developed in the early 18th century as a moderately well-hopped dark brown beer that was served as a nutritious and affordable drink to the working class. As its popularity grew this style of ale was brewed in a variety of strengths, with labels such as “extra”, “double” or “Stout” porter for the stronger 7-8% ABV beers. Eventually the “Stout porter” became ubiquitous to the style; the “porter” name was dropped, and it became marketed simply as “Stout”. One of the most notable examples of this evolution can be seen with the hugely popular Guinness Extra Stout, whose original name was “Extra Superior Porter” when it was first brewed at the St. James Gate Brewery by Arthur Guinness in the 1840s. Porter has the additional distinction of being the first specific style to be brewed across the world, and as such has seen much notoriety, popularity, and influence globally including across Europe, North America, and Russia towards the close of the 18th century. Even as the use of the name porter disappeared from the title of this style, the porter would see a steady increase in relevance internationally and at home under its new moniker, the Stout. This is not to say that porter is no longer brewed under that name at all; rather that the names have become virtually interchangeable and do not exhibit differences that would merit distinction into their own respective styles. There are many brewers large and small who produce traditional style porters and label them as such.

As microbreweries continue to emerge in the beer market and brew masters continue to seek new ways to reach their customers, so too do well established breweries seek to maintain relevance. New takes on old styles are sought and developed to meet this need on a regular basis. The Stout presents a prime opportunity for consumers and brewers alike to appreciate and hone the development of this style. By experimenting with new flavour combinations and recipe adjustments, brewers carefully balance the traditional heritage and techniques of this style with the desire for new and enhanced flavours. Even as terms such as “extra” or “double” seem to be falling into cultural obsolescence, brewers are reviving and applying these terms to their own Stout styles. Featured in the Beerfarm catalogue are several offerings within this range of classic and contemporary styles, illustrating several of the different types and brands of Stout available today. On the more classical side of stout porter brewing, “Britain’s Oldest Brewer” Shepherd’s Neame features a Double Stout brewed in the traditional porter style, blending dark roasted malts and an unsubtle bitterness with hints of cocoa and coffee, creating an exceptionally rich, silky smooth heavy-bodied beer. Similarly, Ireland’s Carlow Brewing blends mocha and vanilla with an onyx black malt body, countered by characteristically bitter European hops in their offering of Leann Follain, an “extra” Irish stout. Tiny Rebel, a relatively new brewer in the UK, takes a bold approach to the classic style in their Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter which offsets the dark roasted maltiness with smooth vanilla creaminess. The resulting beverage produces a uniquely flavourful beer akin to liquid s’mores (all without the hassle of a campfire). FMR’s Middle Finger Nuke Imperial Stout blends the almost black colour of Stout’s dark roasted maltiness with the explosive aromatic hop-forward character of an India Pale Ale, delivering a devastating payload straight to your olfactory receptors. And for the faithful, you can never go wrong with a Guinness. The distinctive aroma apparent when you crack into this nitrogen-fused malted tour de force ensures it won’t disappoint. At less than 200 calories per pint, the dark complexion of this beer belies its smooth, easy-drinking body.

Stout is here to stay

Passing the test of time, this style of beer has demonstrated its relevance and endurance as a distinct style. Evolving with its consumers, Stout has retained and even expanded on its base of enthusiasm, albeit playing second fiddle to the more prominent styles that are enjoyed today. When it comes to sales, the numbers don’t lie; dark beer (Stouts included) pale in comparison to their lighter cousins, the pilsners, lagers, and pale ales of the world. However, even as these beers don’t show any sign of slowing in popularity, the Stout continues to gain footing and respect across the beer community. As described herein, the stout has a rich tradition and a firm legacy as one of the most popular styles of beer in history and in contemporary culture. The dark roast, velvety mouth feel, keen balance of bitterness, and discrete hints of exotic additions all lend to the signature characteristics that make the Stout a fan favourite and perennial paramour for the discriminating palate. Regardless of where you get your best drinking done, at home or about, you can trust Beerfarm to deliver your favourites whether you want to stick with the trusted classics or branch out into the newest conceptual creations on the market. If you have not tried one yet, discover what your ancestors knew and loved for the last three centuries, and venture into the world of Stouts armed with this new knowledge and a healthy thirst for delicious drink. Cheers.

A quick guide to IPA styles and why you should be drinking them today.

Intro:   Indian Pale Ales have become one of the most recognizable and popular beer styles in the world since their earliest inception. Let’s face it: the craft brew industry has positively exploded with increasingly diverse and unique examples of this revered classic. Don’t let this intimidate you; the IPA is as varied as it is complex, and we’re sure there’s a style that’s perfectly suited for your palate. Featuring a distinct hop-forward flavor profile paired with a traditional pale ale brewing process, the IPA has a well-established reputation as being one of the most enjoyable brewed beverages for both the recreational consumer and the discerning connoisseur. In this article we’ll explore some of the most popular contemporary IPA styles and the accompanying terminology to give you all the information you need to add this delicious classic to your next pub visit or evening apéro.

IPA Lingo

The following terms and phrases are used to describe the characteristics of a particular beer but are not necessarily limited to IPAs. It can be somewhat daunting to try and interpret the slew of monikers plastered haphazardly on the label of one of these beers. Understanding these terms will help you better identify the characteristics of an IPA outside of its flavor profile and help you know what to expect before you order the next round.

Single-Hopped

Hop varieties are virtually limitless, with traditional types being grown in tandem with hybrid or specialized variants for wildly differing flavors, effects, aromas, and feels. As such, the combinations of different hops in a single brewing can create incredible and unique flavors; however, much is to be said for the single-hopped brew style. The single-hopped IPA uses just one type of hop to achieve its hop profile, resulting in a characteristically typical yet delicious product with boldly pronounced flavors. If you want to experience the pure and unadulterated flavor of a particular hop variety, you’ll want to try Vibrant Forest’s Chinook.

Single, Double, and Triple Dry-Hopped

Dry-hopping is the practice of adding hops towards the end of the brew process when fermentation activity has slowed. Originally added for their preservative qualities, it was quickly apparent that these un-boiled additions imparted an intense hop aroma on the beer. As the name implies, the number of dry-hop additions is quantified by the standard, double, and triple amount of hops that are traditionally added. While there is no clearly defined range of hop quantity, you can expect a triple hopped brew to offer an intense aromatic experience and a single dry-hopped beer to be more subtle. Double-hopped IPA’s such as beer are a great example of this trait, or if you want to explore the maximum end of the floral spectrum, try O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale.

Imperial IPA

Imperial IPA’s (sometimes referred to as “double” IPA’s) feature a higher-than-average hop concentration in their presentation and high levels of alcohol content. As opposed to the double dry-hopped variety, an Imperial IPA (try FMR – Middle Finger Nuke – Imperial Stout IPA for the full experience!)  is a malt-heavy brew, which produces more sugars and a finished product with a higher alcohol content. To offset the overwhelming sweetness of the Imperial’s malt rich body, more hops are added during the boil to impart their bitterness. This results in a beer that is full-bodied and richly colored with complex flavors and an alcohol content nearly double a typical lager! Imperial IPA push this beer style to its limits, with a fine example in Chouffe Houblon 2XIPA.

Session IPA

On the opposite end of the IPA spectrum from the Imperial, the Session IPA is a beer that combines all the delightful characteristics of the style into a beverage that is lighter bodied and with a lower alcohol content (traditionally less than 4%, but more commonly categorized as less than 5%). With less of a malt body, the session IPA isn’t as filling as some of its cousins, and its lower ABV lends to longer “sessions” of enjoyment. For new consumers looking to jump into the IPA scene or seasoned aficionados seeking an extended experience, the Session IPA is a great place to start. Try a Stone Go to IPA 

IPA Styles

Boasting its earliest roots in England and specifically developed to survive the grueling journey to India, the IPA has rapidly expanded its influence and longevity across the globe. With its ever-growing popularity and broad range of techniques and ingredients, there are increasingly new and unique varieties of IPA styles being produced both domestically and internationally. Here we will explore some of the most popular styles from around the beer community, each of which have characteristically distinct qualities.

British IPA

Before IPA was IPA, it was just pale ale. Due to India’s hot climate and therefore inhospitable brewing conditions, the British Empire relied on shipping ales from England to meet the demand of the British Citizenry in the colonies. Among the styles shipped from England, the generously hopped “October” style beer fared the best in transit. To emulate this beers survivability, additional hops were added to traditional pale ales for their preservative properties. This extra hopping of beer destined for India led to the development of the modern IPA style. Typically brewed with single hop varieties, British IPA is characterized as malty, bitter, and single-noted, using traditionally British hops and with a golden-to copper color. Although not as popular as it once was, the traditional British IPA is still brewed regularly and enjoyed internationally. Try a Shepherd’s Neame Indian Pale Ale to experience this style of beer.

Belgian IPA

Belgian yeast provides the distinction for this style, providing bready warmth, fruity esters, and a full satisfying mouthfeel. Despite the name, Belgian IPA draws some of its inspiration from the American brewery scene, often using distinctly American hops. The flavour profile is typically considered complex and is often described as something in between a traditional Belgian Tripel and an American IPA. Vedett IPA is a tasty example of this style.

West Coast IPA

Showcasing everything the hop has to offer, the West Coast IPA bursts with tropical flavor and full aroma. These juicy beers typically feature a milder malt base, spotlighting the hop flavor front and center. While many styles produce a beer with a more balanced profile, the west coast IPA hugely hop-forward. Offering a somewhat dry yet crisp finish, this beer is well regarded and increasingly sought after. Hugely popular and almost dangerously drinkable. Thornbridge Jaipur features a quality take on this style.

New England IPA

Hazy and juicy are perhaps the most common descriptors of the New England IPA, one of the most prominent styles on the market today. Featuring similar characteristics of juiciness as a West Coast IPA, the New England is distinguished by its often “unfiltered” or natural appearance and its bold, hop-forward focus. The New England IPA is deeply aromatic and features a full range of colors and complexities. Smooth in taste and mouthfeel, this less-bitter IPA is a fantastic drink, with fine examples exhibited in Do Stuff Together from Mikkeller.

First we think, then we drink – time to wet your whistle!

After reading through this article, it’s time to reward yourself with a satisfying pint of something you now know all about! Despite its real and perceived complexities, IPA is (after all) a beer. And beer is meant to be enjoyed. With the information you’ve learned in this article, you should be able to better seek out the style and type of IPA that best matches your taste. You are now well equipped to browse our full list of IPA’s, which features many of the most popular styles and  flavours from around the globe and right here at home, all available for delivery to you.   

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