Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter Beer

It is officially winter, and I'm sitting here drinking Saison Dupont.

Ok, technically it isn't winter until December 23rd, and anyway I hate Belgian beer. But it is raining hard, it's cold and nasty, and I just missed a Lambic tasting because the roads were closed due to the rain. So under these circumstances it seems that the obvious reaction is to sit somewhere very close to the heater, and drink something.

But what to drink? It's F-ing 3 degrees outsides, so a light summery "lawnmower beer" is not going to cut it. No, you need something heavy and warming. Something with lots of alcohol to keep you nice and warm through the cold winter snows (or at least hail). I do hate Belgian beers, but I have to admit that a nice warming Quadruple does sound kind of nice right about now...

Of course, in the "oh my G-D, that's a lot of alcohol" category, the Belgians have nothing on the British. Whereas the myriad of Belgian beers all use the same yeasts (causing all their beers to smell the same, and pretty much taste the same), the Brits brought us no less than three distinct 10%+ beer styles: Scotch ale, Barley wine, and the queen of them all, the Russian Imperial Stout. (Yes I know it's called Russian, but it's still originally an English style). And that's before you consider things like Robust Porter and Old Ale. which are no "light beers".

There are many people who like Belgian beers. Some like the smell. Some like the taste. Some like the alcohol content. Whatever the reason, the popularity of Belgian beers has done two things that, in my mind, are detrimental:

1. They've branded Belgium as a beer nation, and Brussels as a sore of "Mecca" of beerdome, with places like the Delirium Cafe as its focal.

2. They've marginalized other worthy high-alcohol (and lower alcohol) styles.

Well, I've been to Brussels, and I wouldn't wish living there on my worse enemy. (Ok, maybe I would, there are some people I REALLY don't like). But if that's what rocks your world be my guest. Brussels is home to both one of the most over-rated tourist attractions and one of the most hideously over-architectured squares in the world. Just for that, it's worth spending a day (and only a day) in. The thing that bothers me is item number 2. The fact that high-alcohol Belgian beers have become so hugely popular means that you can get a Duval, a Le Trappe, or g-d help you, a Leffe just about anywhere, but it's hard to find a place that sells a decent Barley Wine, or Scotch Ale, let alone an Imperial Stout.

And that's sad to me. Because beers that are not drunk tend to disappear. Read Randy Mosher's "Radical Brewing" ( It's chock-full of beers styles that were, and are no more.

In this country it is very hard to find Barley Wine or Scotch Ale (and as far as I know impossible to find Imperial Stout, other that Brooklyn's Chocolate Stout, if you happen to find some) But if you happen upon them here or abroad, I urge you to try them. Slowly, gently, on a cold night like tonight. And they will reveal to you a whole new world of flavors and smells. And hopefully, one more lover of good beer will be born.


For those wondering why, given all that I just wrote, I'm drinking Saison: Last night I drank a Russian Imperial. Night Before that, a Scotch Ale. Now I'm sitting at my computer and waiting for my wife to finish putting the kid to bed so we can share a bottle of Barley wine. Basically, I'm drinking the Saison while waiting for real beer...

1 comment:

  1. Back on that cold, cold weekend, I also enjoyed a bottle of Belgian "barley wine" with my wife. It was perfect with our Shabbat lunch. You can read about it at: