Friday, November 11, 2005

November 2005 - Belgium Style Beers

To broaden the selection of beers for the Memphis Beer Club, we headed to the local Wine & Sprits store to purchases some heavy ABV beers from Belgium. Belgian beer-brewing's origins go back to the Middle-Ages, when monasteries began producing beers. Naturally, Belgians claim that theirs are the best beers in the world. This view is supported by beer experts such as Michael Jackson. There still remain 115 breweries, sometime monasteries in the country, producing about 500 standard beers. When special one-off beer styles are included, the total number of types of Belgian beer exceeds 1000. Virtually each beer has its own glass. Beyond the basic shape of the glass (wide-mouth goblet, curvacious tulip glass, tall pilsner, etc), each glass is imprinted with a logo or name. The different basic shapes are designed to enhance the flavor and aroma of the particular beer.

While living in Ohio and visiting Jungle Jim's International Market I found that I really enjoyed the unique style of "bottle conditioned" Belgian beers. Living in Tennessee I haven't found the selection of beers that Jungle Jim's had in Ohio, but we were able to try a few different styles of beer.

We started the tasting with one of the lighter Belgian beers, Stella Artois. I first tried this beer while traveling in Chicago and thought that it was something not easy available, but I was wrong. I recently saw it at Costco and realized that it is now almost as available as Bud Light. But Stella Artois has a rich history. The brewery has it origins dating back to 1366 as the Brewery of Den Horen (The Horn). In 1717 master brewer Sebastian Artois purchased the brewery and named it Artois. The brew as it is commonly known today did not arrive on the scene until 1926. That year, the Christmas beer was brewed for the first time. Christened "Stella", Latin for "Star", the beer was so well received that it became available all year long.

Stella Artois has a long history of commercials that document the sacrifices people will make in order to get their hands on a Stella. Commonly known as 'wifebeater' because of the famous Marlon Brando performance in Streetcar Named Desire, where he has beaten his wife, then pleads for her forgiveness shouting "Stella!"

Next we tried one of my favorites Belgium beers, Duvel. Brewed Brouwerij Moortgat in Breendonk-Puurs, Belgium and is considered a Belgium Strong Ale. Duvel was founded in 1871 by Jan-Leonard Moortgat, but during World War I, the Moortgats renamed their beer Victory Ale to commemorate the end of the war. But during the 1920's, an avid drinker described the beer as "nen echten duvel" (a true devil), and the name of the beer was changed to Duvel. It has become the brewery's flagship beer. It has market the "Perfect Pour" the last few years and crowns a world champion once a year.

Our next Belgium Strong Ale was Chimay Bleue (Blue), brewed by monks of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont at Chimay. Chimay is an authentic Trappist beer that is it is brewed within a Trappist monastery, under the control and responsibility of the monastic community. Only 6 beers in Belgium can carry the appellation "Trappist": Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren and Achel. I was glad that no one else liked this beer; I had to finish the 9% ABV 25 oz all by myself. I think this is one of the most outstanding beers that I have ever tried and look forward to trying the other two types soon.

Due to the limited selection at the Poplar Avenue Wine and Spirits shop we were forced to try an American Belgian White (Witbier) brewed by Coors Brewing Company, Blue Moon Belgian White Ale. I was dreading tasting this beer and tried it with out any additional fruit and I was pleasantly surprise. This is a great fall or winter beer with just the right amount of spice. In fact I bought another six pack after we finished the first six.

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