Belgian Beers… An Adventure Close to Home

By Tone Beebe

“Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer.” – Henry Lawson

It’s early days of Spring where the sun shines longer and the trees begin to bloom. While some may think of flower festivals and such, my thoughts turn to the fine beers of Belgium, a mystical place where brewing has been an art for centuries.

I wanted to travel to Europe to sip some Belgian brews in person, so I went to the boss and asked to use my expense account for travel. I never did get an answer other than to see her walking away crying and laughing while occasionally shouting, “Expense account,” before falling into new fits of laughter. Feeling lost, I decided to do the next best thing and visit our own slice of Belgium in Boca at the Barrel of Monks brewery. Bill, one of the founders, says he went from sharing Belgian beers with his friends to brewing them at home. Fortunately, his friends then dared him to share his passion for Belgian beers with all of us.

Upon my arrival, Bill walked me through how they make a Tripel, a light-bodied beer made with more fermentable grains and sugars than regular ale, a triple amount really. Since there are more sugars to ferment, the clean-dry mouthfeel leads us to a floral aroma; a creamy, lively head; a light, spicy flavor; and a mild herbaceous finish. These complex flavors are not born of extra hops or other adjuncts but by the yeasts particular to Belgian ales. The lack of adjuncts creating flavors means this beer shows its flaws more readily than most. The Barrel of Monks Three Fates is a fine rendition of the Tripel, and its hidden booziness will get you if you do not sip this beer lightly.

After talking and tasting, I was in the mood for something more adventurous and was introduced to Matiz Salvaje Saison, aged in Tequila barrels. A Saison is a farmhouse ale which generally shows as a rich, cloudy gold with complex aromas and flavors. The Matiz Salvaje has an abundance of flavors and pours with a light, fluffy head releasing some mild aromas reminding me of a desert sunrise. The taste experience was sharp and mostly dry with hints of sour and Tequila. At the end, the flavors intensified while the tiny bit of sour fell away in a soft finish.

I was later told a story of having dinner in the aging room at the Rodenbach brewery in Belgium where they sat amongst the Foeders (huge oak aging barrels) sharing a six-course meal. My imagination ran wild. I pictured myself cutting a fine steak with the malty-sour aroma of a fine Flanders Red aging nearby.

Inspired by this tale, I went to a local shop and purchased a Rodenbach Grand Cru Flanders Red Ale, a beer for the palate which finds sour beers enjoyable; or as my daughter says, “It’s just that you’re strange and you like it.” This beer pours a rich, reddish head, which falls away quickly revealing a dark ruby body. The aromas are sharp up close but wonderfully sweet and tart with hints of wood and cherry. The flavors remind me of a tart Granny Smith apple with hints of sour cherry and a bit of caramel sweetness. I enjoyed it, but the novice may wish to gradually work up to this one.

My experience in Boca was great. I learned what it takes to turn science into art and how to have a lot of fun doing it…all from a guy who started a brewery on a dare.