By Lauren Duffy
When it comes to beer styles, there are unmistakable differences from country to country. Availability of ingredients, historical traditions and cultural preference all play a role in shaping the styles that emerge from any particular area. However, as many craft beer fans know, most brewers like to think outside the box, and it seems that in any location, there are always a handful of styles that completely defy geographical boundaries.
Take, for example, the Belgian IPA. The style is a recent innovation, one that blends the traditional Belgian tripel or strong ale with the American double IPA. Beers in this style are not quite American and not quite Belgian, but an intriguing, complex marriage that brings out the best of American hops and Belgian yeast. The exciting thing about this style is that it’s emerged in both Belgium and the United States—it seems Belgian brewers want to experiment with American hops and American brewers enjoy adapting a Belgian style to their liking.
While Belgian IPAs are being made throughout both countries, there are quite a few notable examples in San Diego. Pizza Port’s Belgian IPA “Big Wednesday” took the Best in Show award at the 2010 San Diego International Festival of Beers. And Stone Brewing’s Cali-Belgique and Green Flash’s Le Freak are two beloved examples of the style.
I chose to write about this style this week as San Diego is lucky to have a visit from Chris Bauweraerts, co-founder of Brasserie d’ Achouffe in Belgium. Chris will be at Small Bar, Blind Lady Ale House and O’Briens throughout the weekend (see details below). Chouffe, as the brewery is often nicknamed, counts a Belgian IPA in their lineup, and so for the first time you’ll find a beer outside of San Diego written about in this column.
Belgian IPAs hold up wonderfully to food; their bold, complex profile works well with strong, funky flavors. Try them with fresh sourdough bread; hard, aged cheese or charcuterie. They pair wonderfully with picnic fare, and I dare say a 22-ounce bottle makes a much better outdoor beverage than the stereotypical bottle of wine.
Here are a few notable Belgian IPAs to be on the lookout for—all are available year-round.
Cali-België IPA, Stone Brewing Co.
Cali-België, or Cali-Belgique, is Stone’s Belgian adaptation of its Stone IPA. The malt and hop profile is actually the same in both recipes, but in this version, Belgian yeast is used, and the result is quite delightful. The nose is distinctly hoppy but not overpowering, and the first whiff offers tamed notes of floral and citrus hops. On the palate, hops play out against a honeyed backbone, while yeasty, spicy notes are noticeable on the finish. This is a wonderfully balanced, drinkable beer, and an excellent example of what can come from the calculated marriage of hops and yeast. 6.9% ABV; available in 22-oz bottles.
Le Freak, Green Flash Brewing Co.
Dark golden in color, this is a deliciously complex, bold and well-integrated beer. The nose is a balanced blend of citrus and spice, with lots of orange character. Dozens of flavors dance upon the palate, a lively blend of coriander, pepper, citrus, honey and bread notes. At 9.2% ABV, this is a big beer, but the hops, malt and yeast all work together to create an excellent balance. Enjoy this with rich, robust flavors—I’d suggest pork tenderloin with figs, bacon-wrapped filet mignon or a rich, creamy Brie. Available in 22-oz bottles.
Mischief, The Bruery
Described as a “highly hopped Belgian strong ale,” this beer lives up to its mischievous name. Unfiltered and bottle-conditioned, it offers a playful blend of bold yeast and hop flavors that play off each other from first whiff to last sip. On the nose, familiar citrus and pine notes give way to a hint of banana and spice, while yeasty, bready flavors mingle with citrus on the palate. The finish is crisp and dry, leaving just a slight hint of bitterness on the palate. 8.5% ABV; available in 750-ml bottles.
Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel, Brasserie d’ Achouffe
Houblon is the Belgian brewery’s nod to the IPA style, inspired by aromatic hops, which are traditionally absent from Belgian styles. While this beer is made with generous amounts of American and Czech hops, it is still distinctly Belgian in its roots. It pours a light golden color with a creamy head and a visible effervescence. The nose is distinctly yeasty, with hints of banana and spice. The hops here are balanced and subtle, a deft use of Amarillo, Tomahawk and Saaz varieties. All in all, this is a well-balanced beer that belies it’s 9% ABV. It is refreshing, intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable. Pair it with mussels steamed in beer, fish prepared with citrus or a wide range of cheeses. Available in 750-ml bottles.
A few for the craft beer calendar:
Friday, 9/3: Small Bar in University Heights gives Christian Bauweraerts, co-founder of Brasserie d’ Achouffe in Belgium, a warm welcome with an evening featuring three Chouffe beers, including Houblon, their IPA Tripel. The beers will be available by the glass, flight or with food pairings. If a pour of Houblon Chouffe with spicy mussels, shrimp, corn and hop sausage sounds tempting, head there early, as this is sure to be a popular event.
Saturday 9/4: Chris Bauweraerts has a busy schedule in San Diego, and today he spends the early afternoon at Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights followed by a few hours at O’Briens in Kearny Mesa. Blind Lady will offer a Chouffe-themed lunch, featuring three courses and three Chouffe beers. Tickets are $48 and reservations can be made by emailing email@example.com. Chris will be at O’Briens from 3–5 p.m., where there will be several Chouffe beers and Chouffe-inspired food, including a Houblon IPA mac n’ cheese.
Monday, 9/13: Stone’s ongoing women-only beer education series presents its latest class: Women in Brewing. Learn the role women have played in the brewing process throughout history and become inspired by the beers that women brewers are creating today. The class is led by several of Stone’s female employees. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased through Stone’s website.
Sunday 9/26: Mark your calendar for the O’Briens Sunday night tasting, which will feature Belgian beers carried by Wetten Importers, paired with food, cheese and dessert dishes. That means Delirium Tremens, Kasteel, Gouden Carolous and more. Tickets are $35 per person, and reservations can be made via a sign-up sheet at the pub.