If you hear the words Belgian brew and think of delicious but heavy ales filled with rich and spicy notes, prepare yourself for a paradigm shift. The Flemish people have embraced more styles of beer than any other country, and that includes a variety of bottles that are just the thing for early summer drinking. Here are three new arrivals that will help you understand just how wonderfully complex the world of Belgian ales can be.
Halve Maan Brugse Zot
This fairly new brew--first released in 2005--comes from a rather old brewery (they opened their "new" facility in 1856). The name for this golden ale comes from the moniker Flemish neighbors have given the citizens of Bruges--Bruges fools. This eminently quaffable ale throws a rich, frothy head. The flavors are lightly sour with a nice dried fruit quality (apricot and apple). This beer finishes on the dry side but with a soft malt sweetness and touches of orange and spice. It comes in a 20-ounce bomber, but at a reasonable 6 percent alcohol, you can probably finish it on your own.
Van Eecke Poperings Hommel Ale
This is the original hopped-up Belgian ale, which makes sense. It has been brewed for hundreds of years in Poperinge, the preeminent Belgian hop-growing district. Hommel translates as hops in the local dialect, and this brew is filled with zesty, just bitter flavors, tinged by citrus and orange zest. It pours a hazy amber with floral aromas of rose petal and honeysuckle. On the palate, it is exceptionally well-balanced, with spice notes coming through on the dry, grain-laced finish. It's a marvelously refreshing ale.
Van Steenberge Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale
It you're thinking sour as in tart, like kraut or lemon juice, think again. This unique brew pours a copper-tinged chestnut brown with a decadently frothy head that lingers. It's a traditional blend of young and old beers bottled for Philadelphia's Monk Cafe, and the aromas do sport a sour dough-like quality, but the first impression on the palate is of sweet caramel malt. Then the sour starts to kick in, further sips offering elements of tart cherry and apple along with soft oak and vanilla. Surprisingly refreshing for such a brawny brew, this one will grow on you in an insidiously lovely way.