A while back the BBC posted a feature titled "50 things to eat before you die" and I thought at the time that this would make a good topic for beer. So in the spirit of adventure and living life to the fullest, etc. etc., I’m coming up with the 50 beers to drink before you die, in ten weekly installments listing five beers each (in no particular order, other than whatever theme I fit them into).
This week’s theme is Belgian beers. There’s simply no way you could make a list of this sort without acknowledging the presence of Belgium in the beer world; even so this list (like the rest of it) might seem woefully under-represented. And don’t worry, that most Belgian of beers, lambic, is represented elsewhere…
I’ll start by saying that I don’t know if this is the best beer in the world… but it’s definitely near the top of the list. It’s a beer that reminds me that no matter how much I think I know about beer, there’s a whole different level I haven’t even reached yet. As it should be.
There’s not much more to say. If there’s only one beer that you try from this entire series, this should be the one.
BeerAdvocate score: 90/100, 98% approval.
Jenlain Original French Ale
Even though the Bière de Garde style originated in Belgium, it’s one that French brewers have adopted and do really well. Synonymous with "French farmhouse ale," it’s name literally means "beer for keeping" and as such was traditionally brewed on the family farm in the winter and kept in storage until the summer months. It that regards it’s similar to the Saison style (which is covered above).
Brasserie Duyck, the brewer of the Jenlain line of ales, has been brewing these beers since 1922. Their Original French Ale is an oft-cited classic example of this style of beer. Look for a lot of complexity, as well as the spices and herbs that exemplify the style.
BeerAdvocate score: 85/100, 96% approval.
St. Bernardus Witbier
The Belgian Witbier style is a wheat beer that is unfiltered and spiced (usually) with coriander and orange peel. It’s sometimes translated as "white beer" as in the eponymous Celis White—and in fact, has become something of a popular style in the United States.
But you really need to go to the source to experience the style. And you’ll find that experience with St. Bernardus.
BeerAdvocate score: 89/100, 99% approval.
The style known as "Flanders Red Ale"—of which this Grand Cru belongs—is one of the most unusual styles I’ve come across. Of the style, BeerAdvocate says:
They are infamous for their distinct sharp, fruity, sour and tart flavours which are created by special yeast strains. Very complex beers, they are produced under the age old tradition of long-term cask aging in oak, and the blending of young and old beers.
This is one of the top beers of this style. According to their own site, they quote Michael Jackson as saying its "the most refreshing beer in the world." Can you get a better recommendation than that?
BeerAdvocate score: 89/100, 96% approval.
Personally I think this is one of the best beers to represent the Belgian strong ale class of styles—actually, I think any of the Rochefort series (6, 8 and 10) will do, but I picked this one because I think it finds a good middle ground. At 9.2% alcohol by volume, tread lightly and take time to savor this ale.
BeerAdvocate score: 91/100, 99% approval.