Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Belgium's New Wave of American-Hoppy Beers.

Well, I think it's a "new wave." I keep repeating it, hoping others will meme it. (Is that a verb? It is now.) I'm talking about the growing number of Belgian beers that show more hop aroma and hop bitterness than in the recent past... most notably several using distinctively American hops.

If you'd like to hunt a few down, here are some leads. There are many, many more that fall short of being interesting. I'll ignore them.

Two of the best examples are the Chouffe Houblon from Achouffe/Duvel and the IV Saison from Jandrain-Jandrenouille, for very different reasons. The Houblon was one of the pioneers, and it smashes certain myths by showing how compatible the citrus-hop aroma can be with Belgian yeasty esters – when done right. The bitterness also hides the (unnecessarily) strong alcohol at 9%. The IV Saison, meanwhile, is an admirable show of balance and restraint. It checks in at a reasonable 6.5% strength, with serious hop aroma but reasonable bitterness that doesn't stick to your tongue. It's pretty damn refreshing and the sort you could drink all day on draft – if you're lucky enough to find it.

La Rulles has been putting out great stuff with American hops for a while now, including its Triple and more sessionable Estivale. More recently the brewery put out a special one called Jean Chris Numero 1 for a couple of friends. Lots of tasty grapefruit in that one, also reasonable at 6% strength.

I'm not a big fan of Lefebvre's beers – some are too sweet and others just plain boring – but I feel OK in recommending the Hopus (which is on the ZBF list, by the way). It's really pretty bitter, even to my de-sensitized American palate, which it makes it more interesting than anything else from Lefebvre. It might even be too bitter, and it's still too sweet and sticky, but like I said – interesting. Another sweetish one that's still pretty decent is the Luppo from Belgoo. It might remind you of canned fruit cocktail, but the hops help make it highly drinkable.

I know what I think. I think the "new wave" might be one of the most exciting things to happen to Belgian beer in years. But I'm not normal. I want to know what you think. OK, maybe you're not normal either. But I'm still interested.


  1. The De Ranke XX Bitter is quite tasty. I'm not sure what variety they use but it is plenty bitter for its 6%. My local also occasionally has Gouden Carolous Hopsinjoor but I've missed it every time.

  2. Yeah, the XX Bitter is well established now. I'm not sure which hops are in there either, but I believe the aroma-hopping is of the Noble variety. Pretty floral. I'll see if I can find out.

  3. Nice article.
    I like all the beers you list, especially the La Rulles Jean Chris. That beer was actually brewed at La Rulles by Christophe Gillard the owner of Mi-Orge Mi-Houblon, a great bottle shop in Arlon, and Jean- François Vaux the owner of Jean le Chocolatier, which I think is also in Arlon and makes great chocolates.


  4. Greg, I'm with you on being really impressed with the Jean Chris. And somehow I'm thinking this was a single-hop beer? Damned if I can remember the hop though.

  5. American inspired hoppy beers are a step in the right direction, that's for sure. But it would be something really exciting to watch if the Belgian market started opening up for foreign beer, so beer drinkers could just broaden their horizons a little bit. Because let's face it: many, if not most of Belgium's beer lovers are totally ignorant of what the rest of the world has to offer beerwise.

  6. Joe - JeanChris No 1 is hopped with Amarillo, so there you are, American hops again. I agree that it's a very good beer -- chocolate beers are usually dark and very roasty but JC1 is amber and more like a fruity English bitter or a Belgian pale. Tried it last night with some of Jean's chocs, which are also very nice, but it was great to drink on its own. Just written a piece about Mi-Orge Mi-Houblon for Beers of the World.

  7. Is it really Amarillo in the JeanChris? For some reason I was thinking it was Centennial, but I believe you're right. Also Orval yeast in there. I hope to see it more often. Especially on draft.