The recent release of the blockbuster Adventures of Tintin movie got your humble narrator to thinking about Belgium.
Yes, gentle reader, in addition to being home to that spunky investigative reporter Tintin and his little dog Snowy, Belgium is also home to the finest and most diverse beers the world over.
While many countries can lay claim to a dozen or two beer styles being widely available, there are over 500 different styles of beer available in Belgium, which truly makes it the mecca that all beer geeks one day long to visit.
Unlike the German breweries that are faithful to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, the Belgians do not feel the same restraints of using only water, barley, hops, and yeast in their beers.
No, gentle reader, those wacky Belgian brewmasters will put all manner of different spices and flavorings into their beers, including coriander, wormwood, schisandra, and a host of others.
Belgian brewers also play fast and loose with wild yeast strains, resulting in the unique lambic style of beer that relies on spontaneous fermentation caused by wild airborne yeast spores.
It is no surprise that many craft breweries the world over try to emulate some of the many diverse styles that come from the rich cornucopia of the Belgian beer industry.
The best known Canadian example is probably Quebec-based Unibroue, which has been producing a wide variety of Belgian-inspired beers since 1993.
However, the first Belgian-inspired brewery in North America is the aptly named New Belgium Brewing Company, whose taps started flowing in Colorado in 1991.
New Belgium was started up by an electrical engineer who was a closet home brewer. After many accolades from friends and family for the homebrew he brought out during BBQs and tailgate parties, he quit his day job and went pro, opening up a small brewing operation in a railroad depot.
Runaway demand for their delicious product caused them to outgrow their first facility quickly, so they had to move to bigger and better digs just a few years later.
Since they had the cash flow to design the new brewery location to their exacting standards, they took the time to do it right. The current brewery is entirely wind-powered, and has one of the lowest carbon footprints of any brewery, largely thanks to ongoing sustainability efforts, even including onsite wastewater treatment and a biogas digester that uses waste materials to generate methane which runs the heating systems.
But enough of the jibber-jabber about the brewery – let’s talk about the beer!
Their flagship beer is called Fat Tire, named after a life-changing trip the founder took across Belgium on a bicycle, stopping at every brewery along the way to sample their wares.
Fat Tire is an easy-drinking Amber Ale, with a flavour that is complex enough to win the appreciation of the beer snob demographic, but not so much as to scare off the drinkers of that fizzy yellow water that the megabreweries refer to as the mass market.
New Belgium does have 29 different brews available, but only a few were available at the beer geek bar where your intrepid liquor reporter was drinking with his lady friend last week. Raised on a steady diet of Coors Lite in her college years, my drinking companion most enjoyed the Blue Paddle, made in the traditional style of a Pilsner, one of the lightest-tasting and most lady-friendly beers available.
Your humble narrator, however, went entirely to the other end of the spectrum, finding malty joyfulness in the 1554 Enlightened Black Ale, named for the year this dark brew was first made in a Belgian Abbey to keep the monks nourished during their many fasts.
Using a unique lager yeast that is fermented at ale temperatures, along with dark malts to provide sustenance for the pious monks, this beer was more like a meal in a glass, with full and strong flavours that would scare off a novice beer drinker. Luckily, your intrepid liquor reporter was up for the challenge, and quickly ordered another bottle.
With production of 700,000 barrels of beer last year, New Belgium is currently the third-largest craft brewer in the USA, and can even be found at select booze merchants right here in Alberta. Check your local well-stocked liquor store for a six-pack today!