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Belgian beer
With an American twist ...

It is no longer possible to list all the Belgian-influenced beers brewed in North America or all the bars and restaurants serving beer from Belgium.

It wasn't long ago that a beer lover had to drive hundreds of miles to sample a wit beer in a brewpub or had to beg a friend to mail a couple of 22-ounce "bombers" of a single batch of dubbel from a small microbrewery.

Now many microbreweries put Belgian-style beers in bottles, while a surprising number of brewpubs offer them on tap.

Boston Beer Works head brewer Brian Allen talked a while back about what he witnessed in his travels. "It seems like every brewpub I go to has a Belgian beer on. One had both a trappist and a triple," he said.

What's in a name?
The Confederation des Brasseries de Belgique hs been active when it comes to American brewers using the term "Belgian" to promote their beers, serving notice to small brewers and large alike. They even succeeded in winning labeling concessions from large brewer Coors and its "Blue Moon Belgian" White beer.

While a number of microbreweries offer outstanding representatives of the many Belgian styles, a few have dedicated themselves to making only Belgian styles. They include:

New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colorado.
New Belgium wrote one of the classic success stories of the 1990s, growing for a basement brewery into one of the fastest-growing micros in the country. The brewery, best known for its flagship Fat Tire Ale but a producer of a full line of classics, sold four times as much beer (100,000 barrels) in 1998 as all the Belgian imports combined. Production has grown more than 50% since, but although New Belgium reached 21st century of brewing before most others it didn't leave behind the soul of beer.

Brewery Oomegang, Cooperstown, N.Y.
The farmhouse brewery opened in 1997 as a joint venture between top-flight Belgian breweries and Vanberg & DeWulf, one of the country's leading importers of Belgian beers. Located on a 136-acre former hop farm, it's devoted to brewing traditional Belgian style beers. All three of its beers -- Ommegang (an abbey-style dubbel), Hennepin (as Grisette or farm house ale) and Rare Vos (a Brabant) -- are bottled conditioned. They are distributed, and sold at reasonable prices, in many areas of the U.S. where these styles have never been available.

Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec.
Founded in 1990, this brewery now sells its own interpretations of Belgian ale styles. While most of the sales are near home, the beers have a strong following in the United States and are even sold in Belgium. Its beers have names of different myths and legends of the first pioneers of the highlands of America and the labels are as striking as the excellent beers. They heavily promote the use of "refermentation" -- beer is fermented twice in the tank and then a third time in the bottle, a process that takes eight weeks.

Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, Maine.
Rob Todd literally built the Allagash Brewery himself, putting together a 15-barrel system that relies heavily on new and used dairy tanks. The first beer he sold was Allagash White and it's still the flagship beer. Allagash beers won medals in both the 1996 and 1998 World Cup competitions.

And then there was Celis ...
Peter Celis was famous for rescuing Belgium's "white beer" style when he was at Hoegaarden. He founded the Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas, in 1992 and his beers were an instant success. In 1995, Miller Brewing Co. bought a majority interest in the brewery -- then took complete control early in 2000. In December of that year Miller announced the brewery would close and the property would be sold. Production ceased before the beginning of 2001. The equipment and brands were sold to Michigan Brewing Co.

Where to drink
From Billy's Long Bar in Albuquerque, to the New French Cafe in Minneapolis, from Higgins Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Ore., to Cicero's in St. Louis, more and more bars in the United States are serving beers from Belgium. TapWerks Ale House & Cafe in Oklahoma City has put as many as nine Belgian beers on tap at once. Here's a look at four really outstanding spots, including Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia.