A bit of Belgium in Quebec

By Donald S. Gosselin

If you were asked which country has the greatest amount of breweries per capita, what would your answer be? Germany? Britain?, the United States? Wrong, wrong and wrong.

That honor belongs to Belgium, a place where some of the finest beers are produced in Trappist monasteries. Oddly enough, Belgian cloistered monks produce some of the world's best and most unique styles of beer. One such example, a trippel or extra strong ale, can have an alcohol content as high as twelve percent. Dubbels, or strong ales, usually fall into the six to nine percent range. The special type of ale yeast used in brewing these beers, as well as the brewer's use of candy sugar, often adds fruity aromas and flavors of banana and clove spice. Another odd Belgian style is the witbier or white beer. Crafted from barley and unmalted wheat and spiced with orange and coriander, witbiers are light and refreshing. As is the case with most Belgian ales, trippels, dubbels and witbiers are truly packed with flavor. Needless to say, Bud drinkers beware.

As the microbrewing renaissance grows in America and Canada, new breweries are embracing these quirky styles of brewing, often with delightful results. Unibroue is one such example; this small and eccentric Quebec microbrewery obviously takes its cue from Belgium. Unibroue naturally conditions their beers in the bottle, hence the consumer will find small amounts of yeast sediment at the bottom of each bottle. The sharp yeasty flavor of these ales is distinctly Belgian, with common flavor notes of clove, spice and tart fruit. Fin du Monde (End of the World) is a 9% alcohol blockbuster of a Belgian triple or extra strong ale. Maudite (Damn!) at 8% is slightly lower in strength and reminiscent of b>Orval, a strong ale brewed by Belgian Trappist monks. Blanche de Chambly, a Belgian-style witbier, boasts the cloudiness, frothiness, spice and clove of this unique style of wheat beer, but is missing the orange essence often found in other wit beers including, Hoegaarden, Blanche de Bruge, American contract-brewed Wit! and Celis White, brewed in Texas. Raftman, an unusual smoked beer made from Scotch whisky malt, rounds out the offerings of this offbeat Quebecois brewery. Raftman is light to medium bodied with a hint of peat smoke in the nose and plenty of smoky, single malt scotch flavor.

A recap of this month's Yankee Brew Review: Ratings range from * poor to ***** excellent

Blanche de Chambly (Wit beer of Chambly) - Cloudy with yeast and pale. Clove and coriander spice nose. Effervescent, minty and tart flavor, quenching. Smooth and clean finish with little, if any, orange essence commonly found in this style of beer. ** 1/2

Raftman - Light copper color with nice bead of foam. Mostly malt aroma with a bit of clove and peat smoked malt. Prominent smoke flavor with gentle malt finish. ** 1/2

Maudite (Damn!) - Medium amber ale with lacy head of foam. Generous apple and pear aroma with a hint of cloves. Mint clove and pepper flavors from high alcohol (8%). Pleasantly smooth finish with malt caramel. Damn fine beer indeed! ****

Fin du Monde (End of the World) - Pale golden color, yeasty with a dense head of foam. Aroma mostly of lemon citrus with pepper from high alcohol (9%). Flavor is tart and fruity with cloves and alcohol kick. Finish doesn't linger very long. ***

© 1996 Donald S. Gosselin