American Belgian Style

Or would it be Belgian American Style. The craft beer renaissance has been going strong on the North American continent for more than twenty years now and it hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

About six or seven years ago, a distributor who handled Belgian imports approached me and he let me try a few samples. Unfortunately I was not as open-minded as I am today and I found them odd tasting and very strong. In the years that followed there has been an invasion of Belgian beer especially in the last two or three years. Many of our creative American brewers have been producing “Belgian Style” beers. There are also some breweries that are completely dedicated to these styles. Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York that operates under Duvel, one of the more prominent Belgian breweries, produces four or five different beers. In Fort Collins Colorado a very talented brewer from Belgium has teamed with a stellar marketing team and if you haven’t heard of Fat Tire from New Belgium Brewing Co. yet, you have now. Up to the north in Canada there is Unibroue, which features an excellent selection of terrific beers.

Many of our favorite local brewers produce terrific examples of the Belgian style. The newly re-opened Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, Ca. has about a dozen of his wonderful creations on tap evenly divided into American and Belgian styles. I recently held a beer and food-pairing event with Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River featuring six brews and the Belgians outnumbered the American styles two to one. Vinnie is an incredible brewer and an excellent speaker (remember last year’s Chimay dinner) and we all had a good time.

We started the reception with Redemption (everyone could use a little redemption) which is a lighter style usually consumed by the monks in Belgium. Then we sat down to Lobster Bisque with Beerocracy, which is an American Style Pale Ale with just enough hops to cut the richness of the soup. Next it was back to Belgium with Damnation, a strong golden ale with notes of banana from the yeast. Torchon of Foie Gras with Banana Salsa complimented the flavor of the beer while the hoppy finish made the pate go down easily. The next beer was Temptation aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels for ninety days and paired with Veal Cheek Ravioli, Soft-shelled Crab and Tarragon Beurre Blanc. Back to California once again with Pliny the Elder, a double IPA described in last month’s column, paired nicely with the Point Reyes Blue Cheese Flan. The intensely flavored cheese took the bite out of the beer and vise versa. We finished up with Salvation, a strong dark ale with tons of malt and fruit flavor and a hint of spice. Chef’s Dessert surprise was Chocolate Mousse accented with Ancho Chile and boy were they surprised.

As you can see there are an endless number of food and beer combinations to sample as well as create. The Cathedral Hill Hotel will host CAPC for a “Dinner with the Brewmaster on September 20, 2004 so be on the lookout for more information. In the meantime get out and try some new beer.


Chef Bruce