June 21, 2011

Belgian Beer Week! Choosing the Best Belgian Beers for Summer {Naptime Simple Tips}

Two years ago I wrote about summer 1997 and my first internship ever working at Vanberg & DeWulf, the Belgian beer importing business in Cooperstown, NY. During that summer I worked closely with Wendy Littlefield and Don Feinberg learning about all aspects of the beverage business. Amidst the flurry of office activity I also learned a lot about their beers. I was barely legal to drink at that point, and had not yet developed any sort of palate for beer or wine, but was intrigued by this new world that extended far beyond the dorm mainstay: Natty Light. In Belgium brewing beer is an art form; the Belgian take their beer as seriously as the French do their wine. To drink a Belgian beer is to enjoy it sip by sip with delicious rustic farmstead foods — it is not the kind of beer that is used for boat races or beer pong.

This week I am working with Wendy, who has since become a friend and mentor to me, on a special Belgian Beer-themed week on The Naptime Chef. Belgian beer can be paired with foods just like wine, and it is also wonderful to cook with. I don’t think it is a stretch to assume most home cooks drink wine or beer with dinner which is why I thought you all might enjoy learning about the beauty of Belgian ales. While Wendy and I were on the phone last week we dreamt up a gorgeous virtual Belgian picnic full of classic flemish flavors. The food is perfect for a picnic on the lake, at the beach, or at your own family table. I’ll share the menu, and recipes, with you tomorrow.

To kick things off Wendy and I compiled a recommend list of Belgian beers that are perfect for summer sipping. These are known at Biere de Tables in Belgium, this translates to Table Beers, and are typically enjoyed during family meals. They have a low-alcohol content, come in a variety of flavors and have a fine bubbly mouth feel akin to champagne. Younger children are often allowed to have small sips of Table Beers with their meals. It is the way Belgians teach their children to appreciate fine beers and food. Others are Saisons (beers brewed on the farm in the winter to quench the thirsts of farm hands  in the growing season); lemony light “Abbey Ales” (great accompaniment to mussels):  or “Wheat Beers” great with spicy foods: or Strong Golden Ales” so suited to grilled chops or burgers. There is  even a “Wild” beer in the mix as a surprise.

 

The beers we are highlighting today are all on the lighter side and pair well with flavorful summer meals. Stay tuned for our next installment tomorrow when we start cooking with beer and indulging in our virtual picnic!

Lambrucha

1) Lambrucha: This unique beer, the marriage of two fermented drinks, Kombucha and Lambic, was developed by Wendy and Don. Tasting Table Chicago recently stated, “Move over, Miller High Life: We’re declaring Lambrucha the new Champagne of Beers.” Strong words for such a new beverage! This tart bubbly drink is rose-colored with light, refreshing citrus notes which make it ideal for summer sipping, especially with summer vegetables and seafood. It is the mimosa of the beer world. Ultimate picnic brunch beer.

Avril Label

2) Avril Organic: This USDA-Certified Organic beer is touted as being one of the best Belgian session beers being ever. It has a very low alcohol content and its crisp, grassy notes. This the perfect palate-cleansing summer beer.

Saison Dupont

3) Saison Dupont: One of the most food friendly beers of all time, Saisons were to the type of beer Belgian farm workers would drink. Bottles were stashed  in nearby rivulets in the fields to stay cool while farm hands worked, taking cool sips, as needed, to stay refreshed. This is one of the ultimate picnic beers, it has a light straw color and is full of citrus and spicy notes.

Hop Ruiter

4) Hop-Ruiter: A new beer  developed by Don & Wendy in conjunction with the Schelde Brewery (a rising star on the Belgian microbrewing scene), Hop Ruiter combines the Belgian appreciation for esters and the American love of hops. Unlike American beers, the hop charachter is not piney, instead it is more reminiscent of an oakey white wine. This Strong Golden Ale is perfect for summer cookouts.

Witkap

5) Witkap Abbey Single Style Ale: If the monks drink this for lunch, why can’t you? This light beer is indeed the summer refresher all over Belgium and is often served with composed salads (more about that soon!) and fish. Revered for its champagny, citrus flavor, this beer is light summer sipping at its best.

Foret Blanche

6) Foret Blanche Organic: This brand new organic beer is a personal favorite of mine. I love the tart, yeasty flavor that pairs so well with fruity desserts. I’ll admit, I also love the pretty label. This beers comes from Brasserie Dupont, the makers of Saison Dupont and Avril, they are know as being the champions of organic beers in Belgium. This pairs especially well with summer seafood dishes.

For More Information on Belgian Beers, here are some helpful tips!

* This is Where To Buy these beers all over the US!

* In case you want to see the entire Vanberg & DeWulf Portfolio

* If you are traveling to Belgium soon be sure to check out Don & Wendy’s Belgian Travel Tips!

*Note, I was not compensated for this post in any way. The opinions and tips expressed here are solely my own.