Ray's Craft Beer Newsletter
The United Beers of Belgium
November 2012
Volume 1 Issue 5
Dear Rays Craft Beer Lovers,
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. While the weather may not show it, winter will soon be upon us. Belgian beers are wonderful any time of the year, but I think that they work particularly well in the wintertime. The big, robust flavors and higher alcohol content seem perfect for a night inside. This issue we'll focus on Belgian style beers, but with with a twist. We'll examine American breweries' attempts at replicating their Belgian counterparts. How do they stack up? Only one way to find out!




Dan Downes
Little Sumpin' Wild
Velvet Rooster
Ovila Dubbel
Substitute Teacher
The term brown ale originates in England in the early-mid 1700s, but not necessarily as a beer style. It appears to simply be used as a descriptor for porters, one of the more popular styles at the time. The modern idea for what we call brown ales can be traced to 1902. It was in this year that Thomas Wells Thorpe invented a new bottled beer at Mann's Albion Brewery in Whitechapel, East London. Promoted as the "sweetest beer in London" it did not catch on until about twenty years later. Part of this can be attributed to World War I which caused a crash in beer strength (due to brewing materials being diverted to other uses) and an overall rise in the popularity of bottled beers. The increased popularity of brown ales lead to the creation of Newcastle Brown Ale in 1927, perhaps the most recognizable beer of the style. 
A beautiful partnership
English Brown Ales
Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Wild 

Technically, this is an American take of a Belgian take of an American take on English beer. Confused? Well allow me to explain. Most of of us are familiar with India Pale Ales. Traditionally an English beer, American breweries took the idea and made it their own. American IPAs have exploded, and are actually the largest selling style in the craft beer market! Belgian brewers took note of this success and decided to take a stab at brewing a hoppy pale ale with Belgian yeast which has come to be known as the Belgian IPA.  


Little Sumpin' Wild is Lagunitas Brewing's attempt at a Belgian IPA.They brewery dubs LSW the big sister or Little Sumpin' Sumpin' (a beer we've previously discussed) and that's the perfect description. Fermented with a Westmalle Trappist yeast, the beer pours a rich golden color with a beautiful haziness and rich white head from the wheat in the mash bill. Much like their IPAs, you'll get a big burst of hop flavors. There will be pininess as well as deep fruit notes of pineapple and grapefruit. The real beauty in this beer, though, is the finish. The Westmalle yeast gives all the characteristics of Belgian beer you enjoy. There's the requisite spiciness (especially coriander), and I even get a certain level of tanginess that makes this beer such a complex treat to enjoy. With a slight warmth and dryness from the 8.8% ABV, if you enjoy IPAs and Belgian beers, this is a match made in heaven! 


Compare to: Houblon Chouffe, Piraat, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor 

Tallgrass Velvet Rooster
Velvet Rooster -- Think that only a Trappist monk can brew a Tripel? Well, The people from Tallgrass brewery in Manhattan, Kansas would beg to differ. The inspiration for this beer came from Auntie Mae's Parlor -- a local bar that once housed a 1930s Speakeasy in a plumbing store. Being the first ever Belgian style Tripel in a can, the Tallgrass people took a lot of risks with this beer and they payed off. It pours a straw color with strong effervescence and a solid head. Biscuity and malt heavy on the aroma, melon and lemon come through as well with a touch of cloves. The malt sweetness comes through taste along ripe banana and lemon peel. These flavors blends well with the Belgian yeast that offers some hints of pepper on the aftertaste. This beer is a perfect accompaniment to a sharp bleu cheese or aged Gouda.

Compare to: Westmalle Tripel, Chimay White, Maredsous 10, Affligem Tripel


Ovila Dubbel

 Ovila dubbel -- No one says you have to be a monk to brew a great abbey ale, but sometimes it's nice to get some backup. As part of the Ovila series, Sierra Nevada collaborated with Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, CA. A portion of the proceeds from sales will go to the restoration of the historic Ovila chapter house building. Dating back to the 12th century, William Randolph Hearst visited it during a trip to Spain in the 1930s and thought it would make a grand castle for his family (I'm sure that's the reaction most of us would have). He then paid to have it dismantled and shipped piece by piece back to California. Perhaps another, younger 13th century ruins caught his eye, because the stones sat in storage until the monks acquired ownership in 1994.
Copper in color, this dubbel offers all the malty sweetness you come to expect from the style. In addition to carmelized sugar, raisin and plum fruitiness add to the complexity. Finishing with the Belgian spiciness, drink this beer and help a monk out!

Compare to: St. Bernardus Prior 8, Grimbergen Dubbel, Chimay Red, Rochefort 8 
New Belgium 1554


Entitled "an enlightened Black ale," 1554 actually utilizes a bottom fermenting yeast and dark, chocolaty malts that will change your idea on what a lager can be. In 1997, a Fort Collins flood destroyed the original recipe so two members of the NB team traveled to belgium to find the recipe. After slogging through hundreds of books, antiquated measuring systems and outdated Flemish dialects, they achieved success! The result is an extremely drinkable beer that doesn't skimp on flavor. The dark mahogany appearance of the beer may scare off some, but this is my #1 choice to convert people who claim they don't like "dark" beer. Bittersweet chocolate is the first thing to comes to mind when describing 1554. The chocolate and toffee sweetness is balanced by enough bitterness and roasted flavors. Creamy smooth, the subtle acidity on the finish makes you want to go back for more and you won't regret it!

Compare to: Leffe Brown

Furthermore Makeweight

Makeweight -- The people at Furthermore call this beer a "bastardization." While I suppose it may be technically true, you'll have a hard time calling it that after tasting. Combining Belgian, American and English ale styles, this beer really does taste like three beers in one. Belgian yeast, English malts and American hops come together to produce a brew that's different every time you sip it. Toffee, caramel and slight nuttiness are the dominant flavors. Mildly hoppy, you'll still be able to pick up the Belgian yeast spiciness in the aroma. Definitely a unique beer from Wisconsin worth a shot!

Compare to: Nothing like it!
Substitue Teacher

If you like Nosferatu...
Then you'll like Santa's Private Reserve Ale

In addition to wooden spikes and holy water, winter also kills vampires. One of our favorite seasonal beers, Nosferatu is long gone by the time December rolls around. All is not lost, though! As Nosferatu goes away, another seasonal beer rises up to take its place

Rogue's annual holiday offering, they take their red ale and double the hops with Chinook, Centennial and a mystery hop they call "Rudolph."  A 2011 world beer championship gold medal winner, Santa's Private Reserve has all the things you love about Nosferatu. First and foremost, you'll get the big hop with incredible grassy/piney notes on the nose coming through the tase. Fresh spruce tips add a pleasant earthiness. Caramel breadiness from the malt rounds out the flavors and add another layer of intricacy. Whether you've been naughty or nice, you deserve this beer!
Thanks again for subscribing to and reading Ray's craft beer newsletter. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to email me at dandownes@rayswine.com

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Dan & the gang at Ray's

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