Food & Wine Thursdays: The Belgian Beer Obsession

Here’s another post about beer.

Am I the only one who’s been drinking Belgian beers since high school?

That’s an exaggeration. The only beer I had prior to college was one Coors Light at a shitty house party. I was a good kid.

The original fade haircut.

But still, I’ve been drinking (and loving) Chimay for about a half-dozen plus two years now. I’ve also been drinking Orvel, Westmalle, Stella, Hoegaarden, Duvel, Delirium Tremens, and all the other readily available Belgian beers for a long time. And I’ve loved the ones I’ve had more recently, like Le Chouffe and Kwak. Belgium makes fabulous beers and many many different kinds of beers. Every neighborhood seems to have its own style.

I’m not knocking Belgian beers. I have something else to knock.

Why does seemingly every single upscale bar in LA have a hard-on for Belgian and Belgian-style beers?

To be fair, you also couldn’t swing a dead racehorse penis in the Bay Area without hitting a new Belgian-themed gastropub, but it expanded more slowly and organically there. A Luka’s here. A Trappist there.

There are numerous bars and gastropubs that will only serve Belgian/Belgian-style beers. That’s like a restaurant only serving French wines. It shows a myopic view of the culinary world under the guise of pretentious class.

There seems to be this attitude that somehow Belgian beer is inherently superior to the premium beers of other nations. That somehow because it comes in a corked bottle and is served in a quaint glass, that makes it an elegant experience—something superior to a quality pint of porter with a plate of chili cheese fries.

And why would you serve only Belgian beers? Despite their diversity, you’re limiting yourself stylistically. With the exception of the mass market Belgians like the aforementioned Stella Artois and Hoegaarden, you’re dealing primarily with robust, high-alcohol ales that knock you out after a glass or two. All but one of Wurstkuche’s Belgian drafts are 8% ABV or higher. Session beers they aren’t.

As I’ve mentioned before, that’s often the beauty of beer: swilling pints with friends over the course of an evening. It’s not wine. It’s not something to be enjoyed as preciously as wine. It’s meant to be drunk, gulped, chugged, and enjoyed in broad strokes, just like the food you drink it with. Pizza. Sausages. Fish and chips. Burgers. Fries.

How do they drink beer in England? Proper pints. In most cases, 20 ounce pints. In Germany (outside of Berlin anyway)? Half-liters and, in Bavaria, the one liter “Maß,” while not necessarily the default serving, is almost universally available and enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. The Czech Republic? Half-liters. Australia? Seven gallon gravity-tapped backpacks. And in America the 16 ounce pint used to be the universal. These are the proper beer-drinking countries of the world. Hell, Belgium serves most beers in a half-liter too, but try to get yourself a half-liter of Maredsous in California and some ironically sideburned bartender in thick-rimmed glasses will look at you like you’re an uncultured, unhip lunatic.

What farmhouse sour ale pairs best with an Albanian neo-soul-punk 12"?

With the Belgianization of our beer experience has come the shrinking of our beer servings. Why can’t I get a damn proper pint in an upscale bar or gastropub? I’m paying at least eight bucks, after all.  And then there’s the worst trend of them all… beer pairings.

I find the thought of nuanced course-for-course beer pairing rather nauseating. Beer is great with food. In many instances better with certain foods than wine is. A pint of real Pilsner with a dozen oysters hits the spot better than any Sauvignon Blanc. A Schwarzbier with Black Forest ham on rye is lovely, as is a well balanced Pale Ale with pretty much anything.

I like Belgian beer the same way I like Scotch: a glass or two every now and then. It’s not a go-to. It can’t be. You’ll go broke and get hammered.

And it sucks that the growing pretentious beer crowd has got me thinking about Belgian beer the same way I think of Courvoisier Cognac, Rolex watches, and Patron Tequila: faux-upscale products for those whose conception of class begins and ends with the advertisements in GQ. It deserves so much better. It deserves to be pulled off that pedestal.

About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
This entry was posted in Beer & Meat, Food, Home of the Bizarre Rant and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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