Aah, Belgium, one of the greatest beer countries in the world. And one of the most divided countries as well…or so I’m told. Having never visited, yet…I can only absorb information about the mystical, magical land of irreplaceable beers from other sources. Near the center of the country is the capital of Belgium; Brussels, a city that’s officially bi-lingual. To further drive home the division of the country, as it stands right now there’s officially no operating government because the inhabitants are so far from getting along, one has yet to be set in place that the factions can agree on.
Yet out of a country so small it could fit into the state of Wisconsin nearly 5 ¼ times comes some of the best beer in the world. Amidst all the differences, the country can relatively agree on one thing; great beer. Relatively. They all like good beer, they’re just divided on what “good beer” is.
Duvel Moortgat, a brewery that can lay claim to inventing a style of beer; Duvel, the Belgian Strong Golden Ale, calls this place home and recently acquired the U.S. brewer of great Belgian-style beers, Ommegang (the Flemmish word for parade or precession). Joined by Tom Gardener the local Duvel market manager, our Belgian evening at Ray’s was an exploration of not only great beer but also history!
We kicked off our evening beer expedition with Ommegang’s Witte, a style of beer that stems from the town of Hoegaarden in Belgium. This style was initially brewed with unmalted wheat and never included additives like orange peel or coriander. Those additions were later added and to the popularity, have carried through to our time, popularizing beers like Blue Moon.
Rare Vos, or “Sly Fox” snuck in our glasses next. The Belgian amber ale is brewed with the same house yeast as the rest of the beers from Ommegang, a house yeast that’s become their own but originated in Belgium itself.
Poured next was the infamous Duvel, a beer incredibly drinkable yet packs enough of a punch (which you’ll never see coming) it was named “devil”. This iconic brew was initially intended to be a Scotch ale and went awry, turning into an ale that takes 90 days to ferment, 3 times longer than most other ales!
Build on a hop farm that used to commercially produce, Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York was the first farmstead brewery built in over 100 years and the parent company, Duvel Moortgat, is the largest brewer of specialty Belgian beers in Belgium!
And in following in the footsteps of Belgium, Ommengang didn’t release any of their beers on draught for 5 years. In Belgium beers aren’t typically on draught, they’re served in the bottle mostly poured into proper glassware and served with the yeast in the bottle for the imbiber to decide whether he or she wants it poured into the glass.
Our next beer, Hennepin, changed things for Ommegang. It was their first draught beer which sky-rocketed to their #1 seller and soon everything followed suit; all their beer is currently available on draught.
And speaking of draught, Duvel Green, the draught version of Duvel has changed slightly and is now billed as Duvel Single, available at most places that carried Duvel Green!
Nearing the end of our tasting, we experienced Abbey, a Belgian-style dubbel beer from Ommegang that began our journey into Trappist beers and the orders of Benedictines that create such masterful brews. Duvel, now in collaboration with Maredsous, the largest monastery in Belgium, which also makes cheese, brews their beers.
Last on our list of seven great beers was Three Philosophers from Ommegang, a Belgian-style Quadruple, commonly called a Quad. The Quad style derives it’s name from the Benedictine monks that brew who, instead of initially naming beer had a “single” and a “dubbel” or double-strength beer. Quickly following after was the tripel, and sure enough, the Quad, first brewed by the Dutch monastery Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven B.V. in the Netherlands. It remains one of my favorite and, ironically, one of the more easily accessible quads out there.
Three Philosophers was one of my first introductions to the style a few years ago and remains one of my favorites as well. This quad is blended with 2% Kriek Boon, a cherry ale from Belgium. We were instructed to try this beer with a strong, assertive cheese, a suggestion I intend to take!
Keep your eyes peeled for the latest Ommegang beer to be hitting shelves soon; Aphrodite, a beer brewed with raspberry and pear!
Once again Ray’s comes through with another enjoyable, informational, and delicious tasting. They’re taking the month of June off but will return on August 11th with Goose Island. The upcoming event will stick with the Belgian theme and feature a few Belgian-style beers from Goose Island side-by-side with the true Belgian counterparts! It sounds like an awesome event that will sell out undoubtedly soon. Tickets go for only $20, so get ‘em here before they’re gone!