As if you needed another reason to enjoy authentic Belgian beer, we present to you…. Christmas!!! (otherwise celebrated as “the Holidays”, the “Winter Solstice”, the “1 Day Hanukkah”, etc.). This week’s beer style is one that can be enjoyed year-round, but presents some especially flavorful versions to enjoy during this festive winter season.
The Belgian Strong Dark Ale can display characteristics from rather sweet and full-bodied, to dry with a tight finish. However, nearly all of the ones you’ll find will be malty, bottle-conditioned, and come with a fairly high (but relatively unnoticeable) alcohol content – couresy of the kick-ass yeast strains that serve to create a carbonation level which leaves a velvety sensation across the palate. It’s remarkable how well the Belgians perform this magic trick, as even the finest brewers here in the US have trouble replicating this sensation.
Here is the Gateway Beers profile of the typical characteristics found in a Belgian Strong Dark Ale (on a 1-5 bar scale):
Below is a more formal set of descriptions provided by the Beer Judge Certification Program’s most recent guidelines:
Aroma: Complex, with a rich malty sweetness, significant esters and alcohol, and an optional light to moderate spiciness. The malt is rich and strong, and can have a Munich-type quality often with a caramel, toast and/or bready aroma. The fruity esters are strong to moderately low, and can contain raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig or prune notes. Spicy phenols may be present, but usually have a peppery quality not clove-like. Alcohols are soft, spicy, perfumy and/or rose-like, and are low to moderate in intensity. Hops are not usually present (but a very low noble hop aroma is acceptable). No diacetyl. No dark/roast malt aroma. No hot alcohols or solventy aromas. No recognizable spice additions.
Appearance: Deep amber to deep coppery-brown in color (“dark” in this context implies “more deeply colored than golden”). Huge, dense, moussy, persistent cream- to light tan-colored head. Can be clear to somewhat hazy.
Flavor: Similar to aroma (same malt, ester, phenol, alcohol, hop and spice comments apply to flavor as well). Moderately malty or sweet on palate. Finish is variable depending on interpretation (authentic Trappist versions are moderately dry to dry, Abbey versions can be medium-dry to sweet). Low bitterness for a beer of this strength; alcohol provides some of the balance to the malt. Sweeter and more full-bodied beers will have a higher bitterness level to balance. Almost all versions are malty in the balance, although a few are lightly bitter. The complex and varied flavors should blend smoothly and harmoniously.
Mouthfeel: High carbonation but no carbonic acid “bite.” Smooth but noticeable alcohol warmth. Body can be variable depending on interpretation (authentic Trappist versions tend to be medium-light to medium, while Abbey-style beers can be quite full and creamy).
Overall Impression: A dark, very rich, complex, very strong Belgian ale. Complex, rich, smooth and dangerous.
(… I love that they use “dangerous” in the description)
The rich, fruity Belgian yeast character and malty sweetness play very well with both desserts and roasted meats, including beef tenderloin, filet, and even the other-other white meat, duck. For dessert, may we recommend a crème brulee, or anything sweet that is accompanied by rich fruits. This beer can hold its own with whatever flavorful, high-calorie partner you wish to pair it with.
The Belgian Strong Dark Ale should be served only slightly chilled (50-60 degrees / or ‘cellar temperature’), and is well suited for a wide-mouth glass.
What to Buy
It’s next to impossible to narrow down the 100+ varieties of BSDAs available throughout Eastern PA to just 3 top selections … but that’s our job, and we’re gonna do it!
Many of you have had the famous Chimay Grande Réserve (the “Blue” one) which is a fine example of the style, but we’re going to recommend these 3, because they fall in the slightly more festive “Christmas” variety of BSDA, and should absolutely be picked up at some point this month, to be enjoyed with friends and family doing whatever you want to call this season’s festivities…
– Scaldis Noël / Bush de Noël, 12% ABV (Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium)
– St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, 10% ABV (Watou, Belgium)
– Corsendonk Christmas Ale, 8.5% ABV (Oud-Turnhout, Belgium)
For additional options, just connect with us on FACEBOOK for daily recommendations this week… and leave a reply below to let us know what you think about the sytle!