Talking about Belgian Ale is a somewhat daunting task. Beer in Belgium is creative and variegated. I’ve already mentioned a couple of the types of Belgian Ales, which included Lambics and Trappist Ales. These are only two among many other styles. In many cases, different regions developed very different approaches. As a result, there will be some mention of regions along with a style. Following is a list of the various other types of Belgian Ales.
Belgian Red Ale, a.k.a., Flanders Red, a.k.a., Old Red
We are not talking about a Killian’s type beer here; rather, we are talking about a beer that tends to come from the West Flanders region of Belgium. This style has been called (by Michael Jackson) the world’s most refreshing beer. Vienna malt is the primary grist for this beer, which aids in giving the beer a red color. Once the beer is made, it is put in oak for about a year. This gives the beer a tartness and acidity that is unparalleled in the world of beers. Strangely, this beer is simultaneously loved and hated. I joke that it’s the Creed (the band) of beers: you either love it or hate it. I absolutely adore the style, but my brother hates it with a passion. If you don’t like a sour or tart beer, you probably won’t like it. If you like sour or tart, you’ll love this beer. Rodenbach is the easiest to find version.
Normally a celebration Ale, this beer is hard to define. It is Belgian, usually strong in alcohol, and pale. There are various versions of this beer that can be found. Since it is hard to define and not really an “official” (read legal) appellation, there are American breweries that have started making this “style.”
Belgian Strong Ale:
Alcohol-wise, these beers are like Barley Wine. These are also more wine-like than malty, which separates them from Barley Wine. The hops in this type of beer are also more restrained. Candy sugars or invert sugars are able to achieve high levels of fermentation and attenuate (thin down) the beer and give it a lighter feel than a heavy malt beer. Of course, they still use plenty of malt, just not exclusively.
From the French speaking area of Belgium, these beers are usually bottled and corked like wine. They are matured for months on end and broken out during the hot summer days. The beer was originally a complex-tasting thirst quencher, which lends itself to being somewhat of a session beer (i.e., you could have a few). These are typically made in farmhouse breweries. So, if you see American, Belgian, or other versions of this beer, they might be called a Farmhouse Ale. I’ve found that these beers have a nice spiciness from being dry hopped. Saison Dupont is the easiest authentic Belgian version that can be found in the U.S.