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10 Great American-Made Belgian Ales

January 21, 2014  |  11:53am
10 Great American-Made Belgian Ales

Among hardcore beer geeks, you will occasionally run into a subset that one might refer to as “Belgian purists.” These purists reiterate what we all know—Belgian ales are awesome—but take it one step further by claiming that all the best Belgian-style beer comes from Belgium itself. Some take this line of thinking even further, claiming that only the Trappist breweries are worth drinking, and so on and so forth.

There’s no doubt that many great Belgian-style ales come straight from the source, but the American craft brewing scene has developed its own wonderful knack for churning out classic Abbey-style ales, saisons and even lambic-style beers. The nomenclature and flavor palettes may be a little different, but many are just as delightful as beer from Belgium itself.

Here, then, are 10 great American-made Belgian ales, some of them decidedly on the underrated side, but all fine examples of their respective styles. Please note, this list is limited to beers that are widely available, or else it would just be 10 entries from Hill Farmstead in Vermont or other nano-breweries.

10. Big Bison Ale
Brewery: Crown Valley Brewing Co.
City: Ste. Genevieve, MO
ABV: 7.2%
Style: Abbey-style dubbel
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A largely unheralded beer from a small brewery in rural Missouri, this is nonetheless one of the better American takes on the Abbey dubbel style. It combines a toasted, nutty malt character with the style’s characteristic spiciness and mild Belgian funkiness to create a very well-balanced, thoughtful product. You could insert this beer into a series of blind taste-tests of other Belgian dubbels and none of the volunteers would peg it as “the American one.”

9. Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Co.
City: Kansas City, MO
ABV: 8.5%
Style: Belgian-style saison/farmhouse ale
boulevard tank 7.jpg

The remarkable commercial success of Boulevard’s Tank 7 is one of the clearest indicators that American craft beer drinkers have embraced Belgian ales in a huge way, even in the heart of the Midwest. A vibrant, assertive beer that emphasizes the American influence on Belgian tradition, Tank 7 is alive with grapefruity American hops that combine deliciously with esters of bubblegum and peppercorns. It has become an unexpected flagship brand for Boulevard and has no doubt introduced thousands of newcomers to the dangerously drinkable world of saisons and farmhouse ales. Also, it goes great with Thanksgiving dinner.

8. Allagash White
Brewery: Allagash Brewing Co.
City: Portland, Maine
ABV: 5%
Style: Witbier
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There are plenty of great American “white ales” from companies like Avery, Bell’s and Great Lakes, but Allagash White is without a doubt the quintessential American wit. Spiced with the traditional Belgian additives of coriander and bitter orange peel, it just gets everything right. Unlike some of its cloyingly sweet peers (such as the ubiquitous Blue Moon), it reins in the sugary orange flavors in favor of balance between the bready malt, citrus and spicy finish. If you have a friend who drinks nothing but Blue Moon, have them try this.

7. Russian River Damnation
Brewery: Russian River Brewing Co.
City: Santa Rosa, CA
ABV: 7.75%
Style: Belgian-style strong golden ale

The guys at Russian River are acknowledged masters of both American India Pale Ales and startlingly complex American sour/wild ales, but they also make some very fine, traditional takes on classic Belgian ales. They’re not afraid to admit that Damnation, one of their few selections available year-round, was pretty much inspired directly by the famed Belgian golden ale Duvel. It’s a delicious tribute. It’s the kind of beer that seems simple enough at first glance but inspires countless reevaluations over time.

6. Brewery Vivant Triomphe Belgian IPA
Brewery: Brewery Vivant
City: Grand Rapids, MI
ABV: 6.5%
Style: Belgian IPA
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The “Belgian IPA” style is a decidedly American take on Belgian-style brewing, but if it’s made with a Belgian yeast strain, it’s eligible for this list. Good Belgian IPAs highlight the best aspects of both tradition (in a classically estery and funky Belgian yeast profile) and innovation (in big, bold American hop flavors). There are any number of great ways to achieve this combination, but Brewery Vivant’s Triomphe is among the better that are available year-round. This Grand Rapids brewery focuses entirely on Belgian-American fusions, operating out of a renovated church. Visiting in person is about as close as one can get to drinking at a monastery in Belgium.

5. Boulevard Long Strange Tripel
Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Co.
City: Kansas City, MO
ABV: 9.2%
Style: Abbey-style tripel
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Honestly, who would have thought a brewery in Kansas City would be cranking out world-class Belgian-style ales? Brimming with all the usual tripel characteristics from bubblegum and banana to a long, spicy finish, it’s a beer that could easily masquerade as a genuine abbey product. It’s part of Boulevard’s always-solid Smokestack Series, which also includes an excellent abbey-style quadrupel, The Sixth Glass.

4. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere
Brewery: Jolly Pumpkin Brewing Co.
City: Dexter, MI
ABV: 4.5%
Style: Belgian-style saison/farmhouse ale
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Jolly Pumpkin is one U.S. brewer that takes its saisons seriously. They start with the crisp, refreshing and light grainy sweetness of Bam Biere as a blueprint, and then spin it off into numerous variations. There’s Bam Noire (a dark saison), Weizen Bam (a wheat), the fresh-hopped E.S. Bam and even a soured “Bambic.” Jolly Pumpkin also makes plenty of other great Belgian ales, from the Luciernaga Belgian pale ale to the Oro de Calabaza, a faithful adaption of the Belgo-French style of biere de garde.

3. New Belgium Abbey Belgian-Style Ale
Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Co.
City: Fort Collins, CO
ABV: 7%
Style: Abbey-style dubbel
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With a name like New Belgium, it stands to reason they would produce a few decent Belgian-style ales, right? And yet, likely due to the fact that they are easily accessible around the country, New Belgium’s core line of Belgian-style ales don’t get quite as much respect as they deserve. For a six-pack that can run as low as $7.99 in many places, you’re not going to get a better version of an abbey-style dubbel than this. For Belgian-lovers on a budget, it’s a godsend.

2. Avery The Reverend Quadrupel
Brewery: Avery Brewing Co.
City: Denver, CO
ABV: 10%
Style: Abbey-style quadrupel
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Quadrupels are essentially the brandies of the craft beer world, intensely sweet, fruity and vinous alcohol bombs that are best served in small quantities from a snifter suited for contemplative sipping. Avery makes three great Belgian-style beers in their “holy trinity of ales,” but The Reverend is probably the best and most complex. If your uncle who only drinks Coors Light were to taste this, his head would probably explode from sensory overload.

1. Schlafly Grand Cru
Brewery: Saint Louis Beer Co. (Schlafly Brewing)
City: St. Louis, MO
ABV: 9%
Style: Belgian-style strong pale ale
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The greatness of Belgian-style ales truly lies in their complexity and layers of subtlety. Schlafly’s strong, engrossing Grand Cru represents the best of both Belgian tradition and American passion for the brewer’s art. This beer hovers between so many different styles, meeting in the middle with something that is distinct and unique. Like many of the best ales from Belgium itself, it defies easy categorization and must be appreciated simply because it’s some tasty stuff.

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