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Belgian Invasion


So you just don’t like beer. Maybe someone handed you a Hercules Double India Pale Ale from Great Divide early in your beer career, and when your face unscrewed from the full-body pucker induced by the grievous amount of hops, you swore if your taste buds ever grew back, you’d never again touch the stuff.

That’s understandable. Or maybe you’re a “wine” person. OK. But if you’ve ever considered giving barley pop a try again, now is the time.

Belgian beers inhabit a relatively mellow neighborhood in the community that is craft beer and are a great place to rekindle an affair with the suds. The majority are ales and, except for a few examples, they are judiciously hopped and are therefore not painfully bitter. Belgian yeasts, too, impart a somewhat sweet, fruity—often citrusy (think orange or lemon)—flavor and aroma.

A wide variety of styles, flavors and strengths are represented by Belgian beers, meaning there’s a beer here for everyone.

“Belgium is to beer what France is to wine,” said Reuben Verplank, an unabashed fan of the region and proprietor of Reuben’s Burger Bistro—a bodacious Belgian beer rathskeller on Broadway in Boulder that carries 11 varieties on tap and another 54 in bottles. “There is so much variety in the beers there.”

On the light side of Belgians are the pils beers made with lager yeast. These are lighter in color, body and hops—not unlike a Hamm’s or Rolling Rock. Not particularly flavorful or high in alcohol, these are passable summer beers that can be pounded as needed to assuage the blistering heat of the dog days. Blond ales, of which Duvel is a popular example, are more flavorful still.

And then there’s saison (French for “season”). The hempen homespun heritage of the saison has largely been lost in today’s controlled brewing process. Born in winter for summer drinking, this farmhouse ale was typically light in body and low (3.5 percent) in alcohol and as varied in flavor as the farmers who brewed it as a summer thirst quencher. Today they have crept up in potency, but have lost the funky flavors that came from widely varying temperatures during fermentation.

Getting heavier and much more flavorful are the amber, dubbel, strong ale, trippel and quadruppel. These are the heavy hitters in the Belgian lineup and pack a bunch of flavor—from rich malts to banana to currant to cloves and beyond—to go with the higher gravities. With Belgian beers, it’s all about the yeast, which imparts those fruity flavors and a slight tartness.

In addition to Reuben’s, you can get your Belgian fix in a big way starting in September at the Vine Street Pub on 17th and Vine in Denver when those good folks (who also own the Mountain and Southern Sun pubs in Boulder) will turn 16 taps over to Belgian beers for the month.

And Sept. 17, the pub will shut down Vine Street for a block party and beer Olympics featuring competition between other brewers in events such as tricycle races, keg tossing and the like. Friend them on Facebook to keep up with special Belgians that rotate in on the taps and to find out which special band’s playing at the block party.

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