ALE Winter 2002/2003 No. 308

Continental Beer Styles: Belgian and Dutch Pale Ales

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Although pale ales are on the verge of extinction in the UK, they abound in Belgium, and there are some brewed in Holland as well. However, it isn't easy to say definitively that a particular beer is a "pale ale", because the boundary between styles overlap somewhat.

Belgian pale ales differ from British ones in that they are dominated by roasted and caramelised overtones, and use Saaz or other Continental hop varieties, which tend to be less bitter than English hops. There are a wide range of tastes in these ales, but at around 5 to 6.5% are not as strong as you would think.

The term Speciaal or Speciale are often associated with these beers when they are not served on draught. Perhaps the most famous Belgian pale ales are Duvel ("Devil"), a golden, top-fermented pale ale brewed by Moortgat in Breedonk and widely imitated (the three-stage fermentation produces a beer of up to 8.5%) and De Koninck ("the king"), a 5% copper-coloured ale from Antwerp. Others which you might like to try are Straffe Hendrik, De Smedt Op Ale, Ter Dolen Blond and Bink, and Leroy Yperman.

Dutch pale ales are well rounded, well behaved and polished. These beers tend to be clean and around 5 to 5.5%. Two good examples of this style are Bavaria Moreeke and Drie Ringen Amersfoort Blond.

Scotch Ale

Although not strictly a pale ale, Scotch Ale may be included here because it is another British style that is enjoying more success on the Continent than at home. Scotch Ale was first brewed in Belgium during World War I to appeal to the tastes of the British servicemen out there. In Scotland, ales were still less heavily hopped than those of the south of Britain (where the hop fields are) and as such are closer to the all-malt brews of medieval times.

Although (ironically) Scotch Ale disappeared from Scotland by the 1950s, it continues to be brewed in Belgium. The exception to this used to be Gordon's Scotch, which was imported from Edinburgh, even though it is actually unavailable in Scotland. But according to a label I read on a bottle recently, it is now brewed by John Martin of Belgian brewing fame (i.e. John Martin Guinness). Another good example of this style is Silly Scotch.

The latest edition of Tim Webb's invaluable Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland is now available, price 11.99, available from CAMRA online. Tim is quoted in Whats Brewing:

"The world is losing its finest beers to bottom-line bandits and brand-obsessed execs who drink wine and bottled water. These are not people to leave in charge of your laundry, let alone one of the world's great drinks."

Lambic Monster

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