Belgian ales are made in Belgium. Belgian style ales are made everywhere else; sometimes they are made well, and sometimes not. In the new 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, these beers are roughly categorized based on alcohol content and their balance. The stronger, less malty and more bitter, well-attenuated beers with more yeast character are grouped in Category 25 Strong Belgian Ale. This category is for the maltier to balanced and “more highly flavored” (per the style guidelines) Belgian and French ales such as:
· 25 A Witbier
· 25 B Belgian Pale Ale
· 25 C Biere de Garde
I’m not sure
I quite understand the “more highly flavored” descriptor, except possibly for
Witbiers which are typically spiced. The
conundrum comes from putting Belgian Pale Ales in this category and then in the
description saying that they are “somewhat less aggressive in flavor profile
than many other Belgian beers”. I’m not
here to quibble with the descriptions or categories, but if you are studying
for the current BJCP exam, just keep in mind this little discrepancy.
I’ll go over each style separately, but keep in mind that calling a beer a Belgian ale is much like calling a beer an American Ale. These two styles encompass so many different types of beer as to seem gigantic in scope. So, what makes a beer a Belgian ale? Well, these beers have a few characteristics in common that separate them from other beer styles. Some of these include:
Brewing a Belgian style ale or an Abbey ale shouldn’t be as difficult as many make it out (or a Belgian Lager either for that matter). Choose an appropriate Continental malt, utilize a multi-step mash, ferment with the correct Belgian yeast if the style calls for yeast derived flavors and attenuation levels, bottle-condition in thick bottles, use spices sparingly and aim for high carbonation. If you must use a single temperature mash schedule with well-modified American malts, mash in the 146°–149°F (63°–65°C) range and you will get very close.
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