Belgian Dark Strong Ales

beldk1This is a very pleasant pastime this comparison of Belgians which is already into its third month. To say pacing is required is more than stating the obvious. These are big big beers with two of today’s selection coming in at over 10%. Good reason to have a get together.

Just as one observation on the photos I like to add to these posts, this was a very hard grouping to shoot as the paint on the Terrible by Unibroue is actually mirroring silver while the bottle is black glass. There was no way around using the flash, which I do not think provides you with the best photo of glass. So that being noted, here are my notes on the three examples of this style I have gathered:

  • Gulden Draak: A true Belgian, 10.5% 330 ml from a variety six-pack from Van Steenberge sold during the pre-Yule rush by the LCBO. The first thing you notice is the malty heat from the dark candi sugar – tastes of fig, pepper and prune. Also, it is surprisingly juicy very nice, grapy and there is a bit of milk chocolate truffle in the centre. Unlike a dubble there is no burlap or oaken notes or orange peel and spice. This is all about the malt, like a barleywine stripped of the English hops. The yeast is prominant as well, butter pastry and cream. It is all like a tart of prunes with whipping cream dolloped on top. The hops balance rather than cut the malt, providing structure but it is all about the malt.Advocates say yeah.
  • Dogfish Raison D’Etre: An entry from Dogfish Head of Delaware in the USA, this beer is 8% and 12 oz. sold by the single bottle at the LCBO. This one is lighter and somewhat reliant on the addition of grape juice to the beer but the result is surprisingly similar to the Gulden Draak. The yeast is bready rather than pie crusty and the hops are even more subdued. The rich core is more about dried apple more than prune. With its fairly soft water profile and relative simplicity it is still very pleasant. I am coming to think that these beers are also like Scotch heavy ales without the smoke of the barley and that northern strian of ale yeast. Soft blankets of malt. Some advocates disappproveciting poor head and thinness yet it was awarded American Beer of the Year 2000. Can’t we all just get along?
  • Unibroue Terrible: Canada’s entry is again fantastic – lush, juicy and more-ish. Amazingly, at 10.5%, there is no heat. I am recalling that Terrible is less complex as well than the Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles, their other Belgian dark strong ale. [By the way – imagine a brewer in North America selling two Belgian dark strong ales. I hope Sleeman knows what it bought.] There is some orange but it is more as juice than peel. Big malt but the least signs of dark candi sugar than the Gulden Draak or Dogfish. A little figgy, a little leathery, smooth. Some dried cocoa like a can of powder for baking – dusty and light. Perhaps a recollection of black cherry. The yeast is milky rather than butter or cream – not rich and it adds to the juiciness. Hops again are structural rather than bitter. BAers approve as all but one.

I see that this style is just all about the capacity of belgian pale malt if concentrated. These are ‘s beers. This is what beer imagines it could be if it only put its mind to it, think of the big picture.

Belgium: Orval Trappist, Villers-devant-Orval

orvalOrval. This is the nicest little bottle of ale in the hand. Shaped like a Perrier bottle in brown, decorated with a fish on a gold ring, it is the product of Trappist monks – one of the five (or is it six?) real Trappist ales going…well, except St. Sixtus of Westvleteren which you have to go yourself to the Abbey to buy.

If you want to know what Belgian hops are like, antique and dignified like brittle lace, this is a great beer to try. Rajotte says it is dry hopped for a month and its taste is primarily a play of wild twiggy herbal yeast and hop with only a supporting role for the malt. As a result, it has a fairly light body with a orval1mouth filled with rustic flavour, thyme and lavander.

As with a good clovey southern German hefeweizen, a pork roast would do very well sitting in Orval for half a day before meeting the fire.

Belgium: Thinking About Four Sorts Of Brown


Continuing in the style of Four Belgian Blondes and Four Wittes, I am going to try to work through the Belgians I have squirrelled away over the last few months style by style. I also want to avoid one problem that arises doing a side-by-side, especially when you are looking at triples and strong ales. Four of those at 8 to 11%, especially when one or two only come in a quart, can frankly blow the top off yer heed. So, to ensure some benefit of the colour and head comparison, while at the same time avoiding a public display of the ever famous liquid lobotomy, I have decided upon a handy-dandy chart format for these posts. As I open each brew within the set, I will add it to the table with a photo of its label and one of the pour along with some notes. Click on the photos for a bigger view.

The trouble with this first set, however, is that they are not a style all. They are just a grab bag of styles all of which fall under the word “brown” more or less. The Petrus is a tangy Oud Bruin, while the Leffe Brown is something more familiar, a rich brown. The Kasteel is more of a barleywine while Rodenbach Grand Cru is a sour beer gone mad – the best malt vinegar you will ever find. All, however, are forms of browns from Belgium.


Belgian Browns Bottle and Pour Notes

Petrus Oud BruinFlemish Brown

translucent mahogany

Lambic-like, sour cherry aroma, refreshing but also, at its core woodsy. Tart orange and spicy but in a good Christmas cake way. The body is not heavy. Slight carbonation – very light for a Belgian. 5.5% in a 250 ml bottle. BAs speak.


Kasteel IngelmunsterQuadruple or Barleywine



This is a dandy big beer – brown sugar plumy or red grape malty goodness at 11%. Without a trace of orange peel or spice so no hint of a dubble. No sour at all so nothing oud about it. This is surprisingly fresh for its bulk…like me. Rummy. Very subdued hops, only enough to keep the sweetness from being cloying. Here is the brewery’s take on it. A juicy swallow ending in a hot port finish. 330 ml bottle. Advocates comment.


Grand CruFlemish Red

cherry wood patina

I said that this was the best malt vinegar you will ever taste and I am not kidding. This is pure soured, oak aged Belgian brew. Michael Jackson is kinder speaking of a vanilla-like oakiness, passion-fruit flavours, a clean sharp acidity like sour cream. That is all there but you have to appreciate that the acidity is that of a sub-puckeringly sharp wine. Vineous does not cover how sharp. Tart but only in the sense of King Tart of the Tartonians. Within the tart the is some reflection of spice and certainly a gooseberry-rhubarb custard trifle would go well with this. That acid lingers the palate with the yeast with some deference to richness. It is nice. Try it but prepare to wish for a nice light double IPA as a cleansing light chaser. 6% in a 330 ml bottle.Beertonians blown away.



Leffe Brown Belgian Dark Ale








Hard label this one. It has some rich round brown like the Kesteel and also some tang like the Flemish Browns. Another calls it an almost double and another a dark ale. But labels have a limit. A lively head which leaves a rich foam ring. Medium to strong body. Cream and chocolate with a strong hop edge cutting the sweet. 6.5% in a 330 ml. Great on tap.Beersters consider.