Close your eyes, loyal reader, and join me on a magical journey. We're going to a tiny country, approximately the size of Maryland, that nonetheless supports three official languages. Citizens here consume an average of 84 liters of beer per year. We're going to Belgium!
Despite its small surface area, Belgium is a giant in the beer world. With a beer culture that predates the crusades, it's no surprise that this tiny country has created a remarkably diverse ecosystem of beer styles.
For the next several weeks, I'm going to take you on tour, tasting styles of beer from Belgium. We're going to ramp up gradually, to give our livers and palates time to adjust. This week, we'll start by tasting some Belgian singles, otherwise known as table beers or tafelbier. These light, low-alcohol beers are designed to quench thirst, and were even provided to Belgian school children as an alternative to heavily sweetened soft-drinks. In a traditional Trappist Monastery, singles were brewed for consumption by the monks, who needed something to drink while they attended to the heavy work of brewing higher-alcohol styles.
Table beers are light, refreshing and flavorful. Pair them with heavily salted french fries (invented in Belgium!), or literally anything else. I challenge you to find something that these versatile beers don't compliment.
Liquid Riot Primus Table Beer
Format Sampled: 16 oz. can
Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery
Tasting Notes: Pours a pale, cloudy yellow, with a thin scrim of pure white head. Aroma is fresh with clove, pear and flowers. The initial taste is sly and sweet, with a mellow wheat flavor. The initial taste is augmented with clove, fresh apple and set off with a faint, peppery bite. The flavor is unobtrusive, but certainly not one-dimensional. The body is light and slick and remarkably quenching. I'm at a loss — this beer exists in such subtlety and balance, there simply isn't much to say. No amount of adjectives is sufficient to convey the simple, refreshing experience of tipping this back with a plate of fajitas. If I had enough beer and fajitas, loyal reader, I'd invite you to share them so you could experience it for yourself.
Allagash Hoppy Table Beer
Format Sampled: 12 oz. capped bottle
Availability:Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery
Tasting Notes: Pours a clear, sparkling light yellow with an ephemeral head of bright, white foam. Aroma has citrus zest, damp pine and a characteristic Belgian aroma. Initial flavor is bright and zippy. There's a snappy, fresh lemon zest flavor, amplified by a bitter prickle of piney hop. It's a quick flash of bitterness that fades away almost as quickly as it illuminates my palate, bright and brief as a flashbulb popping. A warm, mild malt aroma slides in to fill the negative space. The malt is sweetened by cloves, savory yeast, and a hint of that funky, undefinable Belgian character. Like the Primus, this is supremely simple and refreshing. Though it's not a highly hopped beer, even the relatively modest hopping rate pops in comparison to the Primus.