Friday, August 29, 2014

The Splitting of Belgian Hairs

I’ve been ruminating on what Stephen Beaumont wrote last week about Belgian beer—or more precisely, that beer brewed outside of Belgium with a traditionally “Belgian” yeast strain does not a Belgian beer make. I know I’m coming at this a bit late, but I wasn’t sure about my opinion on his proposed axiom.

Stephen’s point is basically this: Belgium has a diverse range of ale and lager, each with it’s own range of characteristics, often unique to individual breweries. Simply blanketing all yeast forward beers as “Belgian” or even “Belgian-style”—especially beers not made in Belgium—is in his words is "...a great disservice to the country’s long brewing traditions and current diversity, not to mention the beer, the brewer and the drinker..."

That’s a pretty broad coating of disservice. But I’m not sure I care.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of outright disrespect, and I can can see Stephen’s point, but at what point does factual preciseness begin to blur in pedantry? 

If a group of co-workers were to suggest "Italian" for lunch, and I were chime in “Southern or Northern Italian? Sicilian or Roman?” I would be met with a cacophony of shut-ups and fuck yous. Think of the looks you’d receive at the oil change place when filling in the make and model info on the obligatory form, if you wrote “Honda” and “Civic,  but also added a little note saying that “Although Honda Motor Company is headquartered in Japan, this particular Civic was made in Greensburg, Indiana, and not to be confused with one made in made in Turkey, Thailand or China.” You might need to prepare for a few obscene gestures, or at the very least, a few more charges tacked onto your bill.

How is using the prefix “Belgian” any different than how “American” or "American-style" is used?

The phrase “American” has begun to imply intensely bitter and hoppy beers–but is that indicative of all American beer? No. That didn’t stop Adnams, Mikkeller, Green King, Brains, Wojkówka and— Belgium’s own—Brouwerij Van Viven from releasing American-style IPAs. No one seems to be dis-served on this side of the Atlantic. Speaking as the drinker, I surely don't care. 

In a perfect beery world every beer drinker in the English-speaking realm would know the difference between Old Bruin and an Abbey Ale, but they don't, and we're quite a ways away from a perfect beery world, aren't we? 

No amount of fist shaking is going to change that.


  1. I think that's made possible by a lingering dichotomy of European=endangered and American=robust.