For this edition of “Have a Beer With...,” I reached to Belgian Beer Specialist Chuck Cook. Chuck has contributed to many publications including Draft Magazine, Beer Connoisseur, the 2005 edition of "The Good Beer Guide to Belgium" and "1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die." Simply stated, Chuck knows Belgian Beer.
Picture Comment: Chuck Cook on the left with Pierre Tilquin at Gueuzerie Tilquin, the new Gueuze blendery in Wallonia. <Drool>
Andrew: What are some of your favorite American beers brewed in a Belgian style?
Chuck: Stillwater Stateside Saison and Cellar Door; Ommegang Belgian Pale Ale; North Coast Brother Thelonius; any Belgian-style beer from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City; anything sour or with Brett from Russian River; Victory Helios Saison (bottled with Brett); New Belgium Abbey and La Folie; Cascade’s sour beer series; and many more.
Andrew: Do you feel European breweries are somewhat locked into the style of beer they have been producing for years? Does the European market demand the type of creative currently taking place in America ?
Chuck: That is a very broad question. It really depends in which country you are talking about. I’d say yes in terms of Germany and the Czech Republic. They are mostly doing the same lager styles they have for centuries.
In Belgium there are a lot of new and existing breweries experimenting with various beer styles, though overall not to the extent that American craft breweries are. De Struise Brouwers and Alvinne, among a number of others, come to mind as those crafting some bold new beers.
The overall quality of many of the popular Belgian beers, such as the Trappists, Rodenbach, St. Bernardus, etc. is so high that they really don’t have to experiment much to satisfy their market.
In Italy, the microbreweries have really been creative the last five years or so, as have many of the breweries in Scandinavia.
Andrew: How do you feel about the growth of Belgian-style IPA's in the U.S.? Do you sees any other crossover" style trends on the uptick?
Chuck: There are quite a few interesting beers in this category. Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch is a standout, and Sixpoint’s Belgian IPA is solid as well. I think it’s another worthwhile style, and I always enjoy more variety in the beer world.
I think that there are a number of excellent beers brewed roughly in the Saison style, but with an American twist. Right here in Maryland, Stillwater Artisanal’s Stateside Saison and Cellar Door come to mind. Boulevard Brewing Saison and Saison Brett are also great ones.
Sour beers are also getting much more popular stateside. (Which makes me very happy, as I love ‘em!)
Andrew: For Americans visiting Belgium, what would be the top 3 places, in relatively close proximity, that are must sees?
Chuck: It’s hard to beat Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels as they have great beer cultures with lots of beer bars, restaurants with great beer, beer festivals, and even several breweries to visit. You can pack in a lot of fun “Beer Research” in these places in a short time and don’t have to go too far.