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Continental European Ales
A Continental Drift of Beer

Posted: June 12, 2014

By Thomas Sulinski

Geographically one of the smaller continents, Europe has arguably contributed more to beer than any other region. The birthplace of not just stouts, porters and English-style ales, Europe is also the origin of altbier, kölsch, saison and a myriad of Belgian styles. Many of these styles have rich histories reaching centuries into the past, and all continue to hold the interest of beer drinkers around the globe today. While it’s no longer rare to find interpretations of these classic styles brewed far outside their homelands, what has been surprising is how quick and far-reaching this “continental drift” of beer has spread in recent years.

For some beers it’s not a question of if, but in fact a question of when. When was the last time you ordered Westmalle at your favorite bar or picked up a bottle of Saison Dupont from your local bottle shop? Beers such as Westmalle Trappist Tripel (98 points) and Trappist Dubbel (98 points), Brasserie Dupont “Vieille Provision” Saison Dupont (93 points) and Orval Trappist Ale (97 points) represent world-class examples of each style and are also a source of aspiration and imitation for brewers worldwide. These beers demand attention from not just consumers, but also from brewers looking to try their hand at these styles. These beers are not to be passed over, and are truly treasures under cap or cork waiting to be revisited.

Canada’s Unibroue is one of those breweries that has looked to Belgium for inspiration and have found success. For over 20 years this Canadian brewery has specialized in Belgian-inspired ales, and this year Unibroue impressed our judges once again. The brewery’s tripel-style La Fin du Monde (97 points), biere de garde TERRIBLE (95 points) and Belgian-style strong ale Trois Pistoles (95 points) all stood out in their respective categories as world-class examples of each style. Canada’s  Belgh Brasse Mons Dubbel D’Abbaye (95 points) and Brasseurs du Monde L’Assoiffe 10 also pleasantly surprised our judges and are great examples of the quality of beer being brewed in Canada’s Quebec province.

We saw many stateside-brewed beers this round ranging from biere de garde to abbey-style tripel to kölsch, but what most intrigued our judges were the numerous Belgian-style strong ales entered this round. Taking top honors for stateside breweries in this category were Colorado’s River North Brewery’s Quandary (94 points) and Texas’s Ranger Creak Brewing & Disitlling’s La Bestia Aimable (94 points). Other stateside highlights from this year’s session include Epic Brewing Company’s Straight Up Saison (93 points), The Boston Beer Co.’s Samuel Adams Escape Route Kölsch (93 points), Rahr & Sons Brewing Co.’s 9th Anniversary Ale (93 points), Issaquah Brewhouse’s Ménage Á Frog (91 points) and Hudsonville Pike 51 Brewing Co.’s Topless Tripout (90 points).

This session also includes seasonal maibock beers. Known also as helles bock or heller bock, these strong, golden colored lagers are commonly brewed for the spring months, May in particular. Taking top honors this year were Michigan’s Grand Rapids Brewing Company’s The Log Jammer Maibock (90 points) and Wisconsin’s Delafield Brewhaus’s Frühlingzeit Maibock (90 points). Both of these brews are only available on-premise at each respective brewpub, but are both worth the road trip.

Today, continental European ale styles are now brewed and imported into nearly every market. Whether Belgian, French or German brewed or inspired, these beers are finding a much greater demand in international markets. We’re experiencing a “continental drift” of beer that has brought demand for these amazingly complex beers into the far corners of the world. In the pages that follow we hope you’ll find a few beers that’ll help these beers drift a bit more—and even perhaps into your fridge. Cheers.

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