Belgian Beer Cheat Sheet

Most bars don’t carry a wide selection of Belgians but when you find yourself in a place that does, chances are, you’re going to accidentally sit next to a beer snob and when you ask for a light beer from the bartender, the beer evangelist next to you is going to insist you drink a Belgian Ale instead. First, make sure he or she is buying – Belgians are priced more like top-shelf liquor. Second, they sometimes come in bottles that have more than one serving in them, so your friend may be looking for a drinking buddy. And here is where I think the scenario usually goes very wrong. The problem with most beer aficionados is that they want you to drink what they love, and the problem with most beer drinkers is that free beer always seems like the right thing to do.

Before you commit to drinking a Belgian beer with someone who loves them, here are a few tips:

  1. These beers are for sipping. Approach them like you would a glass of Scotch. There are exceptions but your new friend is going to have a moment right there in front of you. You’ll be told to smell it deeply and say nice things about it (just agree with whatever subtle notes of wood he or she claims are in there), then you’re going to have to swirl it and hold it in your mouth before you swallow it (at least you don’t have to spit it out like tea tasters). If you’ve gone to a wine tasting – just do all the same stuff and you’ll make it through the glass without a hitch. Problem is, now you’re stuck talking to this person for the duration of the bottle. And all they want to talk about is how refined they are.
  2. Don’t be tempted to get out of a bad conversation by shot gunning this beer. The high price is a direct correlation to the amount of alcohol in each glass. Belgians hover between 8-10% ABV, so they can pack a punch, but you already know that because the douche bag next to you can’t stop defining his or her manhood by how many he or she can drink.

As much as I make fun of these guys and gals, I’m willing to bet that they didn’t start out drinking Belgians, and while you might one day be the person with the cigar and glamour shot of your online girlfriend, you don’t have to be “that” person tonight. But if turning down a free beer is as distasteful to you as not sending an email that just says “Thanks” to whoever just helped you out at work, then at least chose your own beer in this bar.

Here are some words to look for on the label when selecting a Belgian-style Ale (style means that not all examples listed are brewed in Belgium):

  • Wine lovers – Tripel or Strong Pale Ale (ex., La Fin Du Monde and Delirium Tremens – the one with the pink elephant on the label) – these beers are meant to be sipped and enjoyed much like you do a fine wine.
  • Light-beer drinkers – Witbeir, Quadrupel or Lambic (ex., Hoegaarden or Three Philosophers) – these styles are fruity and sweet.
  • Amber/Bock drinkers – Golden or Brown Ale or Trappist (ex., Duvel or Orval) – you’ll appreciate the ‘heaviness’ and complexity of these lighter-colored beers.
  • Stout lovers – Dubbel or Doppelbock (ex., Maredsous or Celebrator) – only you will believe that a dark beer doesn’t have to taste like coffee.
  • For the skydivers – Strong Dark Ale (ex., Trois Pistoles) – getting your eyebrows singed when you drink a beer makes you feel like you have a big penis.

When you get to the point that you are drinking Belgians, try not to rub it in that everyone is inferior to you. In my opinion, Belgian and Stout drinkers are the worst PR campaign for trying to get new people to try new beers. Remember why you came here tonight – if it was to have a beer, get something to eat, and talk to someone about something besides work, then roll with the beer nerd. If you were hoping to pick up chicks, trust me when I say, “Don’t be that guy.”


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