Balance is an important concept in every beer style, though it is found in various and sometimes surprising ways. A brewer always has to consider how the various ingredients and techniques used to create a beer will play off one another to create a harmonious whole. Malt and hop flavors, sweetness and bitterness, alcohols and esters, all fight for an impression on the palate. Belgian blonde ales are a style that often miss the mark. Bereft of hops, they end up cloying and fruity, even with modest alcohol and residual sugar contents, not unlike many macro American lagers. Beers like Leffe Blonde and Grimbergen Blonde target a drinker decidedly against bitterness in their beer. Luckily for the lupulin-faithful, there are a number of breweries that embrace the balanced, even hoppy side of this style. When you get Belgian yeast character and hops together and get it right, it’s a beautiful thing.
Hops and Belgian beers have often had a rocky relationship. Lambic brewers are perhaps the most abusive, leaving bales of hops to age warm for years before finally begrudgingly adding them to their wort kettles to take advantage of their preservative qualities, even after all of their bitter alpha acids have degraded to nothingness. Luckily, this still makes for some amazing and unique beers, and most other Belgian brewers are much kinder to their hops. The more typical Belgian approach is to treat hops as a subtle seasoning to balance the sweetness of the malt and maybe add a touch of aroma.
Even though hoppy beer is far from the norm in Belgium, there were always a few Belgian brewers that weren’t afraid to use hops in a bolder fashion. Brasserie Orval is one brewer whose eponymous beer packs big bitterness — about 50 IBUs — and is dry hopped in secondary conditioning tanks before bottling with Brettanomyces yeast to add more complexity with aging. If you can find a bottle of Orval fresher than a few months old it still possesses a formidable hop aroma and bitterness, though many like to let it age to bring out the Brett character, which also mellows the hops. Tripels such as Chimay White sometimes have a noticeable hop bite, but it took the reimagining of the style by brewers like Achouffe with their Houblon Chouffe, which melds a tripel with an American double IPA, to really show what hops can do in the style. Closer to home, many an American brewer has taken a stab at fermenting a standard IPA or DIPA wort with a Belgian yeast strain, though these beers typically lack the character of real Belgian examples, and true American IPA bitterness levels often overwhelm.
When I first seriously got into homebrewing, I was fascinated by the intersection of hops and Belgian yeast and played with many combinations in both pale and dark beers. I found something that many other brewers have also settled on: rounder, fruitier New World hops (think Amarillo, Nelson, and Citra) can play beautifully with the fruity and spicy character of many Belgian yeast strains. On the other hand, heavy doses of Continental hops like Saaz, Hallertau Saphir, and Styrian Goldings also work beautifully, amping up the character already inherent in many Belgian styles while staying true to their roots. In that lighter intersection of the blonde, single, extra, or whatever-else-you-want-to-call-it style of beer, brewers have taken both of these paths to achieve hoppy goodness.
Belgian blondes generally follow a simple recipe of pilsner malt with maybe some wheat and a little sugar to lighten the body a touch. Starting gravity is usually in the 12-16 Plato range, with 1.048-1.065 original gravity, but can also go lower to get into traditional table beer or saison range. Get much stronger though, and you are making a golden strong ale or a tripel by most measures. In a more traditional, less hoppy approach, you might add about 15-25 IBUs worth of Continental hops total, with some added toward the end of the boil, for just a touch of aroma. Ferment this wort with a Belgian strain and you have the basic model.
Where things get interesting is when you dial the hops up a couple of degrees. Since 1999, Westvleteren Blond has proudly carried this torch for the Trappist brewers. At 5.6% alcohol and 41 IBUs, it is decidedly balanced on the hoppy end of the spectrum, but with a spicy, grassy Continental hop character that keeps it decidedly Belgian. Westvleteren 12 may be the beer that garners the St. Sixtus abbey their most praise, but the Blond is a true gem that has few peers. Going even hoppier, De Ranke XX Bitter shows what can be achieved by adding copious amounts of fruity and spicy Brewers Gold and Hallertau hops to a 6.2% blond ale. Bringing things down to a more refreshing strength, Taras Boulba from Brasseries de la Senne in Brussels packs a fruity, citrusy, spicy punch in a beautifully drinkable 4.5% alcohol by volume package.
Local favorites like The Harlot from Societe, and Devotion from Lost Abbey both find that elusive balance that the best examples of the style hit. (Editor’s note: The Lost Abbey’s new satellite tasting room “The Confessional” held a media soft opening yesterday in Cardiff; doors open officially to the public tomorrow [Wednesday] at 11 a.m.). The Harlot is a great example of the intersection of European brewing traditions in that the recipe is essentially the same as a Czech pilsner until it is fermented with a Belgian yeast strain. Societe credits Moonlight’s Reality Czech pilsner as an influnce for The Harlot, alongside Taras Boulba and the wonderfully balanced and refreshing Redemption from Russian River.
Looking over the recipes of styles like Belgian blonde, saison, pilsner, kölsch, and even some English golden ales, you can see how the same basic model of pale malt and classic hop varieties comes together with different yeast strains to create a myriad of styles. Saison Dupont, one of the classics of the saison style, is really just a hoppy blonde ale as well, and their special annual Cuvee Dry Hopping release adds another layer of hoppy complexity that puts it firmly in the realm of other hop-driven Belgians.
Weekly San Diego magazine CityBeat published this Beer Issue on Wednesday; check it out!
This article was written by West Coaster contributor Vince Vasquez. He is a think tank analyst based in San Diego, and has authored numerous reports on the economic dynamics of San Diego’s craft beer industry.
Want local beer served at Qualcomm Stadium? Now’s your chance to be heard by local decision makers.
The Qualcomm Stadium Evaluation Committee has recommended a new five-year concessionaire agreement with Delaware North Sportservice Inc. for food and beverage services at the stadium. You can find the proposed Delaware North contract and additional information here. The contract will be discussed this Wednesday in open session by the San Diego City Council’s Budget and Government Efficiency Committee (listed as Item 8). You can attend the meeting as a member of the public to learn more about food and beverage sales at Qualcomm, but this is a quick run-down of why craft beer enthusiasts should care about the proposed Delaware North agreement:
Qualcomm Stadium has a poor track record of supporting local brewers.
Under the current stadium concessionaire Centerplate, only one local beer is sold (Green Flash), which is not easily accessible, depending on the event and your seating location. More easily found are the “crafty” brews produced by Big Beer and marketed and sold as craft, including Goose Island IPA (the Chicago-based brand ABInbev acquired a few years ago), Third Shift Amber (a Coors brand), and Shock Top Belgian White (ABInbev again).
More troubling, the public has been given no explanation as to why more local beer isn’t sold at Qualcomm. Since the publishing of my first op-ed on this topic, I have heard from two separate sources that there is a “pay to play” culture when it comes to beer distribution and sponsorship dollars at our region’s largest public facility. If this is true, it would mean that there has been an unethical (and possibly illegal, as pay to play is against the law in the beer industry) disregard to local small businesses that could be providing more food and beverage products to Qualcomm. It may also mean that Delaware North could be subject to the same pressures, and continue a lock-out of local brewers from the stadium, if nothing is done to change the status quo.
The Delaware North agreement also affects beer sales at a new Chargers stadium.
As part of the agreement, Delaware North has been granted a “right of first refusal,” meaning that if a new Chargers stadium opens before the end of their five year contract, they have the right to automatically become that stadium’s concessionaire if they so desire. So, for those placing their hopes in a new stadium offering a different approach to local craft beer, that process starts now.
It’s also important to remember that tailgating is expected to be phased out with a new Chargers stadium, as the Q’s sea of asphalt will be converted into residential housing complexes and commercial buildings. With parking lot pre-partying no longer an option, Chargers fans will need a craft-beer friendly stadium concessionaire more than ever.
The City of San Diego wants Qualcomm Stadium to support local businesses.
Despite the lack of serious commitment at Qualcomm to supporting local food and beverage suppliers, San Diego City Hall is indeed committed to changing the status quo in the future. As part of the Delaware North agreement, the City states that it wants Delaware North “to include local brands in its offerings, either as product suppliers, licensees or subcontractors to improve the quality, public perception and popularity of the menu offerings.” They’re also required to “identify local products and vendors to utilize throughout the Stadium,” and provide to the City a business plan annually (starting this June), detailing “objectives and proposed initiatives on pricing, culinary programs, and customer service for every food and beverage department.”
The City still needs to impress upon Delaware North and the Qualcomm Stadium management team the importance of supporting San Diego brewers and other local food and beverage suppliers. That’s where you come in. The first vote on the agreement will be this Wednesday, and your help is needed raise awareness and public support for local brewers who are willing to compete and sell their beer in the stadium.
There are three ways you can take action right now to support San Diego brewers and ensure more local craft beer is served at Qualcomm Stadium:
Voice your support for local beer to be sold at Qualcomm Stadium by sending an email to Committee Chairman Todd Gloria at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to use or modify the suggested template below for your email.
“Re: Item 8 – Support Local Craft Beer Sales at Qualcomm Stadium”
Dear Chairman Gloria,
As a San Diego resident and supporter of the local craft brewing community, I am concerned about Qualcomm Stadium’s poor track record of serving local beer on tap. More sales of local food and beverage products generates more revenue that is reinvested back in our neighborhoods, creating good jobs and supporting small businesses. As you review the proposed stadium concessionaire agreement with Delaware North, please press for a firm commitment to sell more San Diego products, including local craft beer. Thank you.
The deadline for sending comments to Chairman Gloria is Tuesday, April 14th, at 9PM.
Tell your friends about the proposed Qualcomm concessionaire agreement, and encourage them to send an email to Chairman Gloria. Share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Get the word out to your local brewery and brewpub, and ask them to share their opinions and perspective with the Budget and Government Efficiency Committee.
The public hearing where the concessionaire agreement will be reviewed by the Budget and Government Efficiency Committee will be this Wednesday, April 15th at 9AM at the City Administration Building, at the Council Committee Room, 12th Floor, located at 202 C Street. Public comments are limited to three minutes, and Public Comment Request forms must be submitted prior to the start of the meeting.
via Petco Park Insider:
“Since Petco Park opened in 2004, the San Diego beer scene has exploded. Inside the park is no exception, with high octane hops washing away the leak-inducing legacy of watered-down domestics. For beer fans visiting San Diego Padres games, here’s our new guide to the craft beers and microbrews in and around Petco Park.
“Beer needs baseball, and baseball needs beer – it has always been thus.”
Let’s face it—this is the star lineup at Padres stadium. Here’s the beer list of San Diego’s best local breweries on tap and in bottles at Petco.
Also included in the site are some beer costs, a list of non-local beers, and other “essential stops inside the stop.” Cheers!
Brazil’s Wäls Brewing first landed on our radar at the 2014 World Beer Cup in Denver. There, Tiago Carneiro and José Felipe Carneiro were two of the more rambunctious award winners, jumping onto the stage with zeal, hooting and hollering in their native Portuguese. Fast forward to late February 2015, and news broke that Wäls had been acquired by AmBev, a subsidiary of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Now, Wäls’ “satellite brewery” (according to a DRAFT Magazine article) is opening in Chula Vista under the name NOVO Brazil Brewing Co. Representatives told WC that the two businesses have some shared business partners, but that they should be viewed as two distinct breweries. In mid-March, NOVO began producing the first of its 14 planned beer styles. So far, they’ve made Session Cacau IPA, Rio IPA with Simcoe hops, and a Trippel. Their tasting room is set to open this month (their Facebook page reports potentially the 18th).
Connections between San Diego and Brazil go back even further.
In 1995, San Diego and Campinas (two hours northwest of São Paulo) became sister cities, poised to engage culturally and commercially. In Campinas, the creator of Brazil’s RateBeer equivalent opened Bar Brejas, serving beers from all over the world.
Back in San Diego, censuses show nearly 4,000 Brazilians reside in the county. “Brazilian Day” is a popular and growing event, returning to Pacific Beach in September.
Locals Green Flash have an especially cool connection to Brazil. During SDBW 2013, Green Flash packaging supervisor Chris Weber (whose wife is Brazilian), hosted employees from Porto Alegre’s Seasons Craft Brewing. Earlier in the year, Weber had travelled to Brazil and collaborated on a hop-heavy IPA.
Seasons’ Founder Leo Sewald told us they visited plenty of spots here in SD: Green Flash, Stone, Alesmith, Ballast Point Home Brew Mart, Port/Lost Abbey, Belching Beaver, Amplified Ale Works, Pacific Beach Ale House, Neighborhood, White Labs, The Tap Room, Crazee Burger, Keg and Bottle, The Homebrewer, and Latitude 32 Pub.
As for beers, the group took to Stone Ruination IPA, Green Flash Green Bullet, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, and AleSmith Double Hammerhead. They also got their hands on a barrel-aged Rare Form from Amplified Ale Works thanks to brewer Cy Henley.