Belgian beers still matter

A stroll through the New Braunfels Farmers Market on a drizzly Saturday morning brought me to Humble House Foods where Luis Morales was handing out samples of his San Antonio-made artisanal bleu and camembert cheeses.

As often happens, my typical weekend beer T-shirt attire sparked a conversation. Soon Luis and I were sharing thoughts on Belgian beers, their complexity, and food-pairing possibilities. He said Belgian beer is now sipped more frequently than wine during his cheese making.

Belgian beers — specifically the ales and not the standard Euro lager Stella Artois — are complex, diverse, food friendly, and sometimes a bit on the expensive side. While more people are discovering them, are Belgian ales already yesterday’s news?

A recent survey of 1,500 chefs on hot trends for 2011 by the National Restaurant Association found that 31 percent thought Belgian-style beers were a hot trend. That compares to 73 percent who voted for locally produced wine and beer as the hot trend, making Belgian beers No. 2 in the alcoholic beverage category.

A third of the culinary professionals tagged Belgian beers as yesterday’s news and 36 percent proclaimed it a perennial favorite. That makes a fairly even split among the kitchen commando prognosticators.

So who is right? All of them.

Let’s start with the negative. Yes, Belgian beers have been on the scene for years now and restaurants and bars on the East and West coasts, particularly, probably embraced them early on. What’s more, chefs in the finer restaurants likely discovered them before most places because of their propensity to pair so easily with food, including as a cooking ingredient when wine just won’t do the trick.

For some of those same reasons, those who find Belgian beers a favorite year in and year out also are correct. And as Belgian beers become more widely available in the numbers of brands that are imported, tasters keep coming back for new experiences even as they still buy old standbys like Chimay or Kwak.

Those who call it a hot trend, however, don’t have their heads in the sand. The trend may not be flaming anymore, but it will remain on a slow, intensifying simmer as long as more beer newbies discover the larger world of beer, as craft beer drinkers decide to take a $16 plunge on a 750ml bottle of Flemish sour, or as foodies find that refreshing wit or sweet quadruple is more than accommodating to what’s on their plate.

Additionally, more of those still-hot local producers are adding Belgian-style ales to their lineups similar to Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling’s La Bestia Aimable or Freetail Brewing’s series of sour beers.

Travis E. Poling writes about beer weekly for the Current and is author of Beer Across Texas: A Guide to Brews and Brewmasters of the Lone Star State. Please send beer news and event information two weeks in advance to [email protected]