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“Belgian beer is kinda like The Beatles,” says Dan Fontaine, beer manager at the Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia. “There is a history of excellence and quality that has inspired so many people to explore beer and new styles and even start breweries for themselves. The best example of this is our good friends at Allagash. The vast majority of their beers are Belgian-inspired and they’re one of the best breweries in the world.”
The ripple effect that America has felt since the first Belgian beers hit American shelves can be felt far and wide. From their mastery of yeast to the fortitude of Trappist monks, the beer world is a better place thanks to centuries of Belgian beer mastery, and American drinkers have benefited from it. “You no longer have to have a passport to see and interact with the breweries overseas who make delicious beer,” says Anthony Deloache, general manager at Mort Subite in Austin, Texas.
While choosing the best is a daunting task, these are some of the best Belgian beers according to experts who have dedicated their careers to exploring the region.
Best Overall: Orval Trappist Ale
Region: Belgium | ABV: 6.2% | Tasting Notes: Malt, Fruit, Hops
Across the board our Belgian beer experts praised Ovral. Brewed since 1931 at the Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval, the beer has come to not only embody Trappist brewing traditions but the overall quality and dedication to the craft that comes with Belgian beers.
“Orval is widely regarded as one of the best beers in the world and I would still argue that it is grossly underrated,” Fontaine says. “Elegant, complex, and slightly funky but at the same time; it’s crisp, bright, and refreshing; it’s one of the few ‘perfect’ beers in my opinion.”
Best Wit: Blanche De Bruxelles
Region: Belgium | ABV: 4.5% | Tasting Notes: Bread, Coriander, Orange Peel
Historically, the witbier was brewed by farm brewers to showcase that year's wheat harvest—the better the crop, the better the beer. These days the style is a bit less seasonal, but the best brewers still know that it's only as good as the wheat it’s brewed with. Blanche De Bruxelles is brewed with a 40% wheat base and is left unfiltered to show off that heavy percentage. “The most quintessential wit,” Deloache says. “Light and spunky.”
Read Next: The Best Beers
Best Blonde: Omer Traditional Blond Ale
Region: Belgium | ABV: 8% | Tasting Notes: Yeast, Fruit, Hops
“In Belgium, it is one of the most popular beers of the moment. A very well balanced delicious strong blond beer,” says Joran Van Ginderachter, a Belgian expat and co-owner of Halfway Crooks Beer, about Omer Traditional Blond Ale. Of course the beer of choice around Belgium doesn’t skimp on the quality. Brewed with malted barley from the Loire region of France and three varieties of hops, it's a fruity and flavorful beer with a bit of bite.
Best Pale Ale: De La Senne Taras Boulba
Region: Belgium | ABV: 4.5% | Tasting Notes: Hops, Lemon, Spice
One of the factors that can keep drinkers away from Belgian beers is their higher ABV. To offer a respite from the boozy triples and quads, Brasserie de la Senne has brewed Taras Boulba, a pale ale with less than 5% ABV and plenty of yeasty, hoppy flavors. “[It’s] a newer version of the style,” Van Ginderachter explains. “But a real popular beer in the Brussels area—a great example of a hoppy Belgian pale ale.”
Read Next: The Best Craft Beers
Best Saison: Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale
Region: Belgium | ABV: 6.5% | Tasting Notes: Bread, Sweet, Spice
“Saison Dupont is the first saison that I ever tasted and I fell in love immediately,” Fontaine says. This luscious beer has all the markers of a special occasion beverage. Sealed with a cork and cage, the liquid inside the bottle is a complex one. “Bready malt sweetness with notes of orange peel and flowers and a crisp, dry finish. It’s the measuring stick that other saisons are compared to and for good reason.”
Read Next: The Best IPAs
Best Dubbel: Westmalle Trappist Dubbel
Region: Belgium | ABV: 7% | Tasting Notes: Malt, Caramel, Dark Fruit
“Dry and crisp with notes of dark toffee, chocolate, and a hint of red fruit, I can’t imagine there being a better Dubbel in existence,” Fontaine says about Westmalle Dubbel. “It’s just so great, and a great compliment to Westmalle’s Tripel. Across from the Abbey at Cafe Trappisten the locals drink a one-to-one blend of the Dubbel and Tripel and call it Trip-Trap. It’s delicious and a must-have if you're visiting that area of Belgium.”
Best Triple: Tripel Karmeliet
Region: Belgium | ABV: 8.4% | Tasting Notes: Malt, Lemon, Banana
“This recipe is from 1679… enough said,'' Deloache says about Tripel Karmeliet. The beer has in fact been brewed the same way for centuries, with a secret blend of barley, oats, and wheat to give the beer a creamy texture and layered flavor. “I highly recommend the bottle version over draft. This beer is very effervescent and should be enjoyed in a large glass.”
Best Quad: St. Bernardus Abt. 12
Region: Belgium | ABV: 10% | Tasting Notes: Bread, Raisins, Spice
“‘Bernie’ as we call it around Brick Store is a staple of our draught list,” Fontaine says about St. Bernardus Abt. 12, the brewery’s flagship beer that has been brewed using the same recipe since 1946. “With notes of graham cracker, toast, caramel, dried plum and banana it’s the perfect beer to introduce a guest to what Belgian beer is all about—rich, elegant, complex, and strong but so damn good that it’s kind of undeniable.”
Best Golden Strong Ale: La Chouffe Golden Ale
Region: Belgium | ABV: 8% | Tasting Notes: Floral, Coriander, Hops
Known as the beer with the gnome on the label, this bright and boozy beer is surprisingly drinkable, despite its higher ABV. “This beer is so complete: sweet, hoppy, high-ABV, honey notes, floral,” Deloache says. “I’m in love with this beer.”
Read Next: The Best Stout Beers
Best Dark Strong Ale: Gouden Carolus Classic
Region: Belgium | ABV: 8.5% | Tasting Notes: Malt, Toffee, Fig
There was a time when Beglian cities were defined by their beers. The city of Mechelen staked its reputation on Gouden Carolus, named after the golden coins of Emperor Charles. This dark brew has a rich, warming quality similar to the experience of drinking a glass of red wine. “[It’s a] strong, dark, well-balanced beer from the historic town of Mechelen,” Van Ginderachter says.
Best Flanders Red Ale: Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge
Region: Belgium | ABV: 5.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Vinegar, Oak
If you’re looking for a sour that checks all the boxes when it comes to being steeped in tradition, look no further than Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge. Spontaneously fermented in a coolship and barrel-aged for at least 18 months, the beer develops a bright sourness that is balanced with some oak qualities from the barrel. “Probably my favorite sour,” Deloache says. “So tart! It’s almost on the enamel stripping level but just not there.”
Read Next: The Best Beer Growlers
Best Oud Bruin: Verzet Oud Bruin
Region: Belgium | ABV: 6% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, Oak, Spice
“I might be biased,” Van Ginderachter admits. He was one of the founders of Brouwerij 't Verzet, and while it may be one of the younger breweries in a country steeped in brewing history, the brewery is balancing emerging styles—like IPAs—with traditional ones, such as its oud bruin. “A new example of the style and made the traditional way,” he says. “This unpasteurized version really is a well-balanced tart beer.”
Best Lambic: Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait
Region: Belgium | ABV: 8% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, Vinegar, Oak
“The founder Frank Boon did a lot to preserve this unique style of Belgian beer,” Van Ginderachter says. Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait is a 100 percent spontaneous fermentation lambic, which results in a bouquet of fruitiness with a delicate tartness that won’t leave your lips in a pucker.
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Sarah Freeman is a food and beverage writer based out of Chicago. She has been writing about, as well as frequenting, restaurants and bars for the past decade—from learning about what makes a perfect piece of cocktail ice to the exploring art of beer label design. At the moment, she doesn’t have enough room for food in her refrigerator, because it’s filled with cans of beer and bottles of wine.