Jim Beauregard's Tasting Notes: Before Wine Week, time for some Belgian ales

JIM BEAUREGARD January 08. 2013 10:27PM

If you have any contact with the world of wine, you know that New Hampshire's Wine Week is at hand.

This year's runs from Jan. 21-27, and, as in the past, it will include the largest wine tasting north of Boston - the Easter Seals Winter Wine Spectacular, on Thursday, Jan. 24. Almost 2,000 different wines will on site for exploration by newcomers and those who have loved wine for many years. For ticket information visit www.eastersealsnh.org or call 888-368-8880. Details about events across the state - and Wine Week is indeed a statewide event - can be found at www.LiquorandWineOutlets.com.

We'll have more coverage in this column and on this page next week.

But with all that wine in our not too distant future, let's devote the rest of this column to the beer drinkers, and take a look at some Belgian ale. The Belgian ale known as Dubbel, to be precise. As the Oxford Companion to Beer days, "Belgium is to beer what Cuba is to cigars and France is to wine."

Beer has a long history in Belgium. As far north as it is, even with ocean influence, the climate isn't really friendly to wine. The country has a long history of brewing wheat beers, and, more recently, the Dubbels and Tripels we are familiar with today. The beer tradition goes back about 5,000 years, to the Belgae tribes, a mix of Celts and Germans, both beer-drinking cultures. Now, that's a pedigree.

The Dubbel beer style is typically complex, with a slight sweetness coming from the malt that can include caramel, chocolate and toast. Raisin and plum flavors can be found here too, along with spices such as clove and pepper. The color profile of the beer runs from copper colored to a dark amber, with the classic huge, creamy off-white head. The alcohol content funs from about 6 to 7.6% alcohol by volume, making it a companion of other ales in this range like India pale ale as well as bocks.

These ales are typically at the lower end of the bitterness scale, from 15 to 25 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), similar to Oktoberfests and some British ales.

Ommegang Abbey Ale, Belgian Style Dubbel, Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, N.Y. 8.5% abv.

Huge head, as a Belgian ale should, tan in color and lasting, over dark brown opaque beer. The nose is malt at first, with brown bread, molasses, hints of caramel. The hops are in the background on the nose. The palate is off-dry, with medium bitterness, acidity and well-integrated alcohol. Medium-plus body, rich in texture, with the malt coming through strongly as the nose suggested, along with some additional chocolate hints, and coffee. The fruit component is present on the palate, with lemon hints, orange hints, and some floral notes. Good balance of components, concentration, complexity, and intensity of flavor that maintains itself over a long finish. Excellent.

Dubbel emphasizes malt, Tripel emphasizes hops. Let's then look at a Tripel for comparison:

Affligem Abbey Tripel, Opwijk, Belgium. 9%abv. Still light in color, golden with hints of amber, under the classic creamy off white head, and true to Tripel style, the nose brings forth hops to a greater extent than malt. On the palate, the acidity is noticeable right away, and the hops predominate with citrus, lemon, hints of orange, and some tropical fruit lingering behind the citrus. The malt is there, but is subtle - you have to look for it. Medium body, good balance of components. Very good

And where can you find a good Dubbel, in addition to what we've seen here today? Try La Trappe Dubbel, Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale, Affligem Dubbel, Chimay Premiere (red label, as opposed to the tan and blue ones), Allagash Double.

Reach local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com.


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