The Tale of Beers

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Friday, August 30, 2013 at 08:30am

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – Benjamin Franklin

beer nam

For me, beer is more than just an alcoholic drink. Beers have imprinted the best period in my life, which was my journey in the country of beers, Belgium.

When I am in a good mood, beer is a cheer. When I fade down, beer brings me up. When I do not know what to do, I know the best way is to drink a beer. After I play pingpong, a wit beer, Hoegaarden, helps quench my thirst. When I celebrate a special event, a champagne beer, Lindemans, is an award. Beer is my good friend, my faithful companion. I give myself the priviledge of writing about the culture of beers as I have drunk over 150 different beers in the world, including the best rated Westvleteren XII.

westvleteren  cigar

The beer community does vary. We cannot compare beers of different types. To tell a Guinness is better than a Heineken is stupid. We need to cmpare beers of the same type. So which types?

Beer is categorized into different types based on taste, color, brewery and the fermentation process. In general, we have the following:

Pils or Lager beer: is the most popular, such as Tiger or Korona, is a good choice for whatever reason. It is bottom-fermented, with ABV ranging around 5%. Pils is not very special but quite ok on a sunny day or in a dead thirst.

Amber beer: is not so strong, with ABV ranging from 6-8%. Amber beers are outstanding by their color. However, there is an exceptional case, Bush 12, which is a very strong ambree (12% ABV). Others are Palm Special, Vieux Temps or La Gauloise.

Wit beer, my favourite, is originated in the Flemish region, spearheaded by Hoegaarden. Wit beers have ABV about 5-6%, making quite refreshing, especially in peak summer. Traditional, wit beers are made with a mixture of wheat and barley. Before hops became widely available in EU, beers were flavoured with a mixture of herbs called gruit. However, wit beers would become watery if we drink too much.

Brown beer is differentiated by its color. Brown beers are quite strong, with ABV ranging from 8-12%. Some popular ones of this type are Gulden Draak, Blue Chimay, etc. I prefer drinking this strong beer with a cigar, to substitute the expensive “cognac”. They are very perfect companions. They also tend to go well with night events when we have nothing to worry about, just to chat with our mates or even drink alone while buring a Cuban cigar.

Stout: Belgium is also proud of its stout. Despite not being famous as Guinness, Belgium boasts to the world Hercules, a dark, aromatic and strong beer. It seems that Hercules is brewed and fermented in a different way from Guinness, which is made from burnt malt.

Golden ale or Blonde: the most popular beer in Belgium. I can count on a variety of blond beers: Orval, Achel, Chimay, Emane, Rocherfort, etc. All of them are brewed twice, first in oak barrels, and second in the bottle itself. Blond beers aer quite strong, with ABV ranging from 8-12%. It is better to drink blond beers in the afternoon, evening or weekend when we do not have to work after that. Some others include: Lucifer, Judas, Satan and Moinette.

Tripel or triple beer: derives from Duvel Tripel. The name “Tripel” is then widely used in other breweries to name their blond, strong beers that are often brewed twice or triple times. All tripel beers are fermented on top of the barrels.

Abbey beer: is brewed by the monks. In the past, abbey beers were not sold for profit as all incomes were used for community works. Nevertheless, commercial breweries are now using this name based on an agreement with the abbey.

Trappist beer: is the proudest beer of Belgium. It only ofers and authorises 06 breweries to sell under the name: “Trappist Authentic”. I remember all of them: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmall and Westvleteren. Of those, Westvleteren XII has been crowned the best beer in the world for many times and in many beers rating events or competition.

Geuze/Lambic beer is quite sour. Lambic is a wheat beer brewed by spontaneous fermentation. Contrary to most modern beers, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts, Lambic’s fermentation is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, where locates the Brussels Capital region. Lambic undergoes a long aging period of 3-6 months to 2-3 years for mature. It is the unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavour: dry, vinous and cidery with a slightly sour aftertaste. This category is composed of 03 subcategories: Gueuze, Fruit Lambic and Faro.

Holiday or special beer is only brewed on special events like Christmas or Easter. Holiday beers may contain more alcohol than the brewer’s other types of beer and even spicing.

Dubbel: has a characteristic brown color, which is one of the classic Abbey/Trappist types. Dubbel was first developed in the 19th century at the Trappist monastery in Westmall. A dubbel has ABV range of 6-8%. Some typical dubbels are Maredsous, Sint Bernardus Peter, etc.

Flemish red: is represented by Rodenbach. I dont quite like this type. This beer is distinguished from a technical viewpoint using roasted malt, fermentation by a mixture of several ordinary top-fermenting yeasts and maturation in oak barrels. The result is a mildly strong beer with a deep reddish-brown color and a distinctly acidic, sour yet fruity and mouthy taste.

Table beer is the cheapest one in Belgium. We can drink during lunch as its ABV is only 1.5%.

beer  nam

I used to have a collection of Belgian beer bottles in Brussels, including all Trappists. Now, back to Hanoi, Belgian beers are still my friends. I often resort to 02 bars specialized in Belgian beers: SBB and Beer Temple but both sell at hefty prices:)

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Nam's speech at the first Belgian Beer Festival in Vietnam, 2014

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Friday, October 3, 2014 at 08:30pm

belgian beer festival 2014

Let me start by asking you guys some questions

Which country has the most individual beer brands in the world?

Which country has the best beer in the world?

Which country has the longest history of brewing in the world? The most types of beer in the world?

Which country has the strongest beer in the world?

Where is the bar with the most number of beer in the world?

Which country is regarded as the “Beer Capital” in the world?

Which country has the biggest beer company in the world?

 

belgian beer festival 2014 3

There are a lot of questions about the tale of beer but only one answer: BELGIUM!

I am not a beer expert but I have a great passion for beer, especially Belgian beer. I give myself the privilege of talking about the beer culture as I have drunk 200 different beers in the world, of those 148 are Belgian beers, including the best-rated beer in the world: Westvleteren XII. I spent one year in Belgium drinking beers almost every day. I tried to taste as many beers as possible and wrote down some notes about each beer. I travelled to different cities of Belgium to discover new beers and make a collection of beer bottles.

Today, I would like to share with you some of the unique points about Belgian beer.

belgian beer festival 2014 2

As you know or may not know, the history of Belgian beer can be dated back to the Middle Age. In the past, alcohol used to be banned in bars. Thus, Belgian breweries increased their ABV in their beers to replace alcohol. That’s why Belgium has the strongest beers in the world now, with ABV ranging from 1.5% to 12%. In fact, the most popular ABV of Belgian beers is from 7-11% ABV, except a unique case of Black Damnation VI Messy, 39%.

What is the different between popular beer brands in Vietnam and Belgian beers?

In Vietnam, we are all familiar with such beer brands as Heineken, Tiger, Hanoi or Saigon Beer. Some of you might refer Czech or German beers to the best beers in the world.

I used to be in both Czech Republic and Germany to drink their beers. I must say that there might be a big misunderstanding here. The reason is that most popular beers in Vietnam, including Czech and German beers or even Corona from Mexico belong to one type: Pils or Lager beer. It is one-timed and bottom-fermented, with ABV around 5%. This is the most popular beer in the world. If you want to compare, you can compare those to such Belgian Pils or Lagers as Jupiler or Stella Artois.

Most special beers in Belgium are two-timed and top-fermented, one time in the brewery and the second in the bottle. If you ever drink a special Belgian beer, you will, absolutely, realize that popular beers in Vietnam, even Czech or German beers, are watery.

How many beer brands in Belgium and how to differentiate between them?

To this point, I must insist that there is no exact statistics on the total number of beer brands in Belgium as many brands come and go. In addition, there are also seasonal brands to be produced in limited amount.

However, to my experience, there are around 600 different individual Belgian beer brands available in the market in 01 year.

Beer in Belgium can be differentiated by their color, taste or fermentation process. Most typically, Belgian beers are categorized into 18 types. I can count on some of them:

-     Pils or Lager beer: Jupiler, Stella Artois

-     Amber beer: Palm Special, Bush 12, Vieux Temps or La Gauloise

-     Wit/White beer: my favourite, is originated in the Flemish region, spearheaded by Hoegaarden, which is the best in the world. Wit beers have ABV about 5-6%, making it quite refreshing, especially in peak summer or after playing sports. Others include: Wittekerke from Kortrijk, Blanche de Namur from Namur, Blanche de Bruxelles from Brussels. My tip: Hoegaarden is the bestJ

-     Brown beers: are quite strong, with ABV ranging from 8-12%. Some popular ones of this type are Gulden Draak and Blue Chimay. I prefer drinking this strong beer with a cigar, as a substitute to the expensive “Cognac”.

-     Stout: do you know the most well-known stout, or dark beer, in the world – Guinness from Ireland? However, Belgium also possesses a very unique stout, Hercules, which is a dark, aromatic and strong beer. It seems that Hercules is brewed and fermented in a different way from Guinness, which is made from burnt malt.

-     Golden ale or Blonde: the most popular beer in Belgium. I can count on a variety of blond beers: Orval, Achel, Chimay, Emane, Rocherfort, etc. All of them are brewed twice, first in oak barrels, and second in the bottle itself. Blond beers aer quite strong, with ABV ranging from 8-12%. It is better to drink blond beers in the afternoon, evening or weekend when we do not have to work after that. Some others include: Lucifer, Judas, Satan and Moinette.

-     Tripel or triple beer: derives from Duvel Tripel. The name “Tripel” is then widely used in other breweries to name their blond, strong beers that are often brewed twice or triple times. All tripel beers are fermented on top of the barrels.

-     Abbey beer: is brewed by the monks. In the past, abbey beers were not sold for profit as all incomes were used for community works. Nevertheless, commercial breweries are now using this name based on an agreement with the abbey.

-     Trappist beer: is the proudest beer of Belgium. It only offers and authorizes 06 breweries to sell under the name: “Trappist Authentic”. I remember all of them: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmall and Westvleteren. Of those, Westvleteren XII has been crowned the best beer in the world for many times and in many beers rating events or competition.

-     Geuze/Lambic beer is quite sour. Lambic is a wheat beer brewed by spontaneous fermentation. Contrary to most modern beers, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts, Lambic’s fermentation is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, where locates the Brussels Capital region. Lambic undergoes a long aging period of 3-6 months to 2-3 years for mature. It is the unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavor: dry, vinous and cidery with a slightly sour aftertaste. This category is composed of 03 subcategories: Gueuze, Fruit Lambic and Faro.

-     Holiday or special beer is only brewed on special events like Christmas or Easter. Holiday beers may contain more alcohol than the brewer’s other types of beer and even spicing.

-     Dubbel: has a characteristic brown color, which is one of the classic Abbey/Trappist types. Dubbel was first developed in the 19th century at the Trappist monastery in Westmalle. A dubbel has ABV range of 6-8%. Some typical dubbels are Maredsous, Sint Bernardus Peter, etc.

-     Flemish red: is represented by Rodenbach. I don’t quite like this type. This beer is distinguished from a technical viewpoint using roasted malt, fermentation by a mixture of several ordinary top-fermenting yeasts and maturation in oak barrels. The result is a mildly strong beer with a deep reddish-brown color and a distinctly acidic, sour yet fruity and mouthy taste.

-     Table beer is the cheapest one in Belgium. We can drink during lunch as its ABV is only 1.5%.

In Belgium, beer is a culture and to discover the tale of Belgian beers is an endless journey. Last of all, I also take this opportunity to introduce to you the most unique beer in Belgium. This is the beer that you cannot buy in any supermarket or beer shop in the world. This is regarded by many experts or beer gurus as the best beer in the world. This is the beer that Belgians do not produce for commercial purpose.

beer  nam chi

The best beer in the world?

This is WESTVLETEREN XII! (I will bring one empty bottom to the festival, all suppliers in Vietnam: SBB, Beer Temple, Beer Plaza, do not have this beer).

If you want to taste this beer, you should visit Belgium and make a pilgrimage to where it is produced: the Abbey of Sint Sixtus!

Now, I hope that I have shared with you my knowledge and experience about Belgian beers. Believe me! The best way to understand the beer culture and the tale of Belgian beers is to…DRINK!

Let’s have a toast! Have a great evening with Belgian beers! Cheer!

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Michael Jackson's Great beers of Belgium

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Sunday, October 26, 2014 at 3:00pm

A couple of weeks after the first ever Belgian beer festival in Hanoi, I was invited to a lunch-buffet at the Ambassador's villa. I was so happy to see Mr. Bruno Angelet again, his wife and other friends. Especially, he made me so proudly by giving me a certificate of appreciation and a world-famous book about Belgian beers "Michael Jackson's great beers of Belgium". It seems that my journey to discover the tale of Belgian beers will never end indeed although I have been back to Vietnam.

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The Brewing Process (Abbey of Sint Sixtus)

by Dang Vu Hoai Nam on Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 4:10pm

The brewing process is composed of five main ingredients:

  • Malt
  • Hop
  • Yeast
  • Water
  • Sugar

1. Malt

Malt is a barley soaked in water under required circumstances and made to partially germinate. At a certain moment, the germinating process is restricted by kilning or drying the malt in an oast-house. The term malt is used for barley grains from which the little shoot has been completely removed. During germination, the barley secretes enzymes which gradually turn the insoluble starch and protein of the barley into soluble barley sugar and soluble protein. After all, the malting process aims at making the content of the barley soluble in order to make extraction possible while brewing. The composition of barley and other cereals is such that only a small proportion of them can be solved or extracted in water.

The malt provides the larger quantity of the sugars that are converted on fermentation and for the most part it also determines the color and taste.

2. Hop

Hop plants are tendrils that climb up to 7-8m. Only non-fertilised flowers of female plants are eligible for the making of beer. The most important hop constituents are the alpha acids. During the boiling of the wort (malt barley mashed with warm water), they undergo a specific thermic isomerisation resulting in the formation of iso-acids which give the beer its fine bitterness. This formation of iso-alpha acids is seen as a key reaction in the brewing process. Apart from that hop favours the shelf life of the beer.

3. Yeast

Yeast is a unicellular micro-organism which converts the sugars in the wort into alcohol and CO2. From the proteins, on the other hand, the aromas, taste, and olfactory components are formed needed to give beer its own individual touch.

 


 



 
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