What is a Belgian Pale Ale?

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First Posted: 7/14/2014

Style: Belgian Pale Ale

Brief history: The Belgian Pale Ale style has roots dating as far back as the mid-1700s. The style has changed quite a bit over the years, with the biggest change occurring during World War II when more Belgian brewers brewed and experimented with the style to compete with pilsners. They differ from other regional Pale Ale varieties, by traditionally being less bitter, using aged hops for a delicate hop finish, and boasting sweetish to toasty malt overtones. The style as we now know it stems from the influence of English hops and yeast strains.

Standard characteristics: As with American or India Pale Ale, balance is the key to brewing this style of beer with no one characteristic being more dominant than the other. The overall impression of the beer should be fruity, moderately malty, somewhat spicy, easy drinking, and typically copper to amber in color with an ABV range between 4.8 to 5.5 percent, with some exceptions that are considered Belgian session beers.

Nose: The aroma should have malt present with subtle fruit and hop character as well. The malt aroma should be toasty and biscuit-like with subtle orange or pear-like notes. The hop aromas should lean more towards being floral or spicy without being too dominant, and have subtle spicy pepper-like notes in the background.

Body: A medium to medium-light body is standard for the style with very little alcohol heat present due to the typical lower levels of alcohol within the beer. The carbonation should also fall well within the medium range for a smooth, easy-drinking mouthfeel.

Taste: The overall flavor profile for the style should be fruity and lightly to moderately spicy with soft, smooth malt and relatively light hop character. The hop bitterness should also be low to keep the beer in complete balance and enhance the drinkability.

Food pairing: Almost any pork dish is perfect for Belgian Pale Ales: sausages, roast suckling pig, pork chops, roast loin of pork, pork tenderloin, or pork shoulder. This beer is also ideal with roasted chicken, lamb, turkey, and a wide array of white fish.

Recommendations: Belgian Pale Ales are beers that can be enjoyed from a vast array of beer drinkers ranging from someone drinking his or her first craft beer to the most jaded of craft beer drinkers. The easy drinkability of these beers is important to the style and many have lower ABV’s and have been brewed to be enjoyed by the pint during a night out. Here are just a few recommendations: Brewery Ommegang, Rare Vos; Russian River Brewing Company, Redemption; Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Luciérnaga; The Firefly; Weyerbacher Brewing Co., Verboten; Brooklyn Brewery, Local 1; Goose Island, Matilda; Brouwerij Palm NV, Palm; The Lost Abbey, Devotion Ale; Brouwerij De Smedt/Brouwerij Affligem, Affligem Blond.