Beer In Restaurants – Part 3: Belgium

This is the third part of a series about beer and food in restaurants. You can read the first part, and more about this series here. The second part featuring NZ beers is here.

It’s incredibly hard to tackle Belgian beer in any medium. Whether it’s drinking, writing, visiting or buying.

Belgian beer is unique, interesting and plentiful. Even with the limited amount available here in Australia there is a wealth of variety and excellence.

Let’s kick this off on a slightly different foot, however, with comments received on social media around the topic of beer in restaurants.

I’ve put all the suitable responses here – some have been paired down for reasons of context.

I won’t editorialize on them as I think they all stand alone by themselves.


 Walk out if the beer list isn’t up to scratch. If a hardcore wine drinking foodie saw a winelist that only had Yellowglen yellow, Asti Ricadonna, Spumante and passion pop on it they would ignore the menu and leave. Why should beer be any different. You only need a range of about 10 beers, a few different styles chosen based on the menu, and its easy for anybody to have a good time.


If the point of going to a restaurant is for a night out, rather than just grabbing a meal, a place is crossed off our list if they don’t stock at least one or two beers that we’d enjoy. Exceptions being venues specifically known for their cocktails, or specific spirits – whisky, absinthe, etc.

If we do end up somewhere without a beer worth drinking, I’ll look at cider and then spirits (not a wine drinker). Even then, if there’s nothing I really want to drink/spend my money on, I’ll just have a soft drink.

I won’t ever buy a beer I have no interested in drinking, just for the sake of having a beer with a meal.

I’d like restaurants to weed out some of the Peroni/Corona/Asahi/Crown/Heineken blah blah, and make room for even just a couple of safe but satisfactory options – a Pale, an Amber, a Porter? Thinking accessibility, a hoppy IPA and a heavy Stout might not earn their keep in these type of venues.


Compared to the massive strides we’ve made in the last few years with beer generally, Australia is embarrassingly behind the 8 ball on this one. I think it reflects an inability to update our view that Australia does wine and wine only, coupled with a premature, superficial assessment of craft beer as a shiny new thing rather than a hugely diverse product which is here to stay. This ignorance is kind of understandable in lower tier restaurants, but it’s totally inexcusable that plenty of high end restaurants have beer lists that read like your local RSL.


When they’ve got the list divided into ‘International’ and ‘local’ beers, yet they’re all owned by Fosters or Lion my heart hurts.


If you can not make margin on it why bother? All about GP and if a beer lands at $4 a bottle your are selling it $12, 300% markup. Good luck moving it


Also (there is) something to be said about the predictability of food at beer focused places, the aversion to delicate dishes.


Surely Melbourne restaurants, are past having rubbish European Lagers on their bottled list. Consumers have been sourcing out tasty & local wine and food, so it makes sense to enjoy a tasty, local, full flavoured approachable craft beer with your meal too!


 Beer lists are poor, seemingly written by a heinlager drinker who understands wine but not good beer. I often chat to the manager about this. Then worse, rarely do they serve beer in a proper glass so the beer dies in the glass… We visit OZ regularly and only ever see mass market beers or weak flavoured crafts there but OZ has yet to get past the cold, bubbly, watery & sweet theme


I hate dull beer lists. Come to Canberra and understand my frustration, it’s all lion Nathan or Matilda bay. Some places are slowly getting craft in, with bridge road and 4 pines appearing to be the most prevalent. For any major city though, I think it is a essential to have some good beers on their, and preferably some local beers, I mean, we all like to support our local winemakers so why not breweries?


I think a lot of beer focused places don’t consider the food pairings. Except pork belly, it matches with everything.


Here are my five Belgian beers that can go on almost any menu here in Australia. Like the preceding posts this isn’t a list of my favourite beers. They are chosen based on availability and suitability for a restaurant.

Before we start, if you are reading this and have influence over a beer list that doesn’t currently include Belgian beers, then you might need to rethink your position. Belgium is to beer as France is to wine.  To overlook either is a mistake – but it seems to me most restaurants will go local/regional lagers for their beer but are more than happy to put French wines on their wine list.

Rochefort 8

One of the most readily available trappist beers, the Rochefort 8, is to my mind one of the best value beers on the market. This beer retails some places for less than $10.. which would be high if it weren’t for the fact that this is a 9.2% silky delight.

To give some context – there is no massive difference in quality between these and the Westvleteren beers – but if you wanted to buy one bottle of Westvleteren (be it the equivalent beer, or their most famous “XII”) you would have to be canny enough to find one and then it’ll cost you $50+ for the pleasure.

You could go with this, or the Westmalle Dubbel, or really any of the Westmalle or Rochefort beers and you have a stunning, world-class, classic beer to sit beside your food.

When sniffing this beer, you can’t escape the raspberry bubblegum aromas, candied fig, sweet roasted hazelnuts and overripe banana. It’s a gloriously interesting beer to smell and even better to drink.

This beer (like the other trappists mentioned here) basically embarrasses brewers the world over.

Embarrasses them by being so ridiculously silky smooth while scarily belying its high alcohol content. The flavours are both warming yet dry. Sweet, with a gentle bitterness to back it up as it mellows and leaves you tasting caramel, toffee, all of the aromas I mentioned above and boozy winter fruits. It’s refined and, dare I say, gentle.

This is a beer for game meats, winter stews and rich desserts, but it’ll also sit side-by-side with any cheese platter without even needing to stretch its legs. If you did want to stretch it,  you can push this beer to shellfish (moules frites anyone?) or even spicy food. Letting the sweet fruits cut through the heat.

It’ll take as much or as little as you throw at it and you’ll be better for it.

Rodenbach Grand Cru

The undisputed king of Flemish styles. The Rodenbach Grand Cru combines sugary sweetness with malt vinegar tartness and a hit of acidic sourness. Flavours of granny smith apple and dried fruit are crisp enough to leave you refreshed, and it it’s your first time, a little confused.

The match that your modern beer nerd is reaching for is fish and chips (I should say that the idea came to me via Jono Galuszka ). Given its strong vinegar flavours, a byproduct of the bacteria used during fermentation, then it’s obvious to see why.

However if that is too lowbrow for you, then ripe brie, or goats cheese provide the perfect creaminess for a beer such as this.

Given the flavours here you can also take this beer quite far out of the box when thinking about putting it with food. Imagine Rodenbach oyster shooters with native finger limes, or Rodenbach reduction for a peppery steak.

One of the best meals I had on my trip to Belgium was a carbonnade made with Rodenbach; lending a touch of tartness and sweet fruit to a rich beef stew.

Finally, with dessert you can put this aside rich chocolate but I’d make sure there was some tart fruit in the dessert to help merge the two.  Or better yet, use it in the dessert itself.

Duvel

I agonised over putting this one on the list. It’s not the most exciting nor even close to my favourite Belgian beer. It would struggle to make my top… 100?

While it carries an unmistakably Belgian yeast character it does have a touch of sweetness that, even for a hefty 8.5% ale, gives it something in common with modern lagers. It helps it straddle the line between a beer lover’s choice and a crowd pleaser for people who just want a beer.

I picked up a bottle the other day to help me make up my mind and after that bottle I knew I probably wouldn’t buy it just as a standalone beer, but during the bottle I couldn’t help think of how well it would work with food. Not as a flavour match or a bold-counter-point, but rather how it is the perfect beer for people who just want a “beer”.

I’ve had it before at an “all you can eat” ribs place and it really came into its own. Enough of something to keep you interested without it being even close to the focus.

A nice beer to take you through a meal. Cross off Peroni, or Stella, or whatever generic lager sits on the menu and fill that gap with a far more interesting beer.

Orval

Another Trappist, Orval treads a different path to the rest; with brettanomyces yeast and slightly more prominent use of hops, it is a beer that has stood the test of time. While it’s been around since the early 1930s, many modern breweries would kill to get the flavour of Orval. Leather, citrus, hay – it is dry and familiar but constantly surprising.

With food, it will take on any cheese platter with ease. It also shines with a lot of fresh herbs so think fresh fish, salad with thyme, sage, basil, mint, etc etc.

Another great salad for Orval is the classic pear/rocket/parmesan salad. Throw a crispy-base pizza into the mix and you have a perfect meal.

The dry finish also lets it go up against some fattier meats with relative ease, while the yeast and hop character will allow it to stand up to moderately spiced food.

Lindemans Kriek Cuvee Rene

I thought a lot about putting a lambic-style beer here – mostly about which one to choose.

There was a time recently where Cantillon, the most famous lambic brewery/blendery, could be found on a few menus around Australia but that time has passed.

There are fortunately a few good ones in reasonable supply still. For this list I’ve chosen the Lindemans Kriek Cuvee Rene because it easy to get your hands on and retails for a decent price (compared to something like the Tilquin Gueuze – which is stunning, but pretty expensive).

I’ve seen a few restaurants lately trumpeting their use of lambic in cooking or on a menu, but disappointingly they are usually the crap artificial or back-sweetened versions that are just a waste of time (seriously, if you have one on your menu… just… don’t. At least ask someone who knows).

Lindemans are responsible for some of these horrors, but this particular one and their Cuvee Rene Gueuze, are definitely not a waste of time.

This beer is quite acidic, and has sharp dry finish with a big hit of sourness and moderate flavours of cherry, hay and candied fruit.

My favourite beer and food match is slow roasted pork shoulder and a kriek such as this. Fruit sourness tearing through fatty pork is a special combination. Given the current popularity of pulled pork, slow roasted meats and rich fatty flavours, then restaurants should be turning to these beers to help their diners through it.

Another favourite for me is lambic style beers with fruit and cream based desserts. Something like a panna cotta with fresh fruit. Creamy textures and sharp sour beer are really something special. An impressive and unique way to finish a meal.

This one will also go great with almost any cheese, white flesh fish, or garden fresh salads.

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. Great list, and great series of posts. I just got a great kick about the social media comments.

    I think the comment regarding whether you’re just going out for a meal or going out for a night out is spot on. Unfortunately the perception is still that beer isn’t quite sophisticated enough… food and beer can be paired to increase the enjoyment of both!

    But hey, I’m just preaching to the choir now, aren’t I?

  2. Great list, and great series of posts. I just got a great kick about the social media comments.

    I think the comment regarding whether you’re just going out for a meal or going out for a night out is spot on. Unfortunately the perception is still that beer isn’t quite sophisticated enough… food and beer can be paired to increase the enjoyment of both!

    But hey, I’m just preaching to the choir now, aren’t I?

  1. November 15, 2014

    […] you cast your mind back to the last post in this series, there was a comment from social media about trying to move beer with industry […]

  2. November 15, 2014

    […] you cast your mind back to the last post in this series, there was a comment from social media about trying to move beer with industry […]

  3. December 8, 2014

    […] on beer in restaurants,  looked at what is happening in the Wellington beer and food space, got opinions from social media, and spoken to sommeliers about their thoughts on beer in […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *