Ryan Sweeney of Little Bear helps us decipher the Da Vinci Code of beer lists with a nifty decision tree
From Specialized Spirits to Craft Beer
First it was cocktail bars who made the switch to specialized spirits with Mezcal joints, Rum arenas and bourbon dens (boy are we tired of these), but now Ryan Sweeney of Verdugo Bar out east and Surly Goat in the west is clearing a new path for the craft beer movement downtown with his latest Belgium-brew centric revelry, Little Bear. It’s no doubt that in the last few years craft beer has had its run in the sun and we think it’s safe to say that Sweeney has certainly left his mark on the micro-brew boom.
From Budweiser to Belgian Strongs
These days, you can’t walk into a restaurant without finding a well rounded list of small batch suds -at least one or two with alcohol percentages hitting double digits. Delirium Tremens has become as common place as Budweiser and people are starting to feel less silly for sipping from a tulip shaped glass covered in pink elephants.
As our comfort zones swell, beer nerds like Sweeney see an opportunity to hunker down and get a little more focused in adapting our prude palates. But as we go deeper into the monastic brew rabbit hole, differentiating between the cluster of Belgian styles can leave one mindlessly staring at a daunting menu jam packed with esoteric and virtually indistinguishable options, yearning for a simpler time when it was just a choice between light and dark.
So we sat down with Sweeney and etched out one of those nifty little decision trees you used to love so much as a toddler to help you decipher their somewhat deluding scroll of small batch Belgian style beers.
The Five Belgian Styles:
First and foremost we’ll say that it's grossly inaccurate to distill the broad variety of Belgian styles down to 5 categories, and if we’re ever found out by the Trappist Monk community, we might be forlorn to spend the rest of our days seeking forgiveness at the highest peaks of the Ardennes Mountains (look it up). But for the sake of your livelihood, we'll do it, just make sure to honor us with a clink of the mug when we’re gone.
Tasting Notes for the Big Five:
Lambics are sort of the benchmark of Belgian style beers. Expect a tart, slightly funky flavor profile that is perfect for light snacking or an aperitif before the meal. There are also sweet Lambics, but those are better off with desserts or sipped on their own.
Saison and Farmhouse style Belgians are on the funkier side. Chardonnay drinkers will usually be huge fans thanks to the crisp texture and barnyardy flavor.
Blondes,Triples and Belgian Strongs are all your medium range semi-sessionable beers (meaning they're great for drinking alone). Think a little higher on the alcohol % with a variety of overt flavor.
Strong Darks and Quads
These are the heavy hitters of the Belgian Beer crew. Expect intense flavors with dark fruit, plums, raisins and a combination of tars and spices with the beefed up alcohol percentage to match.
This category includes all of the easy drinking Belgian styles like Belgian Pilsner, Pale, Amber or Dark Ales. These are all generally lower in alcohol and far more approachable to start off with.