Belgian Beer Series Part 1: Belgian Style Beer

I developed a new categorization system for Belgian style beers. I’m following up with a four-part series to explain it in more depth. This is the first installment in the four part series.

Beer style is a funny term. We all seem to know what it means yet nobody could tell you exactly what beer style is. Lets looks at an example: three major beer nerds are given the same beer. One calls it an American IPA, the other calls it an Imperial IPA and the third labels it as hoppy American amber ale.


     Are any of these three nerds right or wrong? Probably not, with beer style comes a high degree of subjectivity. The only thing it appears that they agree upon is the perceived hoppiness of the beer, which we’ve all come to associate with the three-letter acronym IPA and the word “hoppy”. Even still, the biggest nerds (myself included) would tell you that saying something is hoppy doesn’t really say much at all.

What Does Belgian Style Mean?

     “Belgian style” is a loose term that many struggle to define. It can mean a great number of very different things. It may refer to any of the following:

  • Brewed in Belgium
  • Complex characteristics stemming from unique strains of yeast and/or a high degree of focus on fermentation techniques
  • Based on historical Belgian brewing practices (i.e. the use of Belgian candied sugar to make beer, brewing practices of Belgian monks, etc.)
  • The complete lack of ability to taste similar to another beer; the individuality of any of these beers stands out

     When we examine that last bullet point things get a little confusing. The very nature of Belgian beer is such that it can’t easily be defined… Why bother at all then, right? Stylization and classification for beers of this nature serves a greater purpose: to educate and share beer with those who would otherwise be too confused or overwhelmed to try them. After all, we all have to start somewhere. Below is the main body of my new classification system.


Why Does This Matter To Me?

     Tryst will be incorporating a new categorization system for Belgian beer into menu design and product selection. This in no way means that I am correct, or that this is even the best means for looking at Belgian style beers. This is simply my way of understanding the Belgian beer universe and ultimately translating it to you and guests alike. This article provides a good comparison of different, widely accepted categorizations up against my system. Below is a sample image of how we may attempt to display it on the menu.


Please Remember

     Don’t take this narrow view of the Belgian beer universe to be sacred. Examine this system with a careful eye and form your own opinion. Familiarize yourself with these basic terms and their meanings. Examine the categorization and see how these beers are similar and/or different. Do this, and you will soon be comfortable talking about Belgian beer.

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