Belgian Beer Series Part 3: Belgian Style Café 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. For previous articles in this four part series… one, two

In the previous section we talked about Belgian strong ale and some of the unique differences amongst those various sub-categories.  Now we turn our attention to a category that I’ve identified as Belgian café beer.


Belgian Style Café Beer

     Belgian cafés are famous the world over for their unique atmosphere and wonderful cuisine.  Not all Belgian beers are of great alcoholic strength.  These may sometimes become known as ‘food beers’ for their ease of pairing and drinkability.  From a historical perspective, many of the beers that fall into this category were drunk amongst ‘the haves’ and ‘the have-nots’.

Belgian Sour Beer

     Sour is a term that carries some limitations.  It leads the guest to believe something may taste one very specific way.  In reality, beers that are labeled as “sour” are often one-of-a-kind.  Some of these “sour” beers are initially fermented with brewer’s yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae) but then wild microbes and wild yeast (brettanomyces) infect the beer.  The result is often a full-bodied, full-flavored unique beer.  Ale is always beer, but a beer does not have to be an ale.

Beer – “Beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by the saccharification of starch and fermentation of the resulting sugar.” [1]

Ale – “Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using a warm-fermentation with a strain of brewers’ yeast.” [2]

     What are we getting at here?  The parent category carefully uses the term café beer instead of café ale because the “sour” component that defines the near-flavor profile for many of these beers is derived from wild microbes and wild yeast.

Associated styles: Flanders red, oud bruin, lambic, fruit lambic, geuze

Belgian Session Beer

     This definition was developed for a Northern Virginia Magazine article a while back…

Session Beer /sesh-uhn beer/ – Beers are low in alcohol, usually listed at 5-percent alcohol by volume, or less, typified by its balanced characteristics. These beers leave a clean finish, and because of easy drinkability and low alcohol levels, few can be consumed in a—wait for it—session. The term can refer to either the gathering itself or the beer (i.e., Let’s grab a session or two at the pub).

     In the case of Belgian beer, the 5-percent alcohol by volume seems a tad low.  Every brewing culture has its own accepted range of alcoholic content for what may be a suitable ‘session beer’.  A major joining theme here amongst these beers is their drinkability.  This sub-category includes beers that are highly regarded for their thirst quenching characteristics and ease of pairing with food.

Associated styles: saison, biere de garde, BPA (Belgian pale ale), blonde, witbier

Drumroll Maestro

     The chosen beers to represent this new categorical system at Tryst will be announced this Thursday. Make sure to follow me and @TrystDC on twitter for updates and specials. We’re going to move a lot of beer before we bring in all this new product, I’m just sayin’…

[1] Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2013, from
[2] Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2013, from

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