I blame the surroundings, and please don’t tell my wife, but I fell in love with a Belgian blonde. It happened so innocently in a picturesque café on the scenic canals of Brugge — a place romantics call the Venice of the north. She was backlit by the Belgian sun and her bronze body was covered with the tightest of Belgian lace clinging to the sides of a perfect hourglass-shaped chalice. Her scent was enchanting, but it was her hidden alcohol content that left me as dizzy as a schoolboy in love.
The Belgian blonde ale or abbey-styled single ale has a relatively short 60-year history, yet this blonde ale is the most emulated of all Belgian beer styles. It is a hybrid style that visually tempts the lager drinker but seduces the ale drinker with her flavour.
This ale glows with luminous malts and yellow Belgian candy sugar. It is unique in that it uses two different yeast strains in the fermentation process. The first one is in the initial tank fermentation while the second is added to condition the beer. This dual yeast interplay creates the beer’s dense head, reminiscent of whipped cream.
Most brews of this style are trying to imitate Duvel (8.5 per cent), or “devil” in Flemish. She is the most popular blonde and is served everywhere in Belgium — from the seediest beer cafés to the best waffle houses to the greasiest of fritteries. For people new to beer, Duvel is an easy place to start your lust of the Belgian blonde. If you ever outgrow your schoolboy crush on her, here are some other blondes to savour:
• Achel 8 Blonde (8 per cent): This blonde, or abbey single, is brewed with the truest of monastic roots — made by the Trappist monks of Achel. Achel is the second smallest of the Trappist breweries, with production smaller than Calgary’s Wild Rose Brewery, yet reaching global markets. Its blonde is one of the driest examples of the style. Her best qualities are perfumy — airy without being clingy, as some blondes can be.
• Affligem Blonde (7 per cent): Continuing in the monastic abbey single theme, this brew is from the most traditional of the abbeys. Its brewing has long been contracted out, but this abbey still has its own hop fields. This blonde surprises with a biting forefront of hops mixed with a subtle complexity of sweet malt backbone. Excellent in the bottle, and sometimes great on tap, this blonde is very inviting.
• Dieu du Ciel’s Dernière Volonté (7.25 per cent): I met this one a little west of Belgium; she is from Canada’s Belle Province. This blonde has a sexy Québécois accent with a younger attitude. The name Dernière Volonté means “last will” in French, and the tight lace over her golden creamy body makes for the hoppiest of endings.
The Belgian blonde is perfect with moules and frites (mussels and fries), sharp cheeses and, of course, a wasted day at a café in Brugge.