EXPLORING THE BELGIAN WORLD OF BEER
Since we launched BELGIAN BEER JOURNAL.com in September 2013, we have looked back at where we’ve been and (more importantly) where we are going. Some visions are new, where other visions have stayed constant. It is those consistencies that provide the foundation, motivating us to explore the BELGIAN world of beer. One thing we have learned about that world: the current Belgian Beer scene is hugely dynamic and ever-changing. This causes us not to rest on our laurels.
OUR CORE MISSION
As our good friend, Master Brewer Jerry Vietz of Unibroue says: “Great beer deserves attention.” We agree wholeheartedly. Belgian Beer Journal.com is a platform where Belgian Beer (and Belgian-style and Belgian-inspired beers) will be showcased. We seek to educate the populace that these beers deserve the respect and accolades that great wines receive. After all, great beer is more complex (and more difficult to produce) than wine is. Our viewpoints on those beers will be fun, idiosyncratic, and thought-provoking.
Belgian Beer Journal.com believes that beer be enjoyed in moderation to people of a legal drinking age in the country they live. We believe that Belgian beers should be paired with great food that compliments the flavor profile of the beer. Being a gastronomic society, native Belgians hold dear to these beliefs as well.
Belgian Beer Journal.com also believes that there are inherent health benefits to consuming beer in moderation. Google the search term, “Health benefits to moderate drinking” and over 1.8 million search results pop up.
There are many great beers from the world’s brewing countries. However, there is no doubt that beers from Belgium (and the classic styles that emanate from Belgium) are quickly growing in popularity. More food establishments are incorporating the use of cooking with beer (specifically beers from Belgium) as shown in the rise in number of advanced Belgian beer dinner events held at Michelin 4 and 5 star and Zagat rated restaurants, cafés , and bistros- especially in the United States.
Belgian beer flavor profiles are so complex, that even experienced wine enthusiasts who once balked at the idea of even mentioning the word “beer” are discovering that there are actually many beers that taste like wines! This usually leads the drinker to search out different styles of Belgian beers and the individuality and complexity they offer.
No other country has such a dedicated cuisine as does Belgium. The Nouvelle-France cuisine in the province of Québec, Canada (spearheaded by Unibroue) is a close second, in our estimation. Arguably, no other country has held on to its brewing traditions as firmly as Belgium. We invite you to seek out a good Belgian beer at a quality retail shop, brew pub, pub, restaurant, or beer festival while on your travels, or in your hometown. Once you try a Belgian beer for the first time, you will discover why we are so passionate about them!
ABOUT THE CEO
IT ALL BEGAN IN 1981…
I discovered the world of beer by accident- more succinctly, the world of CRAFT beer. While in a Walden Books store, I found a book published by a curiously named beer writer, Michael Jackson. The title of the book was THE WORLD GUIDE TO BEER. To this day, it is still considered one of the most fundamental books on the subject. I delved into the book, and what I found fascinating is that there were beers with different and wonderful flavor profiles that greatly surpassed the typical adjunct beers we Americans we so used to- (Bud, Coors, Miller).
Being the artistic, visually oriented person that I am, I found the three macro beers to be quite boring early on. I sought out retail outlets that sold English, and German style beers. Upon guidance from The World Guide to Beer, I started developing my palate to recognize such brewing terms as Diacetyl, Hoppy, and more.
Because of Michael Jackson’s description of it, I decided to make GUINNESS EXTRA STOUT (bottled version) my first beer to try away from the American watery beers.
I remember the first initial taste being super roasty and malty, viscous, and quite shocking to my palate! I thought to myself, “so this is what real beer tastes like…”
As time passed, I dutifully read Mr. Jackson’s book to learn even more about the wonderful world of beer. As I read, I daydreamed about visiting the great breweries in other countries that Michael wrote about.
I remember to this day watching the old Don Kirshener’s Rock Concerts on Friday and Saturday nights on TV, (remember those?) while experiencing new styles of beers- pale ales, stouts, pilsners, scotch ales, hefeweisens, bocks, and many others.
Over the years, my palate developed to a higher degree to be able to recognize such things as bitterness, texture, mouthfeel, etc. My curiosity deepened, and as micro-breweries began to become more abundant in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I naturally gravitated to wanting to meet the individuals that shared such a passion for great beer and great times. In the 1990’s I worked several tasting events on a volunteer basis. Such events as the KQED Beer and Food Festival, The Seattle Beer Festival, and many others. The KQED Beer Festival was one of my favorites- there was a genuine atmosphere of fun and many beers available from around the world to sample.
I would have to say my most favorite craft beer memory is when I met The Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, in person in 1991 while working at Gordon Biersch in San Jose, California. He was with Bret and Julie Nickels (former publishers of Celebrator Beer Magazine). Michael was very down to earth, reserved, yet full of wit and charm.
My friend Doug was visiting me at work, and I had the chance to introduce him to the man I had talked about so very often, and whose books I had read over the years. Doug was an avid Coors drinker at the time. I had been introducing new beers to . When Doug introduced himself to Michael Jackson, the first thing he asked Michael was “So… Gordon has told me all about you, and that your a beer writer of sorts.” (At this point, Bret, Julie and I look at each other with concern) Doug then asked Michael, (with a bit of bravado I might add) “What’s your opinion of Coors beer??” (Bret, Julie and I looked at each other in embarrassment, as if to silently say “Oh no… he didn’t just ask that!!”) Michael, ever the gentleman, offered a classic response that was respectful to my friend, yet at the same time clearly described his dislike for the watery beer- “Well… Coors… It has it’s own quality” and left it at that! Bret, Julie, and I knew what Michael meant. Doug walked away feeling glad he had met the Bard of beer. The saying is true- a kind word goes a long way.
I had the chance to talk with Michael one on one for a few minutes while he was at Gordon Biersch. He invited me to a homebrewer’s / brewers festival at the Hilton hotel in Oakland California. Many people from Zymurgy magazine were there, but Michael specifically instructed me to seek him out when at the festival. I had advised him that I would be working the Gordon Biersch booth, so it worked out well.
Upon meeting with him at the festival, he proceeded to teach me more about beer, how to recognize the different flavor profiles and characteristics in a more profound way than anything I have ever read on the subject- (even from his books) as we went around to sample products from the different homebrewer’s and brewer’s booths. What Michael Jackson taught me that day, I will cherish for a lifetime. To this day, because of what Mr. Jackson taught me, I believe my palate for great beer is better than ever.
HOW I DISCOVERED BELGIAN BEER
In the summer of 1983, while visiting the LIQUOR BARN in Dublin, California (the only one left out of the original California stores (they became BevMo) is in Redding, California), I discovered a curiously shaped bottle which was corked, that looked like something out of Holy medieval times on one of its shelves. The red label said “CHIMAY Peres Trappistes” on it. No warning label; most of the language on the label was in French. My curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to try it. My friend’s dad told me before I even tried my first sip, that he had enjoyed Chimay in Europe during WWII and LOVED it.
Upon opening the beer and pouring it into the wide-mouthed goblet (the label on the back had an illustration as to what glass to serve it in and at what temperature) I poured out a murky brown colored ale with such an effervescence and such a beautiful rocky head that fascinated me. The bouquet was nothing like I had ever experienced before in all the other beers I had tried before it.
And then… the taste. BAM! What a revelation. I remember the sparkling feel in my mouth from the bottle conditioning that left me speechless. I remember the taste being of chocolate and apricots, with a gentle hop bitterness to it. From that point on, I had to discover more about Chimay Trappist Ales, and all beers from Belgium. I could write a long dissertation about my discovering more Belgian beers over the decades, but I’ll just end this story with a most popular cliché… From the moment I tried Chimay Red / Chimay Première for the first time, “the rest is history”… that continues to this day.
To read more about my 30-year history with Chimay Trappist Ales, click here.
I have enjoyed a multitude of Belgian and beers brewed in the classic Belgian styles from other countries for 35 + years now. And I wish to write about what I do know and have experienced. I strongly believe that educating yourself about beer (and gaining book smarts about it) is a good thing. To me, however, nothing matches the thousands of wonderful moods, moments, and experiences over these 3 + decades that I have been blessed to enjoy with this beloved liquid called beer.
GORDON A. PONCE is the main driving force behind Belgian Beer Journal.com. Since 1983, Gordon recognized that beers from Belgium were special, set apart from the typical craft beer.
He has worked for the following companies and individuals in the beer industry: Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery, Personal Touch Distributing / Morgan Hill, CA, Thames America LTD. (now Ace Cider / California Cider Company), Alehouse Distributing / Seattle, WA, The late Alan Eames (The Indiana Jones of Beer), Paradigm Productions, Courtyard by Marriott, BevMo!, and Hopyard Alehouse.
He views beers from Belgium (plus Belgian-style and Belgian Inspired beers from other countries) great examples of the brewer’s art. He regards the Trappist Quadrupel style as his favorite type of beer, with Unibroue’s 17 Grande Réserve (vintage 2014, aged in Rum and Cognac soaked barrels) being his absolute favorite beer of all time. He treasures the friendships he makes along the way in his journey running this crazy enterprise, he calls Belgian Beer Journal.com. Ecclesiastes 8:15