Styles of Beer

Living Beer

The term "living beer" can be either high praise or a slap in the face for a brewer. If the things that are "living" in the beer are microorganisms that ought not to be there, then it is bad news for a beer and its brewer.

Live beer, however, generally refers to the presence of noble yeasts left over from the brewing process. Beers that have been bottled unpasteurized and unfiltered, with a significant amount of live yeast, are called "bottle-conditioned" beers. The purpose of bottling beers in such a manner is to give them the potential to age and develop more complexity. Yeast inhibits oxidation and contributes complex flavors as it breaks down slowly in the bottle. Many Belgian ales are traditionally bottle conditioned through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, in a process similar to that which produces champagne.
An unpasteurized beer bottled with its yeast will not age in the manner of a conventionally processed beer. With age, bottle-conditioned beers develop a rounded, smoother mouthfeel, and over the course of years, often take on winery, vinous flavors.
Bottle conditioning is an economical means for small-scale craft brewers to bottle ales without the need for costly pasteurization or filtration equipment. How long one cellars bottle-conditioned beers is a matter of personal taste and will also depend on the specific character of the beer in question.


Beers produced with bottom fermenting yeast strains, Saccharomyces uvarum (or carlsbergensis) at colder fermentation temperatures than ales. This cooler environment inhibits the natural production of esters and other byproducts, creating a crisper tasting product.

Pilsner Loosely, any golden-coloured, dry, bottom-fermenting beer of conventional strength might be described as a pilsner. German brewers take the style most seriously inspired by the Urquell brew from the town of Pilsen in the Czech province of bohemia. A classic pilsner is characterized by the hoppiness of its flowery aroma and dry finish. Light coloured lager typically lightly hopped with Hallertau or other German hops. Example: du Moulin Pilsner


Lambics The principle is that the yeast source for fermentation descends from the night sky, landing on a cooling vat of freshly brewed wort causing spontaneous fermentation. Lambics must container at least 30% unmalted wheat in the mash. No additional yeast may be added at any stage.

Draught Served in Belgian cafes

Oude gueuze Pronounced kurrs. Blend of young and old lambics with a touch of sugar added to aid in refermentation. Should be dry and spritzy with only the faintest hint of bitterness. Example: Chapeau Oud Gueuze, Oud Gueuze Vielle

Commercial gueuze Large production gueuzes appear to have only the faintest taste characteristics in common with their traditionally made counterparts and any beer could be called a lambic if genuine lambic is used in any part of production.

Cherry lambic Cherries are usually steeped in casks of lambic to refresh fermentation and add a strong fruit flavour and attractive colour. Called “Kriek”, but not every Kriek beer is a lambic. Example: Chapeau Kriek, Oud Kriek Vieille

Fruit lambic any other fruit can be substituted for cherries, but not every fruit beer is a lambic. Example: Chapeau Apricot, Chapeau Peach, Oud Framboise Vielle

Faro brown sugar is added. Sometimes called lambic doux. Example: Chapeau Faro


The English language term for a brew made with top-fermenting yeast which should impart a distinctive fruitiness to the beer. The top fermenting yeast perform at warmer temperatures than do yeast's used to brew lager beer, and their byproducts are more evident in taste and aroma. Ales are produced in a wide variety of colours, palates and strengths. There is a broad spectrum of Belgian ales. Fruitiness and esters are often part of an ale's character. Following is a list designed to clarify a few of the unique characteristics.

Trappist According to EC law, trappist ale may only come from six abbeys of the trappist order that still brew beer on their premises. Although the styles may differ widely between them, they all share a common trait of being top fermented, strong, bottle conditioned, complex, and fully flavored brews. At most, each abbey produces three different varieties of increasing gravity. These can often improve with some years of cellaring. In all there are 15 different trappist beers from the six monasteries. The ales from trappist abbeys are: Chimay, Rochefort, Orval, Westmalle, Westvleteren, and La Trappe.

Wheat beer Also called white or witt it is beer brewed with wheat that remains cloudy in the bottle. It is usually 4-5.5%ABV containing 30-50% of malted or unmalted wheat, imparting a strong grainy flavour. Spices and flavourings are commonplace. Example: Caracole Troublette

Blonde ales Light coloured, from blonde to golden, full bodied but polished beer. Some use aromatic hop varieties and spicing. There are several styles of blondes:

  • Plain blonde – light in colour – Example: Binchoise Blonde, Val Dieu Blonde
  • Kolsch Kolsch is an ale style emanating from Cologne in Germany. In Germany (and the European Community) the term is strictly legally limited to the beers from within the city environs of Cologne. Simply put Kolsch has the color of a pilsner with some of the fruity character of an ale. This is achieved with the use of top fermenting yeasts and pale pilsner malts. The hops are accented on the finish, which classically is dry and herbal. It is a medium to light bodied beer and delicate in style. Usually 4.3-5%ABV. Example – VanSteenberge Ever
  • Strong Beers listed in this category will generally pack a considerable alcohol punch and should be approached much like one would a Barley Wine. Indeed, some of them could be considered Belgian style barley wines. Expect a fruity Belgian yeast character and a degree of sweetness coupled with a viscous mouthfeel. Heavier blond ales of 8.5-9%ABV. Bitterness tends to range from obvious to assertive Example: VanSteenberge Piraat 9, Piraat 10.5, Satan Gold, Saxo , Moinette Blonde

Abbey Ales (Dubbel, Tripel, Singel). Monastic or abbey ales are an ancient tradition in Belgium in much the same manner as wine production was once closely associated with monastic life in ancient France. Currently, very few working monasteries brew beer within the order, but many have licensed the production of beers bearing their abbey name to large commercial brewers. These "abbey ales" can vary enormously in specific character, but most are quite strong in alcoholic content ranging between 6% alcohol by volume to as high as 10%. Generally abbey ales are labeled as either Dubbel or Tripel, though this is not a convention that is slavishly adhered to. The former conventionally denotes a relatively less alcoholic and often darker beer, while the latter can often be lighter or blond in color and have a syrupy, alcoholic mouthfeel that invites sipping, not rapid drinking.

  • Dubbel – Medium strong (6-8%ABV) copper brown to dark brown ale, refermented in the bottle made with some caramelized malts. Example: Bornem Dubbel
  • Tripel – strong (7.5-9.5%ABV) blonde to golden ale, refermented in the bottle made mainly with lighter malts but likely featuring other grains or sugars. Example: Bosteels Karmeliet Tripel, Val Dieu Tripel, Bornem Tripel
  • Quadruple Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol. Average alcohol by volume (abv) range: 9.0-13.0%. Example: Gulden Draak 9000, Val Dieu Grand Cru

Amber ales Between blonde and brown ales are a group of beer styles referred to as pale or amber ales. There are several differences in amber ales but the character is dominated by roasted, slightly caramelized overtones with an alcohol content of between 4-5.5%. Amber ales are usually classified as follows:

  • Saison Saison beers are distinctive specialty beers from the Belgian province of Hainuat with an alcohol level of between 5-7%. . These beers were originally brewed in the early spring for summer consumption, though contemporary Belgian saisons are brewed all year round with pale malts and well dosed with English and Belgian hop varieties. Lively carbonation ensues from a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The color is classically golden orange and the flavors are refreshing with citrus and fruity hop notes. Sadly, these beers are under appreciated in their home country and their production is limited to a small number of artisanal producers who keep this style alive. With a typically hoppy character, Saisons are an extremely esoteric style of beer that should appeal to any devotees of US craft beers, if you can track them down. Mature, delicately aged, complex, darkish pale ales with a slightly sour dryness. Example: Saison Dupont
  • AmbreeExample: Pauwel Kwak, Satan Red, Page 24 Ambree
  • Biere de Garde “beer to keep” Biere de Garde is a Flemish and northern French specialty ale generally packaged distinctively in 750ml bottles with a cork. Historically, the style was brewed as a farmhouse specialty in February and March, to be consumed in the summer months when the warmer weather didn't permit brewing. Typically produced with a malt accent, this is a strong (often over 6%), yet delicate bottle conditioned beer. These brews tend to be profoundly aromatic and are an excellent companion to hearty foods. Example: 3 Monts (light), Gavroche (dark), Page 24 Ambree (amber)
  • Altbier Put simply an Altbier has the smoothness of a classic lager with the flavors of an ale.
  • Brown ales These are complex dark beers most closely associated with the town of Oudenaarde in Flanders. The authentic examples are medium to full bodied beers that are influenced by a number of factors: high bicarbonate in the brewing water to give a frothy texture; a complex mix of yeasts and malts; blending of aged beers; and aging in bottle before release. In the best examples, the flavor profile is reminiscent of olives, raisins, and brown spices and could be described as 'sweet and sour.' These beers are not hop-accented and are of low bitterness. Rich, dark, sweet, sedimented with a varying degree of burnt and caramelized malt flavours. Example: Caracole Nostradamus, Val Dieu Brune, St. Martin Brune, Gulden Draak,, Moinette Brune

Cast Ales Unfiltered and unpasteurized. Aging beers in oak casks for many months after primary fermentation which introduces secondary and tertiary fermentation. These beers have a sourish tang Also known as:

  • Flemish Red These are also known as 'soured beers' and their defining character classically comes from having been aged for some years in well-used large wooden tuns, to allow bacterial action in the beer and thus impart the sharp 'sour' character. Hops do not play much role in the flavor profile of these beers, but whole cherries can be macerated with the young beer to produce a cherry flavored Belgian Red Ale. These ales are among the most distinctive and refreshing to be found anywhere.
    Example: Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne
  • Flemish Brown Example: Verhaeghe Vichtenaar
  • Flemish Sour Example: Echt Kriekenbiere

Barley wine

The point at which a strong blond, brown ale, stout or another beer becomes a barley wine is usually once the alcohol content is over 10%. Example: Deus Brut des Flandres, Scaldis Amber

Seasonal beer

Historically, there were special beers brewed at different times of the year.

Winter – usually dark and strong with impressive keeping quality. Example: Binchoise Speciale Noel, Scaldis Noel Premium

Easter Not a very highly produced category

Summer Belgians consider saisons and wheat beer as summer beer. Example: Saison Dupont,

Autumn experimentation with dark strong, spiced beers Example: Caracole Nostradamus,

Flavoured beers

A standard Belgian flavouring method.

Fruit beers fruit is steeped with the beer. Example: Brussels Apple Beer, Peche Mel Scaldis

Honey beers addition of honey as a substitute sugar. Example: Biere des Ours