By Gary Glancy
Take a walk into just about any brewery tasting room in Western North Carolina, or take a peek inside the bus of one of our local brewery tour operations, and what do you see? Couples. Lots and lots of couples.
The notion that wine is upscale romance while beer is a blue-collar man’s drink has changed dramatically in the past decade. Beer has caught up to wine in many ways, perhaps no more so than in beer’s image as an enchanting love facilitator. Particularly in beer-centric Asheville, breweries not only serve as destinations for couple getaways, they also are the hot new choice for wedding venues.
And if craft beer is the new love libation, then the Aphrodite of ales no doubt is anything Belgian.
Whether it’s your wedding reception, rehearsal dinner or welcome party for out-of-town guests, Belgian-style beers add a touch of elegance to any matrimonial-based function. First, let’s take a look at what distinguishes these exotic elixirs.
For centuries the Belgian brewing culture and methodology has been vastly different than that of the rest of Europe. While German brewers lived by Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 that mandated the use of only the four staple ingredients in beer (malt, hops, water and yeast), Belgian brewers have always approached their craft with a bit more creative flair. Candied sugar, fruit, vegetables, herbs—they’re all accepted and welcome in the brew kettle, fermenter or oak barrel.
The other factor that makes Belgian-style beers uniquely Belgian is the yeast strains used to ferment these eclectic recipes. Typically conditioned at higher temperatures than your standard American or English ale, the Belgian yeast strains produce wonderful, complex aromas and flavors ranging from banana and clove to black pepper. Spicy, sexy and seductive—that is the reputation of a classic Belgian-style ale. And the use of a fancy chalice or tulip-shaped glass—showcasing the beer’s color and fluffy white head—for serving, lends a beautiful presentation.
For a light, refreshing choice with broad appeal, go with a witbier, also known as white ale. This traditional wheat beer incorporates the use of coriander and orange peel, producing a refreshing, spicy-fruity quencher with enough character to pair well with lighter foods.
Speaking of food and beer pairings, venerable Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster and author Garrett Oliver singles out saisons as the most versatile beer style on the planet. Indeed, their complex spiciness, dry crispness and lively carbonation make them a wonderful accompaniment to myriad appetizers, entrées and even desserts.
The best part is that you don’t have to fly to Belgium to curate these nectars. Most of WNC’s brewers produce one or multiple examples of these styles, contributing their own unique touches.
Gary Glancy is a freelance writer, beertender, tour guide and Certified Cicerone® living in Hendersonville.