Beer Town: Celebrating the Belgian connection

When I first started writing about beer, most of the “Great Beers of Belgium” celebrated in Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking 1991 book weren’t available in Atlanta. In fact, they weren’t common anywhere in the U.S.

Jackson was the late, great British writer who elevated beer to a status once reserved for fine wine and spirits. “Great Beers of Belgium” gave new life to brewing in Belgium and Jackson’s work inspired beer lovers on both sides of the Atlantic, people who not only explored and savored the breadth of Belgian styles, but began brewing new versions of the classics.

Ommegang, New Belgium, New Glarus, Allagash, Boulevard, and Lost Abbey are well know for creating Belgian-style beers and both New Belgium and Boulevard employ Belgian brewers.

But nowadays, most American craft breweries are making some sort of Belgian-inspired beer, from wheat and pale ale to dubbel, triple and quad styles. And takes on Belgian sour beers are arguably the hottest trend, though I doubt sour will ever become the new bitter, as witnessed by the number of Belgian IPAs in production.

Here in Atlanta, Crawford Moran has been experimenting with Belgian styles since his days with Dogwood Brewing and continues to invent recipes for saison in an ongoing series at Five Seasons. You’ll find Belgian-style beers at other Atlanta brewpubs, too, including Twain’s and Max Lager’s.

Currently brewed under contract, Wild Heaven has plans to open a brewery in Avondale soon. Among it’s best known beers, there’s Invocation, a Belgian-style golden ale, Eschaton, a Belgian-style quadruple ale, and Special Winter Ale, a seasonal version of Ode To Mercy aged on bourbon.

Three Taverns, which recently opened in Decatur, is perhaps the South’s first brewery dedicated solely to Belgian-style beer. The first two Three Tavern offerings are Single Intent, a Belgian-style single, and A Night in Brussels, a Belgian-style American IPA.

Plans are in the works to employ a young Belgian brewer, Joran Van Ginderachter, who worked for Kasteel and Bockor in Belgium, and has been consulting at Three Taverns. Going forward, look for barrel-aged and sour beers from that partnership.

Of course, Atlanta is blessed with a number of great beer bars, where you can enjoy true Belgian beers from venerable producers side-by-side with Belgian-style beers from American craft brewers.

Go out and try a few and raise a glass to Michael Jackson while you’re at it.