Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Harpoon Belgian Pale Ale

We all appreciate the fine people of Belgium for giving us the Belgian Waffle (sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar FTW), and French Fries (invented in Belgium…stolen by the smelly French). But just as much as the two aforementioned foodstuffs, the Belgians are known for making beer. One such beer is the Belgian Pale Ale.

Belgian Pale Ales are typically less bitter than the American and English style pale ales and India pale ales that you may be familiar with. They generally use more subtle hop types and quantities so that the character of the beer is focused on sweet toasty malts. Being Belgian, they are brewed with Belgian yeast varieties that leave a white yeast sediment on the bottom of the bottle of this unfiltered beer. The beer should be poured into a glass slowly so that the yeast stays in the bottle (about the bottom half inch of bottle). Despite this recommendation, there’s no harm in drinking the sediment. In fact, it's actually good for you because it is high in vitamin B (which helps in hangover prevention!), but it would leave your glass very cloudy and alter the taste slightly.

Harpoon Brewing Company out of Massachusetts has recently released a new seasonal variety, "Belgian Pale Ale". This beer is brewed and conditioned using the same recipe as their standard Harpoon IPA, except it is fermented with Belgian Golden Ale yeast. That sounds like a minor difference, but actually, different yeast varieties define the character of a beer more than anything else. It's like changing the singer of a band (think Rage Against The Machine vs Audioslave). Blue Moon is one example of a beer that is fermented with a Belgian yeast. The Belgian yeast variety used by Harpoon gives this brew a slight natural spiciness and fruitiness that reminds me of bananas.

I thought this beer was pretty good, but as expected, it tastes very different from the Harpoon IPA you're familiar with. It maintains some of its floral hop aroma but this is integrated with a sweeter, fruitier smell. In general it seems more mellow than their IPA and a good deal sweeter, with more of an emphasis on the malts. Unfortunately there's nothing that makes this beer pop. It seems to be an attempt to please all, rather than make a truly superb beer. That’s not to say it’s a bad beer – I found it enjoyable and I do recommend you try it. And if you're really curious as to what a different yeast can do to a beer, try it side-by-side with a Harpoon IPA.

In short, Harpoon's Belgian Pale Ale is good enough, but doesn't knock your socks off. The waffles, however, were outstanding.


1 comment:

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