The Easter feast usually gets second billing to Thanksgiving in America’s pantheon of food holidays, but the spread of ham, lamb, deviled eggs, and spring-tinged veggies makes Easter dinner the perfect opportunity to experiment with pairing food and beer. And some of the classic Belgian styles are wonderful matches for the foods and feelings of the holiday.
Here are three Belgian beer styles that are as at home on the Easter feast’s table as baskets of green plastic grass and pastel-dyed eggs.
This light-and-crisp wheat beer spiced with coriander and curacao orange peels was nearly lost to history when a Belgian milkman started a new brewery in the 1960s dedicated to re-popularizing the style. That beer, Hoegaarden, become the blueprint for the style’s revival, and there are now countless versions available from American craft brewers. Witbiers showcase yeast-derived flavors, often heavy with clove- and banana-like esters, and the low-alcohol, low-bitterness beers are great aperitifs perfect for enjoying with Easter brunch or while supervising an egg hunt. Try Eagle Rock Brewery’s Manifesto Wit or the new Saint Archer White (now available in cans) for examples from Southern California, or Allagash White Ale for one of the best American examples of the Belgian style.
First created in the early 20th century, these potent brews have become popular with the monastic Trappist breweries and craft brewers alike. Tripels are golden, effervescent and potent ales that use candi sugar to help increase the alcohol content (often to the 10% range) while keeping the body light. Usually dry and liberally hopped (by Belgian standards, at least) tripels are wonderful food beers, right at home with roasted chickens, pesto dishes, and even heartier fish. Chimay White is one of the best-known examples of the style, and with good reason. For a local version try Feminist from Monkish Brewing in Torrance; brewed with hibiscus flowers, it’s a little sweet and has a remarkable pink hue. Another example from Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing is Curieux -- a tripel aged in bourbon barrels; the complex and spirited brew is unique and a perfect after-feast digestif.
The current darling of the craft beer world, the saison is a loosely defined style that developed in the farmhouses of Belgium’s Wallonia region. The spicy, peppery yeast common to the style and catch-all nature of the “farmhouse ale” designation has fueled many craft brewer’s creativity, and the shelves are positively laiden with new examples. Even hop-obsessed Stone Brewing has gotten in on the Saison game with Stone Saison, featuring organic herbs (lavender and lemon-thyme) grown at the brewery’s own farm. Stone’s new farmhouse ale also features an uncharacteristically restrained use of chile peppers that provide just the briefest suggestion of fire on the palate; it’s a wonderfully versatile food beer that matches to everything from charcuterie to tamales.