The Belgian pale ale emerged as an alternative to the crisp hoppy pilsner beers that are ubiquitous around the world. With a combination of sweet and fruity tones, accented by hops and dryness, this offshoot style of the Belgian brewing tradition can be a wonderful medium-bodied beer, and helps smooth the transition from the heavier, sweeter wintertime brews without venturing too far into the sharp and hoppy beers of summer. The Grumpy Troll is currently offering a version that's worth a visit. Named Bels'consin, it reflects the intersection of select Belgian ingredients and Wisconsin hops.
What is it? Bels'consin Ale from the Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
Style: The Belgian pale ale offers firm but subdued hop bitterness that blends with the fruity aromas and sweetness produced by Belgian yeast. While there's a maltiness to the beer, its flavor showcases more of an interplay between the yeast and the hops. This is a light- to medium-bodied beer with gold to amber color. The style commonly falls between 4% and 6% ABV.
Background: Back in February, Grumpy Troll brewmaster Mark Knoebl was planning to make a batch of the brewpub's popular Belgian India Pale Ale (called B.i.P.A.), but discovered he didn't have the correct ingredients. So he improvised with a different set of malts, Belgian candi sugar and two different Belgian yeast strains. His hop selection included Brewers Gold, Chinook, Columbus and Mt. Hood, all grown in Wisconsin and processed by the Wisconsin Hop Exchange. "I initially messed up," says Knoebl, "but it turned into something new, interesting and tasty."
Bels'consin is expected to be served at the Grumpy Troll through May. It finishes at 6.3% ABV with approximately 50 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), and it sells for $4.50/pint or $12.50/growler (refill).
- Aroma: Light but firm fruity-yeastiness.
- Appearance: Unfiltered, but very clear, reddish-copper color, with a medium-soft, light tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, bubbly and round mouthfeel.
- Taste: The yeasty esters, both sweet and fruity, come in first. There's a complexity to the flavor from the Belgian candi sugar and hops that gives it a spicy, lightly hoppy background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: A light, but firm lingering hoppy-dryness that builds. There is just a touch of alcoholic warmth in the end.
Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves Bels'consin in a large snifter, which is really a nice touch. The inward flare of the glass focuses the yeasty esters of the beer's aroma, while the large glass shows off its vivid reddish-copper color.
Pairs well with: The brewpub's Cosmic Swirl pizza is a great match for Bels'consin. The sweet-fruitiness of the beer's Belgian yeast is delicious with the fresh basil and diced cucumbers, while there's just enough dry hoppiness to the beer's finish to complement the Thai chili sauce that accents the chicken, garlic and mozzarella toppings.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Bels'consin Ale offers great yeasty sweetness for those who enjoy mild Belgian Abbey-style singles, while the hops lend spicy complexity and dryness. It's more balanced and easy-drinking than bolder and hoppier IPA-oriented versions. This beer also goes well with a range of food, especially with the brewpub's pizza menu. Just respect it for the 6.3% ABV, because with its medium body and sweetness, it can be very enticing. What I appreciate most about Bel'sconsin is its blend of the distinctive sweet Belgian yeastiness that one looks for in an Abbey-style, with a firm hoppy background and dry finish.