Belgian Christmas Beer

These holiday beers are worth seeking out.

Centuries ago, North European monks used their finest ingredients to brew an extra rich beer to celebrate Christmas. Commercial brewers picked up the tradition and rewarded their loyal clients with a specially brewed beer as a holiday treat. Today, nearly every beer brewing country produces Christmas beer. Belgium, however, the beer country par excellence, outnumbers them all.

At the annual Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, a short train ride from Antwerp, over 100 Belgian Christmas beers are presented. While the style of these beers varies considerably, all have this in common: they are stronger and more complex than their year-round cousins. To enhance the beer's aroma, many are dry-hopped, a method in which dry flower hops are added into the maturing vessel before filtering and bottling. In addition, many beers are bottle-conditioned in which fresh yeast is added to the beer just before bottling. The beer continues to age, becomes mellow and gains in complexity. When poured, it sports a big foamy head.

The following beers are worth seeking out. Most can be found in Belgian or French restaurants. These types of beers should not be guzzled, but savored and sipped slowly. Serve them almost at room temperature to release their full flavor.

 Affligem Noël is an abbey beer made at the DeSmed Brewery. Like all of Affligem products this beer undergoes fermentation in the bottle. The 9% Affligem Noël is considered the brewery's finest effort.

 Avec Les Bon Voeux translates as "with good wishes. The 9.5% coppery blond beer, is indeed a fitting way to celebrate the season.

 Bush/Saldis Noël: At 12%, this copper colored beer packs a mighty wallop. You will appreciate its nutty maltiness and a flowery hop aroma. Not for the faint-hearted.

 Corsendonk: If you like a hoppy beer, you'll love this 8.5% deep burgundy-colored ale. It is full bodied, spicy, with a fruity aroma, and a thick foamy head. Brewed by du Bocq.

 Delirum Noël: Perfect timing to put forth the yuletide spirit of "eat, drink, and be merry." Dark amber colored, with a small, lingering head. The 10% ale is fermented with three types of yeast and a variety of hops. Full bodied, creamy, sweet and spicy.

 Regal Christmas Beer by Du Bocq is a 9% abv clean tasting beer with hints of roasted barley, herbs and spices and a fine white head.

 Stille Nacht (Silent Night) is the prestige beer from the De Dolle Brouwers (The Mad Brewers), especially brewed for Christmas. This amber-colored. 9% abv beer has an apple-liked aroma and a slightly sweet finish.

 St. Bernardus Christmas Ale: A 10% dark amber-colored beer, with velvety texture and a thick creamy head. Brewed by St. Bernardus.

 St-Feuillien: La Cuvée de Noël. A 9% abv, full-bodied, zesty Abbey beer with a delicious aroma, subtle bitterness, redolent with herbs and spices.

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