Subject: Book Review: _Belgian Ale_ by Pierre Rajotte
Date: 1992-07-05 22:48:00 GMT
Review: _Belgian Ale_ by Pierre Rajotte
Copies of the Association of Brewers' newest
publication, _Belgian Ale_ by Pierre Rajotte, are now
available. Despite it's defects (most of them editorial)
this will undoubtedly be the bible of Belgian-style brewing
for some time to come. Anyone interested in brewing Belgian
beers must read it.
While it's a matter of (well founded) opinion that the
Belgians are the world's best brewers, the specifics of
Belgian-style brewing will come as quite a shock to many:
these include obligatory use of large quantities of sugar,
high-temperature fermentations (up to and over 85 degrees
fahrenheit), microscopic hopping rates (take *that*,
hopheads!), and deliberate production of sour and high-ester
The book's strength lies in Rajotte's clear
explanations of the ways these can be used to generate great
beers, and he does so with an eye to the practical needs of
brewers at all levels.
Rajotte himself is a Canadian, with a degree in
mechanical engineering. He help found Montreal's first
brewpub, and is a regular contributor to _zymurgy_.
Chapter 1 of this book provides an historical overview
of Belgian brewing and its traditions. The Belgians
continue to use many procedures and ingredients that were
long ago abandoned by more "progressive" brewers, yet
produce the world's most stunning array of beer types and
flavors. Rajotte doesn't lay his cards on the table, but
obviously thinks this is not a coincidence. He also
emphasizes, however, that even in a within a conservative
atmosphere Belgian brewers have a continued tradition of
innovation and experimentation. Despite centuries of
brewing, most Belgian beers on the current market are
relatively new; even their distinguished Trappist brews were
only developed in the early part of this century.
Chapter 2 profiles the various Belgian ale styles.
This includes statistical information on gravity, color,
IBU, and more, but also emphasizes that style isn't all that
important; as Rajotte says, "People who like to categorize
everything in an orderly manner will not feel secure in the
way Belgian beers are classified." Even so, his
classification system is more practical and realistic than
Michael Jackson's, and better fits the categories controlled
by Belgian law. In all, the discussion covers trappist and
abbey beers, special beers, ales and saisons, white beers,
and oud bruins (tart brown beers such as Liefmann's
Chapter three concerns the materials and equipment and
materials used in Belgian brewing, providing detailed
information on malt selection and use (almost no use of
colored or specialty varieties), sugar types, hops (noble
types mostly, and in minute quantities), and equipment for
boiling, cooling, and fermenting.
Chapter 4 continues with an overview of the various
Belgian brewing processes, beginning with a description of a
joint brewing project between Rajotte and Pierre Gobron,
master brewer of La Brasserie D'Achouff. There's excellent
information here, but the book's sloppy editing makes it
impossible to tell which quotes are Rajotte's and which are
This chapter also includes a section on bottle
conditioning, in which Rajotte explains why the homebrewing
version (add more sugar) won't work with high-gravity
Belgian-style beers. The Belgians add sugar too, but also
extra yeast to replace the yeast cells worn out during high-
gravity primary and secondary fermentation. Unfortunately,
this technique has some dangerous implications for the
inexperienced, as differences in attenuation between the two
yeasts might lead to unpleasant CO2 pressure levels. It's
possible that anyone who gets into this technique will risk
a few explosions before mastering it.
Chapter five includes recipes. Yup, lots of 'em, with
information for extract and all-grain batches of five
gallons, as well as all grain batches of 1 barrel (31
gallons). Hopheads be horrified to find bittering hop
levels as low as 4 to 7 Homebrew Units (18 IBU) in beers
with original gravities as high as 1.088. More than hops or
even malt, the secret to Belgian beer flavors appears to be
the yeast, and practical advice is offered on ways to
collect cultures from bottles of Belgian imports.
A variety of appendices are also included, one of which
offers descriptions of the various commercially-available
beers that illustrate--and vary from--the various styles.
Overall Rajotte has done a marvelous job. He is
obviously very knowledgeable about beer and brewing and has
done a great deal of historical and on-site research. His
information is reasonably well organized, and deep
appreciation of the somewhat idiosyncratic nature of Belgian
beer is apparent. He understands that Belgium is a place
where unusual flavors and aromas are big selling points, and
makes an excellent case for judging these beers on the basis
of their inherent merits and pleasures rather than with
respect to style adherence or perceived deviance from a
theoretical standard of taste and character.
Unfortunately the book is riddled with typographical
errors and other production problems--an apparent trademark
of the Brewers Publications series. It wouldn't be hard for
Charlie Papazian and the Association of Brewers to turn out
better, more carefully produced publications, and there's no
question that authors like Rajotte deserve better. Are you
listening out there, Charlie?
_Belgian Ale_ is available from the Association of
Brewers (PO Box 1679, Boulder, Colorado, 80306) for $11.95
plus $3.00 shipping. Copies can also be ordered by calling
Disclaimer: I am a member of the American Homebrewers
Association, which is a division of the Association of
Brewers, and have no financial, editorial, or authorship
interests in this book.
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