There are few beer styles that Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Cofounder and Director of Brewing Operations Tomme Arthur doesn’t excel at brewing. With medals under his belt for everything from double IPAs to dry stouts to wild and sour beers, he’s established a reputation as a brewer’s brewer—building on tradition while fearlessly disregarding the constraints of beer “style.”
“In my mind there’s no greater way to make great flavorful beers than with the use of Belgian yeast, and that tradition of herbs and spices and ‘anything goes’,” says Arthur. “It’s very liberating in that way—[Belgian brewers] basically want to make very flavorful beer, and damn what you call it. They’ve imagined a wide spectrum of beers and flavors given their lack of pretense for stylistic bents, and I think that’s pretty cool.”
In that spirit, Arthur shared a six-pack that celebrates that Belgian disregard for the strictures of style.
Westvleteren 6, Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren (Vleteren, Belgium)
With Westvleteren being the number one beer in the world for lots of uber-enthusiasts, 12 is always a great choice, but I prefer the 6, which is the blonde. It’s a very refreshing beer, and it deviates from the chewiness of the 8 and the 12 with a hops-forward focus, so I really like that beer—it’s awesome. Don’t get me wrong, the 12 is a fantastic beer to lay down and becomes a beast of a thing, but when I’m in the mood for something more straightforward-drinking from that region, I reach for a Westvleteren Blonde.
Taras Boulba, Brasserie De La Senne (Brussels, Belgium)
De La Senne is one of the first new breweries to open in Brussels in a very long time. Those guys are crazy cool, and I really appreciate what they’re up to. Taras Boulba is a 4.8 percent ABV hoppy blonde—I would say it’s a sessionable blonde beer. It’s very fun to drink and bone-dry with a lot of noble hops in it, and it’s just a great, great beer. It’s one of those beers, like Westvleteren 6, that almost requires you to drink it in a café in Brussels to really understand it. It’s meant to be drunk fresh. It has a yeastiness to it. I don’t tend to buy it in the States, but you’ll catch me drinking a ton of it over there.
Rochefort 8, Trappistes Rochefort (Rochefort, Belgium)
Rochefort 10 is a phenomenal beer, and I enjoy it tremendously, but there’s a chewiness about the 10 that I think the 8 blows away with a lightness and texture that makes it more of a mid-range beer, but one that still ages incredibly well. When I had a chance to visit the brewery six or seven years ago, I was very impressed with the facility, the simplicity of the beers, and just how great they can be. I thought the beers were pretty hoppy by monastic or even Belgian standards, but most in the United States don’t see that because it takes them so long to get here. There’s a real vibrancy to the beers when you drink them over there in their youth. When you drink them at 3–5 weeks old, they taste incredibly different than they do there.
Saison Dupont, Brasserie Dupont (Tourpes, Belgium)
I have to give a nod to Saison Dupont because I love the yeast so much and we use it in several of our beers, such as Red Barn and Carnevale. The classic saison itself is fantastic, and I really love their winter beer, Avec Les Bon Voeux. We’ve used that yeast in several of our saisons with a great level of success, so the connection back to our brewery is that yeast. We [had some issues with it] in the past but developed a protocol where we use it as a blended yeast and don’t use it singularly. When we bring it in-house as a new yeast, we add a kicker to it, and then we take it only a certain number of generations before it mutates completely into something that doesn’t put off the flavors we’re looking for, and we’ve had success doing that.
Saint Lamvinus, Brasserie Cantillon (Brussels, Belgium)
In this beer, I love the crossover and the hybridness of the wine and the grapes and the acidity. They’ve taken such an old methodology—they have such a high level of classicness with respect to gueuze and lambic—and they’re approaching it with new technologies for bringing cleanliness to the process. They’re adding fruit in stainless steel now, and they’ve lowered their oxygen intake at the barrel, cutting out some of the aceticness. They’ve really changed and embraced some more modern technology to actually make a better sour beer. It would be one thing to put your head in the sand and say, “We’re not going there; this is how we’ve always done it,” but over the past fifteen years they’ve really looked up and embraced opportunity with things such as Mamouche, which uses elderflowers, and all kinds of interesting permutations including the Zwanzes. They’re not just content with the four beers of the past.
Allagash White, Allagash Brewing Co. (Portland, Maine)
Allagash White is one of the best white beers being made anywhere, and while it’s not necessarily Belgian, it stands with the best. I’ve judged it in competitions only to find out later it was Allagash, but it’s always had a nice perfumey note for me. Whether it’s the type of coriander they’re using or the harmony of the yeast and the coriander, I don’t know. But it’s always had a really light perfumey note that I’ve found quite nice, and that’s very difficult to get into a beer.