Not new, not local

A beer geek walks into a bar and asks for the newest release. She drinks it and then asks for a beer from a local micro-brewery. Unfortunately for some Belgian brewers, this isn’t a joke, but a trend led by beer lovers around the world who are both insatiably curious and enamored with local products. You see Belgian brewers are going in the other direction; becoming increasingly dependent on export markets and selling beer that isn’t homegrown and usually isn’t new, either. The quality of their product has given them a competitive edge thus far, but as upstarts in the US, the UK and other parts of the world hone their craft, there’s the worry that this might not last. On the bright side, the range of Belgian beer styles is remarkably diverse, so that even the most dedicated beer hunters can find something that will impress their friends. We’ve seen that recently with American drinkers becoming acquainted with lambic beer, which in turn has kicked off something called sour beer mania, a phenomenon that one day might even make its way back to Brussels. To find the next big thing, perhaps it’s worth moving beyond Brussels and Pajottenland to the mixed-fermentation red and brown ales of East and West Flanders. These beers are present in the minds of some drinkers, but they still add up to a largely undiscovered and underappreciated set of styles: in other words, exactly what beer lovers are after. Indeed, figuring out the difference between the Eastern and Western varieties might already be enough to set you apart from your geeky friends. At the same time the hidden-gem status of these beers could change, especially as red-ale brewers, led by the indefatigable Rudi Ghequire of Rodenbach, are speaking out and explaining their sophisticated production methods. So seek them out, although you’ll have to live with the fact that they’re not new, and, unless you’re in East or West Flanders, aren’t local either. On the other hand, they taste great: wine-like and complex, yet refreshing and highly drinkable. They’ve got a rich history behind them and our editorial team is so convinced that we’ve devoted a hefty chunk of this issue to discussing them. One thing that we’ve learned is that while local is all well and good, it should never stop you from drinking great beer