Brussels Beer Project uses American hops as well as varietals from around the world to make some of its beers, while new Brussels nanobrewery L’Ermitage employs them in an IPA. Even well-established Belgian breweries like Haacht, Duvel, and Brasserie Dupont have released special brews with more hopped-up flavors.
Young Belgian brewers aren't just borrowing American trends when it comes to the beer-making process, they're also making changes in the branding arena. Most Belgian beer labels traditionally only contain the brand name, name of the beer, and legal information. In the US, by contrast, breweries like 21st Amendment and Half Acre have become synonymous with artist-driven labels. Portland, Oregon brewery Gigantic sells posters of its labels and enlists local artists to make them pop. Frederick, Maryland's Flying Dog features art by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman.
"Until about 10 years ago, Belgian beer labels were very classical," explains De Raedemaeker. "But now, nice labels are becoming more and more important. They're often a copycat of American styles."
Against a sea of labels in bottle shops throughout Belgium, younger breweries stand out with their brightly colored labels showcasing stunning graphics, along with quirky names like "Lantern" and "Red My Lips." Morvan admits the branding approach at Brussels Beer Project was very deliberate and describes the labels as bold yet friendly. "Typography plays a role subconsciously," he says, "and we pay as much attention to our visual identity as to the beer inside."
Despite all this experimentation and embracing of American methods, Brussels Beer Project is still sticking with Belgian yeast strains like Brett. "There is a lot of work, savoir faire, technology, and science behind it," Morvan admits. "We still think it adds to the taste so we keep it." There's no denying that Belgian brewers have perfected yeast strains over the centuries. "We kept our knowledge, and then we made it even better," De Raedemaeker says. "And that's what makes Belgian beer so special."
With the American influence now creeping into the castles and cellars that dominate the Belgian brewing tradition, things are bound to get even more special as two of the most prolific brewing nations in the world -- one centuries old, one just getting started -- continue to intertwine. That collision of styles is something definitely worth toasting as new traditions are born.
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