Can Americans Learn to Speak Flemish?

Ezra has a nice update on Oregon's latest brewery--Pfriem (see his backgrounder of the brewery here).  The brewer behind the project, Josh Pfriem (pn freem), is introducing a line of beers that includes an IPA and four Belgian-inflected beers.  It comes on the heels of the Crux opening, where Larry Sidor mentioned that his true love was Belgian ales.  The Commons, née Beetje, Solera, Upright, Breakside, Cascade Barrel House, Block 15, and Flat Tail all have strong Belgian connections, and some are in the direct lineage.  And that's just Oregon; add some of the stellar work being done at Russian River, Allagash, Destihl, the Bruery, New Belgium, Jolly Pumpkin and many more, and there is a definite trend toward Low Country brewing.

As an inveterate beer geek, I love it.  Belgians make wonderful, antiquated, oddball beers that are the washed rind cheeses of the beer world.  Their depth and complexity open up a world of flavor a standard pale-and-caramel-malt hop bomb can't approach.  Connoisseurs love them, but they remain inaccessible to casual fans.  A familiar story: Beckett is loved by the uber-bookish and Truffaut by the cinéaste, but the average fan prefers Larsson or Cameron.

Every form of expression--including food and beverage--runs a continuum from simple, broad, and accessible to complex, narrow, and difficult.  Rare is the person who appreciates either Époisses de Bourgogne or le bourgogne de Belgique on first sample.  If he ever gets there--a dicey proposition--it comes after some sampling and discussing.  Even in Belgium, the people who drink lambics, tart Flanders ales, or saisons are quite rare.  Collectively, the entire markets for these beers is smaller than the output of a brewery like Sierra Nevada.  And Belgian breweries have an advantage: these beer styles are old and traditional and therefore culturally familiar.  In the US, the same styles just seem bizarre and out of context.

How many beer geeks are there who love Belgian strong dark ales and saisons?  How many more can be manufactured?  We're running a real-world experiment to find out.  I hope the answer is "boatloads."  Fingers crossed.