This is the second in a nine-part story chronicling Dageraad brewer Ben Coli’s exploration of two questions he had to answer before taking the gamble of his life in starting a brewery: What is Belgian beer and can it be brewed here?
by Ben Coli | I’ve often seen someone take a sip of beer and say, “that tastes Belgian.” I’ve often seen someone take a sip of beer and say, “that tastes Belgian.” And when I take a sip of the same beer, I instantly know what they’re talking about. It does taste Belgian. But what is that taste?
It’s difficult to make generalizations about Belgian beer because one of the defining characteristics of Belgian brewers is their disdain for the whole concept of beer styles.
When a British brewer makes up a recipe for a new beer he plans to call Uglington’s Best Bitter, he’ll put his own stamp on the beer and make it a little different from other bitters, but he will be sure that the beer will be recognizable as a bitter; any creative license taken will be exercised within the boundaries of the style. That way, when Richard and Davey belly up to the bar and order an Uglington’s Best, they know they can expect a beer that’s more or less an English bitter, and that helps keep the peace until they start discussing trade unionism and Margaret Thatcher.
When a Belgian brewer invents a new beer called Engeltjespis, he’s thinking about creating a sublime new drinking experience, not about beer styles. He has a particular taste in mind, an idea of textures and aromas, and that’s what Engeltjespis will be. He doesn’t care whether a certified beer judge will think he’s brewed a category 18B Belgian Dubbel, or whether the high alcohol will push it into category 18E Belgian Strong Dark Ale, or whether the use of spices will get it kicked out of the styles altogether and lumped into the catch-all category for Belgian misfits, 16E Belgian Specialty Ale. And when Francois and Koen belly up to the bar and order Engeltjespis, they’ll be open-minded enough to drink the beer and appreciate it for whatever magic it contains.
And besides, they’ll be too busy arguing about the status of Brussels in the event of federal dissolution to worry about beer styles.
Despite the flagrant creativity of Belgian brewers and the stubborn individuality of their beers, the BJCP (an American beer judge certification program) has described thirteen styles of Belgian beer. Yet I’d guess about half of the beers brewed in Belgium defy categorization completely, falling into that fourteenth catch-all category, “Belgian Specialty Ale”.
But in spite of its riotous variety, there is something unified about Belgian beer, a special something that makes people say, “That tastes Belgian.”
If I was backed into a corner and asked to sum up the defining characteristic of the taste of Belgian beer in one word, I’d say “complexity”.
Belgian brewers often supplement the balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness you find in every beer with fruity, spicy, floral and herbal aromas. Some Belgian beers are like running through a hayfield at harvest and others explode with a whole orchard of fruit flavours. You can sometimes find earthiness, a savoury, mushroomy umami taste, and you can sometimes find sourness, ranging from a light tartness to a mouth-puckering acidity. There can be subtle flowery aromas from hops, hints of cardamom or chamomile, and perfumey alcohol aromas that smell like rose petals. You can find those same toasty or caramelly flavours you’ll get from English beers, but they might be accompanied by a distinct aroma of dates and spices that transports you to a Levantine bazaar. Most importantly, when it’s done properly the flavours are harmoniously balanced.
Where do these flavours come from? Historically, Belgians weren’t constrained by tradition or by law the way many British and German brewers were. Belgium never had an equivalent to the celebrated German reinheitsgebot, the purity law that restricted brewers to brewing with nothing but barley, hops, water, and yeast. If Belgian brewers wanted to use oats or wheat in addition to barley, they were free to do so – and for that matter, they could also add carmelized sugar and a big bucket full of coriander or aniseed or thyme if they felt like it. That freewheeling tradition continues, and Belgian brewers remain more concerned with flavour than with ensuring that their beer is “pure” of spices and non-barley grains.
But grains and spices are just a part of the story of the unique flavour of Belgian beer. Brewers in other countries are more open to using a variety of grains and spices these days, but Belgian beer still tastes “Belgian”, while spiced Christmas beers in Britain do not. Tracking down the factor that defines Belgian beer is difficult in a country with a brewing tradition as ancient and cloaked in legend as Belgium’s.
Ben Coli is owner and brewer of Dageraad Brewing, British Columbia’s first brewery specializing in Belgian-style ales. An award-winning home brewer, Ben formalized his brewing knowledge at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and at Brewlab in the United Kingdom, earning a certificate from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Before his beer obsession took over, Ben was a writer of books, magazine articles and marketing content. He is currently writing a book titled “How to Love Beer.”
The GOODS from Chez Christophe
Burnaby, BC | Start your Easter egg hunt early this year at Chez Christophe Chocolaterie and Patisserie. The Burnaby Heights shop has dedicated an entire line of exquisite handmade chocolate sculptures to Easter, featuring wonderfully imaginative creations of eggs that are almost too artistic to taste.
“As a child, I used to make chocolates with my mom, and Easter eggs were a favourite,” explains Christophe Bonzon, Swiss-trained master confectioner of Chez Christophe Chocolaterie and Patisserie, located in Burnaby Heights. “In Europe, chocolatiers really make Easter eggs a work of art of all shapes and sizes, and I wanted to bring that to the Lower Mainland with our original and delicious designs. My chocolates are modern takes on the traditional Easter egg theme.”
Each of Bonzon’s Easter egg creations is handcrafted with Swiss chocolate Carma, unique to Chez Christophe for Canada. The sculptures all tell a story starting with a whimsical rooster crafted with a variety of chocolate eggs, a contemporary Easter egg nest stack that artfully references an Easter egg hunt with hidden eggs, an egg-within-an-egg adorned with some of Chez Christophe’s selection of bonbons, and an intricate lattice wrapped showpiece featuring a surprise-packed golden egg.
Chez Christophe’s Easter chocolates range from $12 for a small sculpture to $100 for an extra large sculpture. There will be 15 different varieties in total to choose from and limited quantities are available starting on March 24, pre-orders welcome. Read more
We’ve invited Burnaby’s decadent Chez Christophe to join the Chocolate & Caffeine section of our GOODS program as a recommended place to indulge yourself. They are now proud members of Scout, and as such we will be posting their news in addition to hosting a page for them on our curated list of independent goodness. We would like to thank them for their support and for making BC a more delicious place to be.
4712 Hastings St, Burnaby, BC, V5C 2K7
Telephone: 604.428.4200 | Email: info [at] christophe-chocolat.com
Web: www.christophe-chocolat.com | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 8:00am to 6pm | Closed Sunday/Monday
Christophe Bonzon, Co-Owner & Executive Pastry Chef
Jess Bonzon, Co-Owner
About Chez Christophe
The story of Chez Christophe is a story of love and passion – your Artisans love for sharing his creations and a little bit of his Swiss origins by introducing you to a small taste of Switzerland. Christophe Bonzon discovered chocolate at the age of ten when he was helping his mother make chocolate truffles as a gift for Christmas. Since then the passion for sweet food never left him. Christophe is a Swiss trained “Confectioner” or in more familiar terms Pastry Chef/Chocolatier. Alongside chocolate another of his passions is creating artistic sculptures with sugar. For the meticulous Christophe, his art lies in “the freedom of creativity and my passion for creating artistic sculptures with sugar and chocolate – the opportunities to transform are endless.”
Christophe’s resumé is studded with a decade full of intense apprenticeships and coursework in the fine art of pastry and chocolate, both in his native Switzerland and in France. Amongst many other institutions he has studied under some of Europe’s grand masters at Zurich’s Chocolate Academy, and at l’Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in France. Various professional postings followed, including as pastry chef at Confectionary Schneider in Switzerland, followed by Choux Cafe in Western Australia. Christophe worked as an Executive Pastry Chef at one of the finest French Pastry Shops in Perth.
More recently Christophe was the Executive Pastry Chef at the award-winning CinCin Restorante in Vancouver, Canada. Christophe is a firm believer that you are constantly learning throughout your life for the learning curve never ends.
Owners: Julia Smith & Ludo Ferrari
About Urban Digs Farm
Urban Digs is a small farm based in South Burnaby in a pocket of precious Agricultural Land Reserve less than 20km away from the restaurants and families they grow for. Urban Digs strives to grow good, wholesome food in a way that is environmentally, socially and financially sustainable. Urban Digs supplies meat, eggs and produce to Vancouver’s finest farm-to-table restaurants and also offers meat & produce direct-to-consumer through their seasonal subscription programs; The Beasty Box & The Harvest Box. By taking advantage of urban food waste streams, Urban Digs is striving to provide a diet for their animals that eliminates the need for commercial animal feed, is more nutritious and results in better tasting meat.
In addition to enjoying a superior diet, the animals at the farm are raised outdoors in an environment that meets their unique physiological needs and allows them to thrive. Julia and Ludo stay also involved in a number of local projects. They advocate for sustainable agriculture, animal welfare and local food production at every opportunity including community events and social media.
The Urban Digs Community Garden provides raised beds for food production to members of the community who might not otherwise have anywhere to grow food. Julia represented local farmers on the City of Burnaby’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy Sub-Committee and is a founding Director and Co-Chair of FarmCity Co-op, a group of sustainable, small-scale farms in Metro-Vancouver. They are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with like-minded businesses & organizations to build a better local food system.
The GOODS from Hart House
Vancouver, BC | A trip – or two – to Hart House’s Annual Dickens Buffet is a holiday tradition. The lunchtime buffet offers a variety of seasonal comfort foods; this year it will be available weekdays from December 2nd to December 20th. The Buffet is a perfect way for business colleagues or for friends to catch up and enjoy a holiday lunch during this busy time of year. The menu includes favourites such as Roasted Turkey with all the trimmings, as well as AAA beef carvery, west coast seafood platters, winter vegetables and salads, and Chef’s assorted cheeses and cold cuts. And be sure to leave room for our festive desserts and pies! Get all the details and learn more about Hart House after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from Hart House
Vancouver, BC | Hart House on Deer Lake is looking to fill the full-time position of Pastry Chef. We are in need of an individual with a positive attitude and a proven track record of being able to produce pastries and desserts for service in the dining room and at banquets, including special events. To apply, all interested candidates should contact Executive Chef Alana Peckham with a resume and cover letter via chef [at] harthouserestaurant.com. Learn more about us after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from Hart House
Vancouver, BC | There’s no better way to spend a summer evening than enjoying fine food and wine in the open air. Hart House’s annual garden parties are the perfect fusion of regional cuisine, enchanting wines, and beautiful natural surroundings. The evening begins with a tasting of wines from the featured region; guests may purchase the special selections by the glass or bottle to pair with dinner. Executive Chef Alana Peckham and her team prepare a spectacular dinner, served on the estate lawn overlooking Deer Lake. Live music completes the picture, making the evening a true feast for the senses.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 – An Evening in Provence | Celebrate the culture of the French coastal region of Provence as the romantic tunes of French ballads fill the air. The menu features dishes rich in the harvests of local countryside ingredients and seafood, complemented beautifully by French wines from some of the most renowned appellations of the Old World.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 – Spanish Fiesta | In Spain, food is a way of life and love, filled with the passion of its people. We will create a culinary tapestry highlighting local seafood, paellas and full-flavoured dishes, paired with outstanding wines and topped off with flamenco music. Ole! Read more
The GOODS from Hart House
Vancouver, BC | There’s no better way to spend a summer evening than enjoying fine food and wine in the open air. Hart House’s annual garden parties are the perfect fusion of regional cuisine, enchanting wines, and beautiful natural surroundings. Each evening starts with a tasting of wines from the featured region; guests may purchase a bottle or two from the special selection to pair with dinner. The al fresco dinner is served on the estate lawn overlooking Deer Lake, and is accompanied by live music, making the evening a true feast for the senses. Read more
Crow Commute | Event | Since 1971, crows from all over Vancouver have been blackening the evening skies in Hitchcockian fashion as they fly to their evening roosts in Burnaby. The Commute has even been immortalized by the hardcore band Anchoress in their song Murder in the Sky Over Burnaby.
Usage: “Oh my God! Look at all these birds. It’s the FUCKING APOCALYPSE! No wait…sorry…it’s just the Crow Commute.”
The GOODS from Hart House
Vancouver, BC | Calling all knives! Our kitchen team is expanding. Looking for skilled and passionate chefs, from Event Sous to Garde Manger, to compliment Executive Chef Alana Peckham’s talented brigade. Only the strong need apply. Resumes can be sent in confidence to email@example.com. Learn more about the restaurant after the jump… Read more
The GOODS from Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria
Vancouver, BC | Recently opened Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria is seeking experienced FOH staff (all positions) to round out their current service roster. Cotto has only been opened for two weeks, but require additional service staff to keep up with the current volume of business. Our focus is on modern Italian cuisine, specializing in authentic Neapolitan pizza and comforting house made pastas. The menu is steeped in Italian tradition, though updated with west coast sensibilities in an approachable and informal setting. The wine program features a considerable “by the glass” options, including an eclectic list of specialty wines focusing solely on BC and Italy. The cocktail list spotlights our interpretation of classic Italian-inspired libations, while the beer menu includes a few classic Italian selections along with an exciting and highly specific craft beer offering. Cotto is looking for passionate, motivated, intelligent, hard working FOH staff, dedicated to the craft of pleasing guests. If you are interested in joining the team, forward your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the restaurant after the jump… Read more
We’ve invited Burnaby’s brand new, VPN-certified Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria to join our GOODS section as a recommended local restaurant. They’re now proud members of Scout, and as such we will be posting their news in addition to hosting a page for them on our awesome, curated list of independent goodnesses. We’d like to take this chance to thank them for their support of Scout, and for making BC a more delicious place to be.