Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
ABV: 8.0 %
Belgian beers, generally, need no defending, even to non-beer snobs. The country is known for its complex ales, though personally I reach right for the sours. Other than that, I often skip Belgian style beers in many situations — at least Belgian-style beers brewed by American breweries. La Chouffe reminds me why the Belgians are so good at what they do, and why their styles are so easy to mess up. I would suggest that Belgians are often defined by yeast and spice — ingredients that can easily be quite flavorful, but cloying and unpleasant as well. Many American breweries push these few simple ingredients to excess, but the best Belgian beers embrace the subtlety behind the potency.
And though I generally avoid beers with spice, La Chouffe wins me over, easily. The prominent flavor seems to be coriander (though, admittedly, I'm not really an expert on what coriander tastes like), which gives the beer a rustic, earthy, spicy zip. It's nice, but it still tastes like beer (I could basically imagine a beer tasting like this without spice) and it's restrained. The Belgian yeast character that is too often pushed overboard is very balanced here. There's a good bit of sweetness — the soft, fruity kind, rather than the cloying, syrup-like sweetness I hate — with notes of honey and powdered sugar. With that sweetness comes some fruit character: orange, mostly, and only a touch of banana, and ripe apple. While a hint of the booze peaks through in the aroma, there's little in the flavor.
Carbonation is bright but not crazy, again emphasizing the balance La Chouffe strikes, playing well on the palate. It's got a great clean finish, and the relaxed flavors make it quite drinkable, especially for the ABV.
Availability: Year-round. One of the easier(ish) Belgians to find at your Neighborhood Good Beer Store.