When a brewer is so moved by the Belgian beers of Sint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren that he’s trying his hand at making something similar, it’s worth taking notice. After traveling in Belgium, the Great Dane’s Nate Zukas came home inspired. Now his Mid-Westy Blond is on tap at the brewpub’s Hilldale location.
What is it? Mid-Westy Blond from the Great Dane Pub and Brewery-Hilldale.
Style: The Belgian blonde ale is straw to hazy golden-colored and light- to medium-bodied. It’s known for light spicy sweetness, with medium fruity tones in the aroma and flavor. It is not a hoppy beer, but there is a crisp dryness to the finish. Despite having the look and mouthfeel of a lighter-bodied beer, the Belgian Blonde is moderately strong at 6-8 percent ABV.
Background: Every few years, several of the brewers from the Great Dane take a group trip to a country known for beer. This past fall that excursion landed them in Belgium, where Nate Zukas discovered a love for the region’s blonde ales. “When we go overseas, I feel like we have to come back with a tangible discovery,” says Zukas.
Zukas’ epiphany came while sitting in a cafe in Belgium. He ordered two beers at the same time: one a bold quadruple and the other a bright blonde ale. His intent was to enjoy the blonde while the quadruple warmed up; however, he became captivated by the first beer. He didn’t want to replicate it exactly, but he was inspired to make one, he says. His target was Westvleteren Blond, a beer that’s somewhat rare in Belgium and almost impossible to get in the U.S. Westvleteren is difficult to say (West-vlet-eren), so craft beer enthusiasts often refer to it as simply “Westy.” Hence the name Mid-Westy Blond.
“This beer is all about the yeast, and everything else supports that,” says Zukas. To that end, Mid-Westy is made with a Belgian yeast and a pretty straightforward malt bill of pilsner and Maris Otter malts. It remains unfiltered, which creates a bright, hazy yellow color, along with yeasty aromatics of spicy earthy sweetness. It’s only lightly hopped, so all those good yeasty things that Belgian beer lovers look for remain clear.
Mid-Westy Blond is 6.2 percent ABV. It sells for $5.50/pint and $7.50/crowler. It’s currently available only at the Great Dane’s Hilldale location.
Belgian beer fans should also take note that the Great Dane Hilldale is also serving its take on Westvleteren 12, a quadruple style, that it calls Mid-Westvleteren. Over the next several months you might also watch for more Belgian-inspired creations from the brewers at the other Great Danes.
Aroma: A fruity yeastiness.
Appearance: Hazy yellow color with a thick, white, soft head.
Texture: Medium-bodied, bubbly, with softness.
Taste: A fruity yeasty flavor with hints of peaches and apricots.
Finish/Aftertaste: Mild spicy yeastiness, soft and fruity, with a latent crisp dryness.
Glassware: The Great Dane generously serves Mid-Westy in an imperial pint. After taking it home in a crowler, I prefer sipping from a chalice or wine glass to show off this beer’s brilliant golden hues and thick head. Serve it very cold to bring out its yeast and fruity tones.
Pairs well with: Thai cuisine. Look for an entree with mild, sweet yellow curry sauce and hearty vegetables.
The Verdict: If you like Belgian blonde ales with their light spicy and earthy yeastiness and dry finish, this is a wonderful beer. To my delight, Zukas uses a light amount of the Australian varietal Summer hops to give the beer sweet hints of peaches and apricots that support the fruitiness of the Belgian yeast. This is a very nice Midwestern, yet distinctively Belgian-inspired, beer.