[sic] Magazine

The Top 12 Belgian Dark Beers.

The Top 12 Belgian Dark Beers – a tasting and music pairing guide for my favourite discoveries.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Am I right? Well when, like me, life sends you to a little old country called Belgium, forget lemonade. You pretty much better taste the beer over there. The Belgians excel at brewing. To the East, Germany does a fine line in Pilsners. To the North East, likewise (plus the Netherlands own white beers are pretty nice too). To the South West….I think we can all agree the French know a thing or two about wine.

Belgian Beers though. Wow. You won’t be adding any lemonade, I tell you now. I was in a bar yesterday that offers 2000 different beers. The thing is, this isn’t even particularly unusual. Belgian beers consist of dark beers, Abbey beers, Pils (lager), sour beers, fruit beers, cloudy beers, honey beers….. you name it and there probably is a beer for it. In this article I will be bringing you the former, namely the very best in dark Belgian beers. Some of these are famous. Others will surprise you.

NB I am not putting any special, Christmas Edition beers in this list. I find most of those gimmicky to be honest. Feels like they take an existing brew and throw a handful of spices in. To be fair there are one or two good ones. I just prefer my classics. I mean, what are those spices hiding, a nice beer or a rotten one? If it’s the former, just give me that please. I’m also avoiding the sour, Lambic-leaning darker ones, eg Duchesse de Bourgogne. It’s good but it’s just not me.

Oh, and where most scribblings will pair these beers with food, (Cheeses, Stews etc) I’ll be pairing ours with some unbelievable albums. So make yourself comfy and pour yourself a brew. We are about to sample our Twelve Beers Of Christmas, a veritable ‘God run’ of Belgian nectar.

A sample from each album suggestion can be found embedded at the foot of the article. Click play to listen as you read. Unfortunately I cannot digitize the beers for you.



No 12.

Chimay Bleue.

Yes, a well-known one to start with. Chimay Bleue is a bit of a banker really. You’ll find this easily in UK and US shops. Fruity, malty with a bit of sweetness. Their amber one is nice too.

Worth noting that all these beers are strong, more like wine strengths than British beer strengths, but because they are so smooth they can be deceptive. Go easy.


Chimay Bleue is as safe a bet, Trappist ale as they come. It’ll ‘save no souls’ but it’ll ‘break no promises’ either, so pair this with Big Country’s flawless debut album The Crossing. It’s never a bad time to revisit an old favourite.

Watch Big Country below.



No 11.

Kasteel Donker.

From the first sip I’m hit by a tsunami of sweetness. We’re talking explosion in a candy store levels of sweet here. It’s a pity because I detect a nice beer underneath. I get forest fruits, malt and a hint of cocoa. Even the initial aroma suggests creaminess. Kasteel really need to rebalance this beer. Otherwise their Donker is like a quality pancake buried under far too much syrup.

Note that each different beer has its own glass. This isn’t random. It helps to facilitate the pour and allows the beers to release their aromas to the desired effect. Since we are focusing purely on dark beers the glasses here are all similarly shaped. Pour smoothly and evenly and aim for at least two finger width of foam. Follow the photos. These are all meant to have a head.

Kasteel Donker is crazy levels of oversweet with a wall of unrefined sugar blocking our way in. Pair it with Jesus and Mary Chain and their wall of sound debut album, Psychocandy.

‘Just Like Honey’ video below.



No 10.

Westmalle Dubbel

A lot of my friends swear by Westmalle’s signature Triple, which always scores highly in Belgian Beer appraisals. Call me cuckoo if you will but I prefer their Dubbel which is malted with hints of toffee and berries. Nevertheless I will be in deep water if I don’t include Westmalle in this article. So I’ll stick with my favourite, the Dubbel. Pour one, but before sipping check out the banana notes as the froth gives off its aroma.

Of course, there is a third way. Provided you’re in the right establishment you can ask for a Trip-Trap which is a half ‘n’ half blend of the Dubbel and Triple. This may sound like a strange arrangement but it’s how they do it over here, not unlike a UK Black ‘n Tan, type concoction.


Pair with I Am Kloot, self-titled sophomore album.

‘From Your Favourite Sky’, video below.




No 9.

Gulden Draak

Gulden Draak translates as ‘Golden Dragon’. The name goes back to an old skirmish between Bruges and Ghent which the latter won and celebrated by having a statue made. Any guesses what that statue might have been?

Hopefully such internal conflicts are a thing of the past now. Water under the bridge, people! Speaking of which, both beautiful towns have plenty of picturesque bridges. They also have good water, to which this beer attests.

Gulden Draak (Classic please, not the Smokey) is notable for two main reasons. It’s actually a dark Triple, rather than a Quadruple. Ironically Triples tend to be more golden in colour as a general rule. Also the white bottle feels counter-intuitive for a dark beer which itself tastes almost like an English Barley Wine.

Dragons being powerful, mythical Norse creatures I suggest you pair this with Madrugada Industrial Silence.

‘Strange Colour Blue’ below.






No 8.

Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel.

Some of the dark beers in this article are Trappist whereas others, like this one, are named Quadruple. A quadruple implies four times fermentation but the term is debated and not uniformly used in Belgium. I think we can all agree, it’s strong.

The Straffe Hendrik is another intense beer, again with plum and cherry tones, again with chocolate hints (this’ll recur a fair bit) If you like your beers on the bitter side this has exactly that as well.

Don’t refrigerate these beers. You will lose many of the complexities both in aroma and flavour. A nice 10-12 degrees will see you right.


Straffe Hendrik is a complex brew worth taking your time over so pair this one with the glacial The Blue Moods Of Spain, by Spain.

‘World Of Blue’ below.



No 7.

Caracole Nostradamus.


After hiking in the forests of the Ardennes I found myself at a very curious, but beautiful tavern with its own Brewery. The Brasserie Caracole serve their own range of beers and you can view the brewing room next door, either through the windows or by asking the team there. They also retail their beers. The staff are friendly and fascinating.

Seek it out.

I’ve picked out their Nostradamus which again offers that prune/chocolate/roasted malt combination. To be honest, it is not all that easy to find. I don’t recall seeing this in shops. The pub itself is in the middle of nowhere but worth tracking down. A real hidden gem.

Pair it with King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Diamond Mine. (Special Jubilee edition of course ….if you can find it. Just like the Caracole.)

‘Bats In The Attic’ video below.






No 6.

Malheur 12.

There are a lot of Beer Awards in the world and a lot of different years but Malheur 12 has won twice in 2013 and 2014.

Dried fruit notes (again), spicy hot chocolate, yeasty malts…

The name Malheur means ‘misfortune’ or equivalent. This hasn’t been my experience but maybe if you drink three or more…!


Pair this with Arch miserabilist, former God Machine frontman and Brussels resident, Mr. Robin Proper-Sheppard, aka Sophia – and the album People Are Like Seasons.

‘Oh My Love’ video below.



No 5.

Pannepot – ‘Old Fisherman’s’ Ale

I’m quite proud of this discovery. Brewed near De Panne (the Belgian seaside) by De Struise Brewery, Pannepot – ‘Old Fisherman’s’ Ale has a slightly syrupy, but not cloying finish, after the usual dark fruit/caramel/ spiced mocha top notes.

Big flavours.

A nice experience if somewhat unexpected. I mean, I’ve lived here the better part of two decades. I never heard of Pannepot – Old Fisherman’s Ale before. This is the one of the perils of going to the Belgian seaside.

Therefore pair with Perils From The Sea by Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle.

‘Somehow the Wonder of Life Prevails’ , below.




Tied 3.

Trappist Westvleteren 12 and The St.Bernardus Abt 12

Westvleteren beers are the stuff of legend. I’m pretty sure this one has won awards too. Probably most on this list have. The thing with Westvleteren beer is…

….you can’t get hold of it.

Well, you can, but there are a few hoops to jump through first. Trappist monks are extremely private. Which makes sense, leading solitary lives of silence, right?. In the case of the Abbey of Saint Sixtus you have to go to them to buy this and other beers from their range. Except…

…you aren’t allowed in…

That is, not unless you pre-book, months ahead on their website, giving your car registration plate, which you can’t, unless…

… you set your alarm that day and sit for an hour, finger poised over your computer, like a scalper trying to score Glastonbury tickets.

Is it worth it? Yes indeed. Westvleteren 12 is a seriously good beer. And to be honest you can find this in bars and shops, especially in the tourist cities like Bruges and Brussels but those places will obviously charge way over the odds for it.


The St.Bernardus Abt 12 on the other hand is…

… wait for it…

pretty much the same beer!

The very least we can say is that these beers are cousins. The St.Bernardus uses the same 1946 recipe as Westvleteren 12. How come? In bygone years they used to have a contract with St Sixtus to brew this beer. Once that permit elapsed the monks restricted brewing to within their Abbey walls but St.Bernardus was able to continue just as long as they did not reference the Abbey in any way. That happy fellow on the bottle had to have his Monk hairdo erased but other than that it was business as usual. They are only really distinguished by their different water sources. A blind taste testing session can be fun.

This is my gift to you dear reader, a game changing life hack for beer lovers. You can let go of the Holy Grail of Trappist Westvleteren 12 and drink The St.Bernardus Abt 12 instead. I think the St.Bernardus Abt 12 even gets exported to the USA.

You’re welcome.



Pair the Trappist Westvleteren 12 with The Blue NileA Walk Across The Rooftops

Pair the Saint Barnabus Abt 12 with The Blue NileHats.

I’ll let you decide the ranking between original and follow-up.



No 2.

Gouden Carolus Cuvée Van De Keizer Imperial Dark

Every February, Mechelen brewery Het Anker produces a special edition dark beer that they call Imperial Dark. This is to celebrate the birth of Charles Quint. The name roughly translates as the high quality draft of the emperor.

The beer itself is a kind of upgrade on their Gouden Caralous Classic dark beer (which itself would comfortably get into this list). You’ll find the same ballpark flavours as always, namely – roasted malts, fruit, chocolate… The point of difference comes from its creaminess. It also ages well due to the ‘wine quality’ cork.

Tradition here is to put a bottle in the cellar whenever a boy is born. When he comes of age, (16 in Belgium) father and son open the bottle and share a first taste together.


Gets you in the feels, doesn’t it!

Pair the Imperial Dark with ultimate sad Dads album, Boxer by The National. After all, it’s nearly 16 years old!


No 1.

Rochefort Trappist 10

There are twelve terrific beers on this list, plus other mentions but I had no hesitation putting Rochefort Trappist 10 top. It’s my favourite. The chocolate notes here are a bit more caramel, the sweetness is a touch more honeyed and those dark fruit flavours infused with vanilla are borderline Christmas Cake in their richness. Seek out the mixed peel zest in the finish. The Rochefort 10 also has leather and tobacco hints. Hmmm? I wonder if the Monks have considered bringing out a Mens cologne? Hold my beer….

I’m not convinced by their 6 to be honest but Rochefort Trappist 8 is also superb and perhaps more widespread in bars and shops. The 10 though is a real winter warmer that you can feel in your toes as soon as you take a sip.


True happiness this way lies. With its Rum-adjacent notes, Rochefort 10 might well be the best beer in the world but keep it for those dark, Autumnal evenings. Bringing this to a barbeque would be like bringing a Howitzer to a knife fight.

Pair it with The The and their crepuscular masterpiece – Dusk.

We hope you found something to enjoy. I’m still making discoveries even now. Let us know if we missed one of your favourites.

Links to Breweries are provided below. No visits are allowed at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy – Rochefort owing to the monastic lifestyle maintained therein. The same applies to most Monasteries. Few visits or tours are permitted so always check beforehand and book where applicable. Beer and bottle photographs are not for re-use and may be subject to copyright. Main article photograph is by Carine Hubrechts.

Gulden Draak
Straffe Hendrik.
Brasserie Caracole.
Struise Brewery.
Sint Bernardus.
Gouden-Carolus by Het Anker.
Rochefort – more info