La Chouffe had a number of things going against it before I took my first sip. Mainly, it’s not Duvel. I’m prejudiced against any other Belgian golden ales. No apologies. I love Duvel, and all the rest are measured against that. My opinion of the pretenders always boils down to, “not bad, but I’d rather have had the Duvel.” Second, La Chouffe was started by a couple of brothers-in-law back in 1984. As a hobby. 1984. I’m used to hearing about reverent monks toiling away on their beer recipes from the 15th century, not a couple of guys brewing up a batch in their spare time after I had already reached drinking age, and could have done it myself if I wasn’t so lazy and shiftless. Most damning is that “la chouffe” means “gnome” in the brothers’ Belgian dialect. Not Devil, Chateau or Abbey. Gnome. Nobody likes gnomes.
Fortunately, La Chouffe has everything else going for it. It’s a Belgian golden ale, for crying out loud. The best, most versatile style of beer there is. And, it’s good.
In keeping with my practice of comparison with the benchmark, it pours a darker blonde, almost copper, and is a little hazier than the Duvel. The head isn’t the uncontrollable mass Duvel produces that, all right, even gets on my tits sometimes. But, it is a good, solid and proper head that any beer would be proud to sport. Unpasteurized and unfiltered, this is beer as it should be. All that escaping gas means the aroma is going to be easy to find. It smells complex, but without anything confusing or odd. There’s just the typical grains with a little coriander backing things up. No surprises, and nothing unpleasant.
The taste is rather full, but not heavy. It doesn’t have that huge tingle of carbonation Duvel uses to wake up the taste buds. The overall effect is more rounded and balanced. There are hops keeping things dry and crisp, but there’s also that coriander giving it some spice. Underneath all that, there is just a touch of raspberry fruitiness. The fruit doesn’t shove the beer into some overly sweet swirl of disjointed flavors that many of the pretenders have. There’s a steady hand in La Chouffe, just giving the hint of the berry without overpowering the rest of the beer. Balance is what separates the good ones from the masses.
Belgian golden ales supplement many of my meals. La Chouffe doesn't crackle the way Duvel does, so it might go slightly less well with some of the spicier fare, but almost anything will pair nicely with this beer. I think it works especially well with cheesier dishes. Like most of the style, these taste and feel like great drinking beers, but the 8 percent alcohol will tend to shorten the session. If you’re going to try it on the ladies, keep in mind that this will make you stupid a little faster than you think. But, nevermind. This one’s worth it.
The brothers who created La Chouffe were bought out by Duvel Moortgat in 2006. That’s probably the only reason this craft brew can be found at all around here. If it were a little more available, I’d certainly drink quite a bit more of the stuff. I remain loyal to Duvel, though. La Chouffe is a little milder than some Belgian golden ales, so it could be used as a stepping stone for WaterbeerLite drinkers. It still might have a little too much oomph for that crowd, though. It is a little more complex than most golden ales, and has a lurking flavor or two that you can seek out if that’s what you’re into. Otherwise, it’s just another solid beer from the country that brews the best beer in the world.