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When I was a little younger and first getting into craft beer, trips to Brookline’s The Publick House drove me further into the obsession.

The Publick House’s beer menu was split into sections for “Here” and “There,” the former containing beers (usually hoppy) from the United States, and the latter a mix of mostly Belgian and sometimes German brews. I’d often meet up with friends over brews like La Chouffe and St. Bernardus Tripel, reveling in the beers’ complex notes of citrus, dark fruits, and spices.

That Brookline bar I just waxed nostalgic for is still there, but more and more these days Belgian-style beers are not, replaced on tap room and bar menus by an influx of new IPAs. Which led me to wonder: Where have all the Belgian beers gone?


Bryan Greenhagen, founder of the now shuttered Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, would know something about that. In 2013, Greenhagen founded Mystic and, in his words now, “intended on just making a saison and a few abbey-style ales.”

“There was a pretty magic period around 2014-2015,” says Greenhagen. “We were making skids of [Saison] Renaud and experimented a lot with artisanal methods, including aged and blended lambic-type beers, herb-infused gruits, big quadruples, and seasonal, locally-inspired beers like the particularly popular Mary of the Gael, a spring saison, and Three Cranes, a harvest saison with local cranberries.”

How did Mystic go from making so much Belgian-inspired beer to those styles accounting for only 5 percent of production when the brewery closed in 2019? Belgian beer, Greenhagen says, was relatively expensive to make, and as other local brewers began experimenting heavily with hoppy styles, so did Mystic. (Greenhagen wants to be clear that production limits in and the location of Mystic’s Chelsea tap room, not pivoting from Belgian beer, caused its closure.)


“Beer around the world is deeply ingrained in custom and culture,” says Greenhagen. “Our culture is one of constant change, and so we have moved on, and will move on again.”

A bartender pulled a pint of Allagash White for a patron at The Publick House.
A bartender pulled a pint of Allagash White for a patron at The Publick House.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

What do the numbers tell us about the popularity of Belgian-style beers? Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, shares that among independent breweries, Belgian-style beers (this includes styles like witbiers, saisons, and quads) make up around 2 to 3 percent of the market according to scan data, which is culled from store sales. If you include the big breweries, that number is 10 or 11 percent, owing largely to sales of Blue Moon.

The data also bears out my perception of seeing fewer of these beers in the market over time: In each of the last four years, the share of Belgian-style beer sold among all craft beer has declined about a 10th of a percentage point, from 3 percent four years ago to around 2.6 percent now. Those numbers come as the share of craft beer sold among all beer has grown, and IPA sales specifically have exploded.

“Not every style has gotten crowded out, but when you see a style gain that much traction in the marketplace, that means it’s taken over tap handles and shelf placements from lots of styles,” says Watson.

Another way to look at it, given numbers that have always been in single percentage points, is that Belgian-style beer was never any kind of significant fragment of the American craft beer market.


“Since the emergence of New England IPAs, pastry stouts, and sours, Belgians have taken a back seat,” says Kay L. Young, owner of Kays Cans & Bottles in Braintree. But were they ever even in the driver’s seat?

“I think that it is a style that is underutilized, most likely because people don’t know a ton about it, or aren’t familiar with many commercial examples that exist.”

Young points out that many American breweries have latched onto the Belgian white, listing Allagash White as the premier example, but also Castle Island White, Newburyport’s Plum Island, Cisco’s Grey Lady, and Harpoon’s UFO White.

Then there are the beers from Belgium itself.

“This time of year, we sell a lot of quads, specifically St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Christmas,” says Young. “And I always recommend, when in doubt for what to pair with Thanksgiving, go Belgian.”

Of course some local breweries are still making Belgian-style beers, and it should be noted that Watson’s data doesn’t account for tap room sales. But for every local brewery like Lamplighter still making a Belgian-style dubbel, two dozen more are focusing almost entirely on juicy IPA.

As Greenhagen puts it, the perception of the decline in Belgian beer’s popularity may be as much of a fact as a feeling.

“The thing I think that people are missing most is the slow enjoyment of lingering over food with a beer that makes the whole experience even better,” he says. “New England IPA is a wonderful thing, but they kind of steal the show and they aren’t really something you can linger over for hours.”


Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe.com.Follow him on Twitter @garydzen.