A lesson in Belgian beers with Little Bear’s Ryan Sweeney

It’s been a goal for Ryan Sweeney to open up a Belgian beer bar since he first visited the country years back. Last Friday, Little Bear opened its doors in downtown Los Angeles. A concept created by the Oinkster and Maximiliano’s Andre Guerrero (pictured left) and Verdugo Bar and Surly Goat’s Ryan Sweeney (pictured right) showcasing Belgian food and beers. After spending an afternoon with Ryan as he finalized the logistics of opening night, we learned a few facts about Belgian beers and its culture.

An American interpretation

Andre and Ryan have been planning to work together for a long time. “Andre got this space, and he called me up. This building was the right thing.” Ryan tells us. He wanted a space good for day time drinking, “they have wide open windows in Belgium beer cafes. People would pull their chairs outside and just drink when there’s good weather.” The space feels relaxed, and more like a coffee shop than a bar. “It’s not a club, it’s somewhere between a very casual restaurant and a bar. It’s almost bohemian.”

The updated Belgium-style food curated by Andre shows off dishes like: Smoked Wild Boar Sausage, Potato Ravioli, Duck Confit, Gougere Slider Fried Oysters and Grilled Cheese Brisket. “This is more of an experiment for us, the menu is going to be tweaked, so are the beers. We’re going to keep getting better and better.” The goal of Little Bear is to be as creative as possible. Ryan says, “the best way to be creative is to limit yourself by putting a perimeter.” The perimeter at Little Bear is obviously Belgian beers, “the ultimate concept here is for us to find a great synergy between the two of them.”

The draft and the bottle list will be a combination of Belgium and American-style interpretation of Belgium brews. Ryan tells us, “the Americans are doing the creative side of the style like The Bruery, Lost Abbey, Russian River, and Ommegang. The Belgians are doing the classics. We’re going to mix that all up and rotate the taps and bottles.”

Belgium’s brews: 5 things you didn’t know

5. Beer is very much a part of the Belgium culture
The Belgians treat their beers like how the French treat wine. Ryan explains, “European beer traditions come from religion. Areas where there is no clean water, the monks would brew beer and sell it or give it away. For some reason it’s really kept alive in Belgium.”

Ryan recalls a story from one of his recent trip to Bruges, “I always tell how integrated religion is [with beer], I went to this reliquary in Bruges, where they have the body parts of the saints. We saw people praying. They have this manger setup and there it is Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men and Saint Arnold, the patron saint of Belgian brewers. He’s sitting there hanging out with baby Jesus. That’s how integrated it is. Beer is there when Jesus is born.”

4. Monks are still brewing beers
One of the most common beer imported from Belgium is Chimay, which is a Trappist brewery. Ryan explains, “they have a strict way of brewing and where the money goes.” There are seven breweries operated by Trappist monks, six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands.

3. Belgian beers pairs well with food
Ryan believes Belgian beer is an excellent pair for food, “It’s complex, it’s estery. For example, I love IPAs, but no one can tell me that it’s excellent with food. It’s so bitter it’s unbalanced. So, it doesn’t present itself well to a lot of foods. Belgian beers, in general are way more balanced.”

2. Belgian beers are higher in alcohol percentage
Based on the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines, an American Pilsner can range anywhere from 4.5% to 6% ABV. It’s common for Belgium styles to be 7% or higher.

1. Belgian beers are usually best bottle conditioned
“Belgian beers are better in bottles, because you can’t fermentate in a keg,” Ryan says. Inside the bottle lives live-yeast. If properly stored the yeast will continue to mature. Therefore changing the flavor and improving. “Which is also why you want to store your beers upright, so the yeast would settle on the bottom of the bottle.”

Moving pictures!

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