THIS QUIRKY BRAND has stormed up from nowhere to lay claim to an entire substyle of traditional Belgian pale ales: pre-WWI, it’s said that ordering ‘a beer’ in Antwerp was the same as ordering Seef. Subsequent conquest by Germans and pilsners consigned the style to oblivion for decades, but today its formula has been rediscovered, its recipe reconstructed, and through a fortuitous discovery of the original yeast strain (this being Belgium, after all), Seef is now back on Belgian taps. And now, for the first time, American shelves.
Former Duvel marketing chief Johan Van Dyck is responsible for reviving the brand after an odyssey of several years that reportedly took him from attic shoeboxes to university laboratories. It’s a perfectly tuned pitch that might be artfully fluffed, but its principles are consistent with Belgian beer culture and the product is a good one. Quite a good one, in fact—Seef won gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup (in ‘Other Belgian-Style Ale’, the same year it debuted on the market. Evidently already a hit in its native land, the brand is looking to transition out of a contract-brewing arrangement and into its own facility.
At 6.5% ABV and golden hued, Seef is likely best categorized as a Belgian pale ale. Some North American consumers may still mistakenly compare it to its more monumental cousins (Duvel, Delirium, et al), which does Seef a disservice. Instead of aiming for explosive flavors or a walloping ABV, Seef would like to be your constant pub companion, equally easy to knock back at the bar with your mates or outside on the patio with a pan of Moules-frites. And the beer’s marketing reflects this new tack: instead of heraldic imagery and elegantly corked-and-caged wine bottles, Seef prefers a chummy 1950s aesthetic with a slightly cartoonish human mascot. The beer’s packaged in stubby 4-packs with cream-colored labels that look straight off the shelves of a Cold War fallout shelter somewhere in rural Iowa.
In the glass Seef appears a bit like a Hefeweizen, somewhat cloudy gold though with fewer bubbles and not quite so much cascading foam for its head. Its aroma is fairly clean and clear by Belgian standards (e.g. not too packed with yeasty esters) and lightly citric, but still unmistakably Belgian for its overtones of candied sugar and shortbread. A baker’s yeast, in fact, was used in the fermentation of Seef beer and reveals itself through various bread and cereal grains flavors like wheat prickle, sourdough tang, and a bit of earthy spice in the finish (buckwheat?). This sharp send-off comes as a swift but articulate contrast to the initial mouthfeel—creamy, yeasty, finely effervescent—and leaves the palate tingling, stimulated but also satisfied. A notch or two fuller than most Belgians, Seef is still readily digestible, balancing light apricot and peach fruitiness against a nicely couched spot of bitterness late and a few dollops of honey. Cagily hinting at wildness—the brewery themselves playfully mention but don’t commit to Brettanomyces—Seef would be also be a fine alternative to beers like Matilda when serving doughy dishes (e.g. flatbreads or pasta).
Served: 33 cl bottle