AMERICANS who love beer have been making pilgrimages to Belgium for years. In the beer world, it's the spiritual heartland — styles that were ancient when America was discovered are still made commercially.

But, lost in our reverence, it's easy to forget that Belgium is a modern country, the administrative capital of the European Community. While Belgian brewers respect their traditions, they also admire us and watch what our brewers are doing.

Hildegard van Ostaden is one of a group of new Belgium-based brewers with an eye to the West. Her newest beer, Hop-It+, pays serious homage to West Coast craft brewers and it's our Beer of the Week.

This is a beautiful beer, a hazy, unfiltered gold with an impressive head of foam that leaves lacework trailing down the glass, a sign of good ingredients. It has a trademark Belgian aroma: ripe fruit, grapefruit, a hint of orange. The taste is faintly malty with a spicy, sharp hop bitterness that lasts. Hint: Don't drink this beer ice cold; a bit of warmth brings out the flavor of the malt.

Van Ostaden calls it a Belgian Double India Pale and it certainly meets the criteria. It's undeniably Belgian, brewed in Ruiselede, West Fanders, Belgium, at the De Leyerth Brouwerijen, a brewery she founded with her husband, Bas.

Hildegard, a graduate of a prestigious Belgian brewing institute and one of Belgium's few female brewers, formulates and brews the beer, and Bas handles design and marketing. They toured West Coast craft breweries last year on the way to the Alaskan Brewing Winter Festival and went home with the inspiration for Hop-It.

It's a strong beer, 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, nearly double the strength of your basic Bud. And it's hoppy: 80 International Bitterness Units, compared to Bud's 13 or so.

Hop-It's made with pale pilsner barley malt, Magnum hops for bitterness, mild, spicy German Spalt and spicy, German Saaz hops for finishing. It's bottle conditioned: Fresh yeast is added to each corked, 25-ounce bottle so fermentation continues slowly. The beer becomes slowly drier, less malty. Cost is $8.99 a bottle and worth it.

Hildegard and Bas were a hit this past fall at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. They were mobbed with fans at a Urthel tasting at the famous Falling Rock Tap House. Hildegard's a beautiful woman, but at places like Falling Rock the only thing anyone cares about is the quality of the beer. Everyone loved it.

By the way, she's scheduled to be here Jan. 8 for a Bruce Paton beer dinner featuring Urthel beers at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco. Check out my blogs for info: http://www.beernewsletter.com and http://www.insidebayarea.com/beer.

-Can't find this beer? E-mail me at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or call (510) 915-1180 and ask for our Retail Beer Store List.

Beer ratings are based on a star system. — world classic; — outstanding; — excellent; — good; — average.

Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. He can be reached at (510) 915-1180. Fax: (510) 841-6023. E-mail: whatsontap@sbcglobal.net.