And, yet, here we have it: a hoppy ale invented by British imperialists, perfected by tattooed Californians and uniquely adapted by people who revere the Smurfs as timeless art.
Crack open a bottle of Belgian IPA, and you don't know whether to laugh or pucker up.
Houblon Chouffe, perhaps the most widely known, looks like a classic tripel, bright and golden with a pillowy head that decorates your goblet with its trademark lace pattern. Bring it up to your mouth for a sip, and instead of that familiar spicy yeast kick in the nose, you get the telltale aromas of grass and citrus.
A quaff leaves you confused, astonished, intrigued. Sweet and tingly with a hint of banana, it'll remind you of the brewery's flagship, La Chouffe. But then a subtle bitterness fills your palate. It's not front and forward, like a more assertive West Coast IPA; it's less obvious, as if someone tucked Russian River's Pliny the Elder under a pile of warm blankets.
Take another sip and you find yourself asking: Why aren't there more Belgian beers like this?
It's not as if hops are completely unknown in Belgium. They are widely cultivated in the north, in western Flanders, and some well-known brands - Orval, for example - are famous for their hops. But an American hophead wandering into an Antwerp cafe will never find a chalkboard listing each ale's level of International Bittering Units.
Indeed, Hildegard Van Ostaden, the inventive brewer at De Leyerth who helped kick off the Belgian IPA trend a few years ago with her masterpiece Urthel Hop-It, didn't discover the wonder of hops till she visited America.
"I think the first really hoppy beer I tried was in Seattle, at Elysian Brewing," she told me. "Then I completely fell in love with Stone Arrogant Bastard. I became a huge fan of American IPAs. Each time I travel to the U.S., I get really addicted to the hops.
"So I thought, maybe I should try to make something like that."
Many beer traditionalists doubt that Belgian IPA is a bona fide style because there are only a few examples and no firm brewing guidelines. Nearly any remotely hoppy Belgian - whether a dubbel, blonde, abbey or even wild ale - seemingly qualifies for the rubric.
But those who get lost in that debate risk missing the marvel of Belgian IPAs.
Next to Germany and England, no other country has had a bigger impact on the American craft beer scene than Belgium.
It's not just those quirky Belgian bars serving lambic alongside a classic pot of mussels and frites. These days, nearly every high-end restaurant with a gourmet beer list features corked bottles of Lindemans, Chimay and Duvel - brands almost unheard of in America 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, untold American brewers have spent hours upon hours attempting to clone the likes of Leffe, Corsendonk and Rodenbach.
With the emergence of Belgian IPAs, at long last it's Belgium that's copying America - a firm sign that, instead of spitting out our factory-made lagers in disgust, the rest of the world is finally recognizing our craftsmanship.
But it doesn't end there.
We're already seeing the next stage in beer style evolution: American Belgian IPAs. Check out the newly released Flying Fish Exit 4 from New Jersey, described as an American tripel, for an idea of the style.
Look for these other varieties of Belgian IPA: De Ranke XX Bitter, Poperings Hommel Bier, Piraat amber, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, Gaspar Ale. Also, these American versions of Belgian IPA: Green Flash Le Freak, Allagash Hugh Malone, Stone Cali-Belgique. *
"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to email@example.com.