The Kingdom of Belgium is a country in northwest Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts its headquarters, as well as those of other major international organizations, including NATO. Belgium covers an area of 30,528 square kilometers (11,787 square miles) and has a population of about 10.5 million.
Belgian beer varies from the popular pale lager to the esoteric appeal of lambic beer and Flemish red. Belgian beer-brewing's origins go back to the Middle Ages, when monasteries began producing beers. Belgian beer production was assisted by the 1919 Belgian "Vandervelde Act", that prohibited the sale of spirits in pubs, inducing the market to produce beers with a higher level of alcohol. The Vandervelde Act was lifted in 1983.
High esteem of Belgian beer is supported by beer writers such as Michael Jackson. Although beer production in Belgium is now dominated by Inbev and Alken Maes, there are approximately more than 160 breweries in the country, producing about 500 standard beers. When special one-off beers are included, the total number of brands of Belgian beer exceeds 1000. Complete brewery lists can be consulted at the Belgian Beer Board  and the Zythos website.
Distribution and availabilityEdit
Outlets in BelgiumEdit
Belgium contains thousands of cafés that offer a wide selection of beers, ranging from perhaps 10 (including bottles) in a neighborhood café, to over 1000 in a specialist beer outlets. Among the most famous are "Beer Circus," "L'atelier," "Chez Moeder Lambic," and "Beer Planet", "Delirium Café" in Brussels; "de Kulminator" and "Oud Arsenaal" in Antwerp, "De Garre" and "'t Brugs Beertje" in Bruges, "Het Botteltje" in Ostend,"Het Hemelrijk" in Hasselt and "Het waterhuis aan de bierkant", "De Dulle Griet", "Hopduvel" and "Trappistenhuis" in Ghent. Although many major brands of beer are available at most supermarkets, beverage centers located throughout the country generally offer a far wider selection, albeit at somewhat higher prices.
Draught and bottled beerEdit
The vast majority of Belgian beers are sold only in bottles. Draught beers tend mostly to be pale lagers, wheat beers, regional favorites such as Kriek in Brussels or De Koninck in Antwerp; and the occasional one-off. Customers who purchase a bottled beer (often called a "special" beer) can expect the beers to be served ceremoniously, often with a free snack.
These days, Belgian beers are sold in brown (or sometimes dark green) tinted glass bottles (to avoid negative effects of light on the beverage) and sealed with a cork, a metal crown cap, or sometimes both. Some beers are bottle conditioned, in which they are reseeded with yeast so that an additional fermentation may take place. Different bottle sizes exist: 25 cl, 33 cl, 37.5 cl, 75 cl and multiples of 75. The 37.5 cl size is usually for lambics. Other beers are generally bottled in 25 or 33 cl format (depending on brands). The bigger bottles (75 cl) are sold almost in every food shop but the choice is often not wide. Larger size bottles are named following the terminology used for champagne but are quite rare, usually being promotional items. In Belgian cafés, when someone orders a demi (English: "half"), he receives a 50 cl (half liter) glass (with beer from the tap, or from 2 bottles of 25 cl) whereas in France, demi means a 25 cl glass.
Serving and glasswareEdit
Virtually every Belgian beer has a branded glass. Beyond the basic shape of the glass (wide-mouth goblet, curvaceous tulip glass, tall pilsener, etc.), each glass is imprinted with a logo or name. The brewery usually selects a glass form to accentuate certain qualities of their beer. A goblet, for example, lets the drinker's nose inhale the beer's aroma at the same time the mouth is drinking in the liquid. A tulip glass, for example, is very good for foam retention.
Some draught beer brands produced by InBev — Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe — are available in several European countries. Aside from these, it is mostly bottled beer that is exported. Cafés offering exclusively or primarily Belgian beers exist outside Belgium, in France, the United Kingdom and so on.
- Main article: Trappist beer
Trappist beers are beers brewed in a Trappist monastery. For a beer to qualify for this category, the entire production process must be carried out by, or supervised by, Trappist monks on the site of the monastery. Only seven monasteries currently meet this qualification, six of which are in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. The current Trappist producers are Achel, Chimay, Koningshoeven (the Netherlands), Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. The Trappist beers have very little in common with each other aside from the place of origin. The traditional "Holy Trinity" of beers (enkel, dubbel, and tripel), for example, are now brewed by only two monasteries.
Abbey beers (Bières d'Abbaye or Abdijbier) are brewed by commercial brewers, and license their name from abbeys, some defunct, some still operating. The most internationally well-known brand of Abbey beer is Inbev's Leffe. Others include Grimbergen, Tripel Karmeliet, Maredsous, Watou, Saint-Feuillien, Floreffe, and Val-Dieu.
Abbey beers mainly came into being following World War II when Trappist beers experienced a new popularity. The Abbey beers were developed to take advantage of the public's interest in the Trappist beers. This is why the single key component of an Abbey beer is its name: there is always the name of a monastery (either real or fictitious). Like the Trappist beers, Abbey beers do not connote a beer style, but rather a marketing term; however, most Abbey beers are either in the dubbel or tripel style.
Belgian beer stylesEdit
Modifications of British-style ales that were developed in the first half of the twentieth century to accommodate the discerning Belgian taste. During the past 20 years, amber ales were gradually disappearing. When still produced in Mont-Saint-Guibert, Vieux-Temps was the perfect example of Brabant Wallon amber ale style. Nowadays, one can find Belgian Pale-Ale crafted with respect of the brewing tradition in different places. The 5% abv De Koninck brand with its distinctive spherical glasses ('bollekes') is popular in its native city Antwerp.
British-type bitters and hoppy beersEdit
A few Belgian beers are pale and assertively hopped, like an English bitter or India Pale Ale. De Ranke's "XX Bitter" wears its allegiance on its sleeve. Poperings Hommelbier is another example, hailing from Belgium's hop-growing district.
Blonde or Golden AleEdit
Duvel is the archetypal Belgian blonde ale, and the most popular bottled beer in the country as well as being well-known internationally. Its name means "Devil" and some other blonde beers follow the theme—Satan, Lucifer, Brigand, Piraat and so on. The style is popular with Wallonian brewers, the slightly hazy Moinette being the best-known example. Delirium Tremens can be considered a spiced version.
- Main article: Dubbel
Dubbel has a characteristic brown color. It is one of the classic Abbey/Trappist types, having been developed in the 19th century at the Trappist monastery in Westmalle. Today, some commercial brewers using abbey names call their strong brown beers "Dubbel". Typically, a dubbel is between 6 and 8% abv. In addition to the dubbels made by most Trappist breweries, examples include Sint Bernardus Pater, Maredsous 8 and Witkap Dubbel.
Dubbels are characteristically bottle conditioned.
- Main article: Enkel
This beer is the basic recipe for what is usually a range of three beers of increasing alcohol content. Unlike the words "dubbel" and "tripel", it is currently not in use by either Trappists or abbey breweries as the name of a beer.
- Main article: Flanders red ale
Typified by Rodenbach, the eponymous brand that started this type over a century ago, this beer's distinguishing features from a technical viewpoint are a specially roasted malt, fermentation by a mixture of several 'ordinary' top-fermenting yeasts and a lactobacillus culture (the same type of bacteria yogurt is made with) and maturation in oak. The result is a mildly strong 'drinking' beer with a deep reddish-brown color and a distinctly acidic, sour yet fruity and mouthy taste.
Lambic beers (including Gueuze and Fruit Lambics)Edit
- Main article: Lambic
Lambic is a wheat beer brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels) by spontaneous fermentation. Most modern beers are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer's yeasts. Lambic's fermentation, however, is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. The beer then undergoes a long aging period ranging from three to six months (considered "young") to two or three years for "mature". It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavor: dry, vinous, and cidery, with a slightly sour aftertaste.
Lambic can be broken into three subclasses: Gueuze, Kriek and Framboise, and Faro.
The first of these, gueuze, blends both old and young mixtures to stimulate a second fermentation. Many are laid down like fine wines to age for several more years. In its most natural form, Lambic is a draught beer which is rarely bottled, and thus only available in its area of production and a few cafes in and around Brussels. Major brands include Mort Subite, Belle Vue, Cantillon and Saint-Louis. Some more mainstream brewers like Mort Subite and Saint-Louis do not subscribe to the orthodox rules of lambic production, adding extra sugars to sweeten their beers. Gueuze, also known informally as Brussels Champagne, is a sparkling beer produced by combining a young Lambic with more mature vintages. Exponents of this style are Girardin, Oud Beersel, 3 Fonteinen, Cantillon and Boon. Fruit beers are made by adding fruit or fruit concentrate to Lambic beer. The most common type is Kriek (made with cherries). Other fruits used are raspberry (Framboos), peach and black currant. Kriek and Framboos blend the fruit to trigger the second fermentation. The last of the Lambic brews, Faro, adds sugar or caramel to prompt the fermentation.
Oud bruin, or Flemish sour brown aleEdit
- Main article: Oud bruin
This style, aged in wooden casks, is a fuller-bodied cousin to the sour red style. Examples include Goudenband and Petrus.
Pilsner-style lager, or PilsEdit
- See also: Pilsner
Although Belgium is best known internationally for its unique ales, it is the common bottom-fermented pilsner lager which heads the lists of both domestic consumption and exports. They are classified by their bottom-fermented method and are recognized for their light color and smooth taste. The pilsners make up almost 75 percent of Belgian beer production. The best-known brand internationally is Stella Artois, while Jupiler is the most popular in Belgium, along with Maes pils.
- Main article: Saison
Bottle-conditioned farmhouse pale ales, brewed mainly in the French-speaking region of Wallonia. The saison or seasonal beers are somewhat low in alcohol (by Belgian standards) and are characterized by a light to medium body. The lighter and often fruitier taste makes them ideal for the warmer season.
- Main article: Scotch ale
These sweet, heavy-bodied brown ales represent a style which originated in the British Isles, but is now defunct there. The Caledonian theme is usually heavily emphasised with tartan and thistles appearing on labels. Examples include Gordon's, Scotch de Silly and Achouffe McChouffe.
Belgian stouts subdivide into sweet and dry versions, with considerable variation in strength. Examples include Callewaerts and Ellezelloise Hercules. The sweeter versions resemble the almost-defunct British style "Milk stout", while the stronger ones are sometimes described as Imperial stouts.
Table beer is a low-alcohol (typically not over 1.5%) brew sold in large bottles to be drunk with meals. The last decade it has gradually lost popularity due to the growing consumption of soft drinks and bottled water. It comes in blonde or brown versions. Table beer used to be served in school refectories until the 1970s; in the early 21st century, several organizations made proposals to reinstate this custom as the table beer is considered more healthy than soft drinks.
- Main article: Tripel
This is, traditionally, the strongest (in alcohol) of a range of Trappist beers. Although the version developed by Westmalle in 1934 was blond, the color can range to near-black (Westvleteren and Rochefort). The term "tripel" has since been adopted by non-Trappist breweries to signify a strong ale.
- Main article: White beer
A particular kind of wheat beer, commonly called witbier in Dutch and biėre blanche in French, which often contains spices, such as coriander and orange peel. A 400 year old style that died out in the 1950s. It was revived by Pierre Celis at the Hoegaarden brewery. Celis brought the style to America where it is brewed by many craft brewers as Belgian Style White (Wit).
Some classical examples are La Binchoise Blond, Hoegaarden, Brugs, Fruli and Steendonk. Traditionally, white beers are brewed east of the region of Brabant. Their alcohol strength is low, and these beers are quite refreshing. White beers have a moderate light grain sweetness from the wheat used. All should have notes of the spices used, mainly orange peel and coriander, but some varieties use cumin, cardamom, and grains of paradise in addition to these. They can be served with a slice of lemon or orange.
Many breweries produce special beers during December. Some are stronger than the usual beers, others are spiced.
- Good Beer Guide to Belgium, Tim Webb, CAMRA Books, ISBN 1852492104
- Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition, Phil Marowski, Brewers Publications (2004), ISBN 0937381845
- Great Beers of Belgium, Michael Jackson, ISBN 9053730125
- Lambicland: Lambikland, Webb Tim, Pollard Chris, Pattyn Joris, Cogan and Mater Ltd, ISBN 0954778901
- Belgian beer website - An Index of Belgian Beer
- Belgium's Great Beers
- How to pronounce Belgian beer names
- Directory Project: Brewers in Belgium
- All about trappist beer !
- Beers of Abbey
- The Belgian Beer Board
- The Belgian Beer Pub Map
- Belgian Beers, one by one
- Beer Map of Belgium - contains all active Belgian breweries
- 1000+ Belgian beers grouped by types and breweries
- Three Sheets to Belgium (from the Three Sheets Wiki)