Okay, so I’ve titled this blog post as a guide, but that’s not really the case. In reality the massive diversity of Belgium’s favourite export - and past-time - is difficult to define with words alone. When it comes to beer, action speaks louder than words, so by all means, get tasting!
On the subject of beer, what we have is a truly incredible map of tastes, differing from town to town; a history book recounting tales of monks and Abbeys, shifting borders, an ancient wrestle for supremacy, lives dedicated to care, craft …and even the use of beer instead of drinking water.
The first rule of Belgian beer? There are no rules.
Flavours and textures honour the notions of its maker. It’s this fact which means that, even though there are over 450 varieties, each beer is unique. Impressively, most beers in Belgium are also served in their own glass, specifically moulded to enhance the flavours and aroma of the liquid inside. Very cool.
If you’re a beginner, it can be hard to know how to differentiate between all of this choice – indeed there is a bar in Leuven that has an impressive and slightly intimidating list of 2,000 beers on its menu! Where to start? Here’s some of the more popular categories:
Abbey beers – my favourite category. Unsurprising given that Heverlee is an abbey beer, taking inspiration from medieval times, when beer was healthier than water (more along the lines of a nutritious broth in those days) and monks produced and sold beer to help rebuild their abbeys, many of which were in tatters after the French Revolution.
Trappist beers – a select few abbeys (6 to be precise) brew what is known as Trappist beers, made exclusively by monks to this day. These secretive recipes and brewing methods deliver a complex yet rich and smooth taste. Lambics – spontaneous fermentation anyone? This style of beer is brewed thanks to the help of the open air, with local yeasts and bacteria adding to the flavour. Sounds unusual, but the results can be delicious, if a little sour - which is why many Lambic beers are sweetened with fruit flavours.
White beers – A nice one for summer afternoons, white beers are a cloudy, wheat variety, preserved in a way that adds a twist of interesting flavour such as cardamom, coriander or orange peel.
All this talk’s making me thirsty. Time to put these learnings into practice, I think!
Posted by Joris