Geographically, Belgium is situated amid the so-called “beer belt” that stretches through Europe from the Island of Ireland to Slovakia. In Belgium, beers are incredibly diverse and vary from pale lagers and blonde ales and wheat beers through sour beers and fruit beers to brown ales and stouts. But why are Belgian beers so superior and one cannot simply order ‘a beer’ while visiting the kingdom?
Traditions are everything. In Belgium, just like in the UK, top-fermented beers (ales) are the most popular types of beer and this way of brewing at higher temperatures allows the yeasts to develop stronger various flavours. Techniques vary from region to region and the recipes have been developed and kept secret for centuries. Very often, breweries use the local wild yeasts, for instance when brewing spontaneously fermented beers, such as Lambic, Gueuze, Faro, or Kriek. An example is Boon Oude Gueuze, a traditional 100% spontaneous fermentation Lambic. A few Belgian beers are brewed by Trappist monks and certified as Trappist, many breweries market their beers as Trappist-style while others just call them Abbey beers. It is useful to note that Trappist and Abbey are not styles as such, unlike Enkel, Blonde, Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, etc. Out of 13 breweries recognised as Trappist by the Trappist Association, 6 are Belgian. We stock two of these breweries’ beers – Achel Bruin and Rochefort 6.
New styles are constantly appearing on the scene. Despite the long-standing traditions, some brewers have rebelled and produced more experimental and new styles of beer often adding unconventional ingredients, utilising ‘new wave’ techniques such as dry-hopping, and emphasising the new variety of hops that are available nowadays. For instance, La Chouffe brewery brews their flagship 8% ABV La Chouffe Blonde with the addition of coriander and produces an unfiltered golden beer that leaves citrus notes on the palate, followed by a refreshing, pleasantly spicy note, giving it a lovely lightness. Another example is Taras Boulba IPA by Brussels’ Brasserie de la Senne. Taras Boulba is A blond dry-hopped beer, thirst-quenching but yet demonstrating a strong character, completed by malty notes of fresh cereals, fruity/spicy aromas of fermentation, a powerful hop bitterness, citrussy nose, and a dry finish.
The experience is important. Belgian beers are traditionally higher in alcohol per volume, more round in body, and stronger in flavour. They are carefully bottle-conditioned to perfection, often laid down to age and develop certain desired notes, and served at the correct temperature in special glassware that corresponds to the particular brew. Beer sommeliers pair them with the right food and some restaurants even cook with them.
The terroir is perfect. Belgium’s temperate maritime climate has been good for developing good quality barley and hops and some unique strains of yeast. The temperatures are also suitable for fermenting ales and storing them during the warmer months. The fact that Belgian beers are traditionally bottle-conditioned contributes to their long shelf-life and the possibility of beer getting better with time.
A lot more can be written about Belgian beers, but here at TippleHub, we would prefer you to get your personal experience. Head over to our online store and design your starter pack and meet some of the well-known world-famous Belgian breweries and have a taste of their beers.