written by cosmin
Belgium. Land of Beer
We’ve mentioned before that Belgium is mainly known for two things: its food and its beer. While the former has been extensively analyzed right here, the latter we seem to have neglected… until now.
Belgium has a long history of producing beer (local breweries are historically mentioned in chronicles from the beginning of the 10th century). The drink has been profiled as the national beverage of Belgium, with many local breweries (over 180, at the last count) making their own, different type of lager.
One important sort worth mentioning is monks’ beer, locally called trappist. This type of lager is heavily protected by the government with very strict rules regarding the production process and the producers. Because of this, there are only six manufacturers of this type of lager: Achim, Westmalle, Orval, Chimay, Rochefort, and Westvleteren, all taking the names of the monasteries that house them. While some of the trappist beers can be found in supermarkets and shops (like Orval and Chimay), some can only be ordered online (like the Westvleteren Yellow Cap) for prices going up to 100 euros a six pack.
The monasteries that didn’t make the trappist benchmarks have not given up. 🙂 They sell the so-called abbey beer (in French biére d’Abbaye). The most known are Maredsous, Grimbergen (the abbey itself is worth a visit – it’s just outside Brussels) and Triple Karmeliet. All are blonde and strong, with up to 8% in alcohol content. Tripel Karmeliet is the one you should try, especially together with a big side of fries with ketchup and mayonnaise.
One type that I, personally, like very much is white beer. It’s basically beer made out of wheat, instead of barley (or a combination of the both). Hoegaarden is the biggest producer of white beer, with several different flavors on the market, including simple, cherry, lemon, radler and some other stuff that I can’t remember (probably because of too much beer).
If all these don’t meet your tastes, you can also find the classic pils-type beer. Stella Artois is the biggest brand (a trip to Leuven to do a tour of their factory is definitely worthwhile), together with Jupiler. You’ll find these two beers in almost every shop, restaurant, pub or tourist attraction you will go to.
For your female companions that don’t really like the fact that I’m telling you all this :), you can find a beer type called kriek, which is basically cherry beer. It’s a mild, sweet lager that will surely meet the requirements of your wife/girlfriend in terms of taste and flavor. One particular brand that people seem to be very fond of is called Mort Subité (that is “sudden death” in French; no worries – it’s no Spring-break alcohol bomb).
A big part of the beer tradition in Belgium is the style of the glasses from which you drink it. Every beer producer has styled their own glasses for their beers, in order to create a classy and effective experience when drinking them. Often, beer glasses are available to buy, either in souvenir shops or in supermarkets (or you can just take them from the pub – they have so many of them, they don’t really care).
Finally, just one top tip before you can go off to the pub: don’t come to Belgium thinking that you’re a skilled drinker; because you’re not. Alcohol content in local beers varies between 6 and 15%, so even two 330 ml glasses of booze can get you singing your way home. Be careful how much you drink and how fast, because you don’t want to end your holiday in an ambulance or in a ditch. Saluté!