Belgian beer

In Belgium, beer is more than just a beverage, it is a culture. Beer in Belgium dates back to the age of the first crusades, long before Belgium became an independent country. Under Catholic church permission, local French and Flemish abbeys brewed and distributed beer as a fund raising method. The relatively low-alcohol beer of that time was preferred as a sanitary option to available drinking water. For example, in Ghent, people, even children, used to drink beer (1% alcohol) instead of water considered unsafe.

In Belgium there are over 450 different varieties of beers and approximately 180 breweries in the country, ranging from international giants to microbreweries. On average, one Belgian drinks 84 litres of beer each year.

Beer in Belgium varies from pale lager to lambic beer and Flemish red beer.

Most beers are sold in bottles, rather than cans, and almost every style of beer has its own uniquely shaped glass. Draught beers tend mostly to be pale lagers, wheat beers. The bottles are usually brown glass to avoid negative effects of light on the beverage and they are sealed with a cork, a metal crown cap, or sometimes both. Most of them are branded glass imprinted with a logo or name.

Using the correct glass is considered to improve its flavor.

Different bottle sizes exist: 25 cl, 33 cl, 37.5 cl, 75 cl and multiples of 75.

Many Belgian beers have personalized beer glasses in which only that beer may be served. The shape of each glass enhances the flavor of the beer for which it is designed.

One of the more common types is the tulip glass. A tulip glass helps to trap the aroma and also to create a visual and olfactory sensation.

A vessel similar to a champagne flute is the preferred serving vessel for Belgian lambics and fruit beers. The narrow shape helps maintain carbonation, while providing a strong aromatic front. Flute glasses display the lively carbonation, sparkling color, and soft lacing of this distinct style.

Chalices and goblets are large, stemmed, bowl-shaped glasses mainly associated with Trappist and Abbey ales. The distinction between goblet and chalice is typically in the glass thickness. Goblets tend to be more delicate and thin, while the chalice is heavy and thick walled. Some chalices are even etched on the bottom to nucleate a stream of bubbles for maintaining a nice head.

During my visit in Belgium, I have tasted several beers: Duvel, Golden Draak, Keizer Karel, Trappist beer.

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A Trappist beer is brewed in a monastery, the monks must play a role in its production and the profits from the sale are used to support the monastery and/or social programs outside. Only eight monasteries currently meet these qualifications, six of which are in Belgium, one in the Netherlands and one in Austria. Trappist beer is a controlled term of origin: it tells where the beers come from, it is not the name of a beer style.

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My favourite beer I tasted in Belgium was the abbey beer from Postel.

An abbey beer is brewed under license to an existing or abandoned abbey, as opposed to other abbey-branded beers which the trade markets using other implied religious connections, such as a local saint. The requirements for registration under the logo include the monastery having control over certain aspects of the commercial operation, and a proportion of profits going to the abbey or to its designated charities. Monastic orders other than the Trappists can be and are included in this arrangement. Modern abbey breweries range from microbreweries to international giants, but at least one beer writer warns against assuming that closeness of connection with a real monastery confirms a product’s quality.

As of 2011 eighteen certified Abbey beers existed, Postel, brewed in Opwijk by Brouwerij De Smedt, among them.The Postel beer was made for the first time in 1611 in the abbey. Than in the French Revolution the monks stopped brewing and only in 1953 Campina brewing started again with the brewing of Postel Beer.

The beer exists in 3 different forms: Postel Blond: blond beer 7%, Postel Dobbel: dark beer 7%, Postel Tripel: blond tripel  8,5%.

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You can match Belgian beers against some course of a meal, for instance:

  • Wheat beer with seafood or fish
  • Blond beers or tripel with chicken or white meat
  • Dubbel or other dark beers with dark meat
  • Fruit lambics with dessert.

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