Belgium, located well north of the “wine belt”, always favoured beer over wine and over time perfected brewing techniques and established the best sources for ingredients.
Belgians are true gourmets, and eat and drink very well. While many Belgian gourmets drink wine, many more enjoy beer and prefer local brews.
Today, Belgians rank first in per capita beer consumption with 161 litres, versus Canadians with approximately 78 litres and declining.
If a Belgian brewery dared to produce and market an inferior quality beer, its fans would rebel vowing never to buy its products, and soon bankruptcy would be inevitable.
The brewing industry is large (200 breweries), but consists mostly of small and innovative establishments catering to locals, and exporting to other European countries, the USA, Canada, and a few others with large enough numbers of beer aficionados.
Brewing in Belgium has a long history dating back to the 11th century. Monks brewed and distributed beer, with the permission of the church authorities. This was solely for their own consumption, to secure funds for self-preservation, and maintain their monasteries.
InBev, world’s largest brewing organization, is headquartered in Belgium.
The industry uses the best malts, most appropriate yeasts, suitable water, and often uses “bottle conditioning” instead of filtration and other techniques to preserve taste.
Belgian beers can be roughly grouped as follows:
Amber ales (similar to traditional English ales)
Blond or golden ales
Brown ales aka bruin or brun (dark ales)
Champagne style beers (with second fermentation in the bottle, today most breweries use large stainless steel tanks for the second fermentation much like the Charmat method used in bulk sparkling wine production)
Dubble ( double) (6 – 8 per cent ABV and bottle conditioned)
Flemish red (uses ales yeast and lacto bacillus culture. All are matured in oak casks)
Lambic (barley wheat (70 and 30 respectively) beers that are flavoured and undergo spontaneous fermentation). Most lambic are blended using two beers, than flavouring it, and eventually sweetening the blend using syrup.
Pilsner (represents the majority of the national output)
Scotch ales (sweet, heavy and dark)
Stouts (dark, maybe sweet or dry)
Triple (high octane pale ales)
Most craft breweries in Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium in the north (and Brussels, the capital.
Although the population enjoys national brands, the production surpasses internal consumption forcing breweries to make concerted efforts to export (60 per cent of Belgian beer is exported).
Some of the best breweries are:
Malheur, West Malle, De Koninck, Strubbe, Duvel, Affligem, Mort Subite, Timmermans, Hoegarden, Jupiler, Chimay, Dupont, Liefmans.
Malheur (10 per cent ABV) is available from Palmyra Wines (www.palmyrawines.com)