Belgium, known for its chocolate and waffles, has a beer culture as rich and diverse as the brews themselves. In our November / December 2023 Ale Odyssey, we showcase a variety of these styles and, as you’ll see, the character spectrum is immense.
While the brewing of beer in what is modern day Belgium can be traced all the way back to the Romans, we typically think of a vastly different selection today. Having transitioned from the rudimentary Roman styles, through to Gruits (beers hopped with local flora, not hops) to the rise of the Trappists through the Middle Ages.
Speaking of Trappists, if you thought monks were all prayer and solemn faces, think again. Belgian Trappist monks are a monastic order that take their beer very seriously. Brewed using recipes passed down for centuries, these monastic orders have expanded their production drastically as they grew in popularity. These beers are usually strong and malty, with a nice yeast-derived character resembling fruit and spice.
Lambic beers tend to defy conventional brewing methods, relying on wild yeast strains to give a distinctive tartness and earthiness. The brewing of lambics has culminated in the Gueuze, a blend of lambics varying in age that has been perfected over the years.
Belgian Saisons (and Farmhouse Ales) were originally brewed for the farmers working the fields, providing sustenance and hydration during the long days. Saisons can be unpredictable, as they can range from full-on funk through to puckeringly tart.
Belgian witbiers tend to be spicier than their neighbours across the German border. Brewed using wheat as the key malt, they tend to have a refined ester-y character. The most famous brew in the category, Hoegaarden, is spiced with coriander and orange peel for some extra zest!
Belgian beer is a blend of history, skill, and culture. From Trappist ales to Saisons and Lambics, each style has its own very unique character. When you’re sipping a Belgian brew, you’re not just enjoying a beverage, but tasing centuries of tradition and craftmanship. So, raise your glass to Belgian beer. Santé!
Image: Dupont Brewery | www.brasserie-dupont.com