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Beer in Belgium

There are very nice beers in Belgium.

Though wine is drunk at meal times, beer is often the best accompaniment for a Belgium meal, especially charbonnades and other beer based recipes, and, of course, the ubiquitous steak and frites.

When accompanying food, beer is drunk more at lunch time than in the evening, wine is drunk with both meals.

Wine production is virtually non existent in Belgium, however beer is another history; Belgium is certainly beer country and a top producer of specialist beers. You will find, for instance, peach, cherry or raspberry flavored beer. I had not associated those flavors with beer before visiting Brussels for the first time; then, drinking peach flavored beer in the Grand Place, sitting close to a large open fire on a chilly winter evening, suited me very well.

Talking of Belgium beer, let us not dwell for long on their well known industrial beers, and more on the delicious beers still produced by traditional methods. True lambics -where the fermentation is spontaneous, driven by wild yeasts- is typically only a Belgian brew. Brussels is one of the few places to enjoy this wonder.

But the very pinnacle of Belgian brewing is achieved by the six Trappist monasteries. Among other brews, they produce the outstanding Tripel. The name derives from the brewing process, in which up to three times the amount of traditional Trappist malt is added. Light golden in color, they're high in alcohol and full of flavor.

Forming creamy heads, with rich aroma, they are mildly to moderately bitter. Body is light, thanks to the use of Belgian candy sugar during the brewing.

Top of line among Trappist Tripel ales is the Westmalle, produced by the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, founded in 1794. Some varieties reach as high as 12% alcohol, but the taste - far from being too strong - is that of a heady mixture of malt and hops.

Beer in Brussels

If you are in Brussels, visit the Brasserie Cantillon, where they still brew their beer using the time-honored method. They also house the Gueuze Museum. You can visit the brewery during their opening hours. They also hold public brewery days and group tours on demand.

That is the place to see how adding sour cherry liquid to the lambic produces a cherry flavored beer known as kriek; adding caramel and candy sugar brings out faro; or adding some raspberry liquid to the lambic results in framboise, raspberry flavored beer.

Beer and ales outside Brussels

Many towns still keep their local brewery, for instance, the Domus, in Louvain, is another family-run domestic brewery; they offer an output of seasonal beers, including the pale Blanche de Louvain. You can try them on site.

Louvain is also home to Stella Artois, also the star of Belgian brewing. Stella is the barley beer in Belgium. Though they started brewing beer in the 14th century as “Den Horen” –the horn- it is an utterly modern brewery. You can tour and discover the whole brewing process, especially if you book in advance.

The so called “trappist” beers, like Orval and Rochefort, are usually dark, high in alcohol content, still produced in the traditional manner, and exceptionally good, even for non beer lovers and the most undiscerning palates.

Lambic – the liquid obtained from rye and wheat after they undergo a natural fermentation process using only wild yeasts.

With this spontaneous fermentation it is very difficult to ensure a standard quality, and it might produce beers that are too bitter.

Gueuze – obtained after mixing lambics from three different years. The lambic is left to age in a controlled environment, following a method based in the Champanoise, discovered by Dom Perignon, including a second fermentation in the bottle.