There are almost as many beer styles as there are breweries in the small kingdom of Belgium. The choices are endless when you consider raspberry beer, white beer, chocolate beer, geuze beer, cherry beer, brown beer, Trappist beer and of course the beer that Belgium is most famous for: lambic beer. Lambic beer is made according to an ancient style of brewing, relying on spontaneous fermentation to produce a bone-dry, profoundly tart, and naturally effervescent drink that improves with years in the bottle - much like wine. By European Union regulation, it can be produced only in a small area in Belgium.
"Beauty lies in the hands of the beer holder." - Anonymous
Nowhere is this truer than in Belgium with over 450 different varieties of beer, many with personalized beer glasses in which a certain beer, and only that beer, may be served. The shape of each glass is made to enhance the flavor of the beer it is designed for. This strict beer separatism may seem like behavior usually reserved for wine snobbery, but Belgians take their beer seriously!
In fact, Belgians are the world's biggest beer consumers. Even imported beers enjoy a certain popularity, because many of them have a Belgian character, made from Belgian hops that are grown in the country for as far as the eye can see.
Here, beer has long been used in cooking to add a regional flavor to the braised and slow-cooked dishes of "cuisine bourgeoise."
Brussels: From Gueuze to Pils
The tart beer known as Gueuze, through some accident of alchemy, can be made only in the Brussels region. Even though the days of numerous breweries is gone, Brussels still offers a huge variety of beers.
There are also Lambic, Faro and Kriek. You might try them with "tartines": slices of bread spread with white cheese, a typically Brabant specialty. All the secrets of the Brussels brewers are revealed in the Gueuze museum, located in an old artisanal brewery dating from the 19th century. This engaging tour ends in the tasting room. Another brewing museum awaits you the Grand Place, this time located in the renowned corporation house of the Brewers Guild.
The beers of Wallonia and Brussels are characterized above all by their great diversity of color, flavor and production method. Every beer presents a unique and authentic character reflecting the history and taste of the region where it originated. Nevertheless, if you want to establish a typology or classification of brewing production, as arbitrary as it might be, you can distinguish three main groups of beer.
First, spontaneously-fermented beers (the famous Lambics from the Brussels region). The fermentation occurs automatically, without adding yeast, when the must comes into contact with micro-organisms in the atmosphere. Lambic is better known in its "cut" forms, where it bears the name of its derivative products: Gueuze, Faro, and Kriek.
As for low fermentation beers that feed on yeasts, fermenting at low temperatures (5 - 9° C), they are generally classified with the "Pils" group, a name that comes from the Bohemian town of Pilsen, where the first beer of this kind was brewed in 1842. Almost all the production of these light, low-alcohol beers is carried out by the country's main brewing groups (aside from a few rare locations that are worth mentioning: Pils Lefèbvre, Silly Pils, Dupont Pils).
However, the most famous are the high fermentation beers, in which the yeasts are added at temperatures between 15 and 20° C. Also called "special beers," they are still brewed in the traditional artisanal manner, often flavored with spices, aromatics or sugar (with no chemical additives). Depending on the type of malt, they have an attractive blond, amber or brown color and attain a higher level of alcohol than the low fermentation beers. They're beers best appreciated when perfectly aged. Depending on their history and method of brewing, the are classified as seasonal and white beers; regional and abbey beers; or Trappist beers.
Belgium offers a spectacular variety of beers: blond, brown or red, flavored with cumin, Port, cherry or honey. There is one for every taste. Get to know them!
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