Belgium in Beer
If you love beer then the small European country of Belgium should be on the top your list of places to go. Belgium might not be the biggest country around, but for such a small country Belgium has an incredible, huge number of beers, breweries and styles of beer. We visited bars, like the Delirium Cafe in Brussels where there are over TWO THOUSAND beers on their drinks menu. I’ll let that sink in for a minute, 2000 different beers in a single, albeit large, bar. Strangely the Confederation of Belgian Brewers calls the country “beer paradise”.
We had a week in Brussels and Bruges. With six days in Belgium we were determined to try as many beers as we could. I’d probably come in a few shorter than my brother would, I’m not too much of a drinker these days.
A word to the wise. If you are planning on sampling some of the many (many, many, many) wonderful beers you’ll find in Brussels, Bruges and across Belgium, look at the their strength. Belgian beers are often much stronger than British beers. At home you might be drinking beers around 3.5% – 5%. Over in Belgium you’ll find that even weaker beers clock in around 5%. The average seemed to be closer to 7%. We found several beers at 11% and even one at a ridiculous 12%. That pretty much had the same effect on me as three beers back home would! Thank goodness for the fact that beer in Belgium comes in smaller amounts. Even a really large beer there wasn’t quite a pint and most were around a third to a half a pint.
One of the things I loved about beers in Belgium is the sheer number of different styles and kinds of beers. I also love that there are so many small scale and micro brewery beers which are commonly available across the country. Even in bars and restaurants in the main parts of Brussels and Bruges, each and every one served a different selection of beers. There were a few mainstays. Kriek, a type of beer rather than a brand was served in quite a few places in both Brussels and Bruges. But on the whole, each new bar brought a whole new set of choices and hoppy delights.
A lot of people think that all beers in Belgium and Germany are lagers. Yes, you’ll find a lot of drinks which back home we’d call lager but beers in Belgium are much more complex than that. A lot of lagers we get in the pub or supermarket can be a little bland or tasteless, whereas the equivalent in Belgium have a lot greater depth of taste. There are also lots of beers which are closer to what we would call an ale, porter or craft beer. There are also others such as a lambic which I’m not as sure how to compare to the beers we get over here.
I tried this in what the “Brussels free map for young travellers” (from our hostel) called the ‘Serious Beer Bar’. You’ll find the Moeder Lambic bar in the Fontainasplein area. It’s called the serious beer bar and every day beer lovers from across the city head down to try one of the 40+ draft beers and 100+ bottled ones. Ask the staff to help you choose what you should drink, they’ll know what you need.
Lambic beers come from the Brussels area and are one of the world’s oldest beer making styles. Lambic’s are brewed with a least 305 raw wheat, plus the usual malted barley. The key to their flavour is the long brewing process, sitting in open wooden cask for two – three years! In Belgium beer brewing is taken just as seriously as winemaking is in France.
The strongest beer we tried came from a little bar in Bruges. To find it, you have to go down the narrowest alleyway in the city to find Staminee De Garre. It took us a little while to find where the bar was and we discovered we’d passed the alleway several times! De Garre Bruges is a wonderful old world bar. I got the impression that other than whacking in some Wi-Fi, not much has changed here in a very, very long time.
People go to De Garre for their signature beer which is brewed for them and only available here. It comes in at a whopping 11% and was the second strongest beer we had in Belgium, right behind a 12% beer Adam had. Although De Garre beer is as strong as an average bottle of wine back in the UK, it didn’t overly taste of alcohol. There was a good depth of flavour to it. As it is so strong you can only order three of them before you’re cut off and you get a little bowl of cheese cubes. De Garre beer is a triple ale and is brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge.
Over at Le Trappiste we had what I thought was another beer related highlight, a tasting flight of five beers. Le Trappiste is a fantastic, if again a little hidden bar in Bruges. You’ll find a vast selection of beers again here and a rather unique way to sample them. You can order tasting flights of five or ten beers. They come as servings of 150ml of each. As most are pretty strong they still recommend that if you’re having five to yourself it should take around an hour to sample them. We ordered a flight of five between us, choosing a selection of different beers and beer styles.
Beer in Belgium is a wonderful thing and if you are a real beer drinker and beer lover then Belgium really is paradise for you. One other thing which I loved was the way the foods and beers pared together so well. A lot of restaurants we dined in had a beer menu rather than a wine menu. Waiting staff and bartenders were extremely knowledgeable in finding the right beer for you as well as recommending one to go with your meal.
There is a wealth of info out there on beers in Belgium and in a week you can only just start to scratch the surface. With thousands of different beers on offer it could take a lifetime to try them all!
Belgian Beer Related Resources