Belgium Beers 101

Beer connoisseurs have Belgium on their list of places to go before they die. That’s because the Belgians have perfected the craft of brewing beer just as the French have done so with wine. Intricate flavor mixtures, paired with centuries long process that hardly changed makes Belgian beers some of the best in the world. With over 180 breweries in the country, the selection is aplenty so it’s not surprising for a casual drinker to become overwhelmed with beer options.

So what makes Belgium beers special? It’s the complexity of flavors in every sip. The first lesson in Belgium Beers 101 is that their beers don’t necessarily fall into certain categories. If, however, you’ve drunk enough of them, you’ll be able easily identify it from another beer type. That is because the flavor lingers, particularly in darker beers, and it becomes more intense as it settles in your tongue. I traveled to Brussels plenty of times, so I was spoiled, and once you’ve gotten used to Belgian beers, you’ll never want to drink any other kind.

Belgium Beers 101

Types of Belgian Beers

Belgium Beers 101: Belgian Beer Sampling (left to right: Westvleteren 12, Westmalle Tripel, Rochefort 8, Gouden Carolus Tripel)
Belgian Beer Sampling (left to right: Westvleteren 12, Westmalle Tripel, Rochefort 8, Gouden Carolus Tripel)

For all intents and purposes, the beer judges in America have determined that there are 13 types of Belgian beer ranging from fruity lambics to the hard to find trappists beers, though if you ask any Belgian brewer, he or she will emphatically dismiss such classification. When you go to a bar or a craft beer and wine store, what you’ll likely find are bottles of white ales known as witbier or biere blanche, which were popularized by Hoegaarden.

Belgium Beers 101: Hoegaarden Rosee
Hoegaarden Rosee

You might also see larger bottles of fruity lambic beers like kriek, a beer made with Morello cherries and a small selection of strong dark ales with subcategories like dubbel, tripel, and even quadrupel. There’s also the seasonal or saison and Flanders red and brown, though they are not as commonly available outside of Belgium.

Belgium Beers 101: Gouden Carolus Tripel and Dubbel
Gouden Carolus Tripel and Dubbel

Pay a Belgian Trappist Brewery a Visit

You can take as many beer-tasting tours while visiting Belgium but nothing compares to paying an actual Belgian trappist brewery a visit and drinking fresh beer from their tasting room. These breweries are somewhere deep within the Belgian countryside so getting there will almost always require you to drive a car, cycle or even walk, but the effort will be worthwhile because not only will you be rewarded with some of the best beers in the world, but you’ll also be supporting a charitable cause (well, sort of).

Belgium Beers 101: Saint Sixtus Monastery (where Westvleteren is made)
Saint Sixtus Monastery (where Westvleteren is made)

Trappist beers are rare beers brewed in monasteries by monks who live there. They brew just enough barrels a year to maintain the upkeep of the monastery and the brewery. As of today, there are no more than 10 breweries that fit the criteria and six of them are in Belgium: Orval, Chimay, Westmalle, Rochefort, Westvleteren, and Achel.

Must-Drink List

Belgium Beers 101: Lambic Beer by Cantillon
Lambic Beer by Cantillon

Now that you’ve scratched the surfaced of Belgium Beers 101, you’re probably ready to do some tasting. So where do you start? The general rule about tasting Belgian beer is to start from the lighter types because the darker it is, the more alcohol it usually has. Keep in mind too that some Belgian beers are fairly strong and drinking a pint is akin to drink a glass of wine. Here are some Belgium Beer 101 suggestions:

Witbier: St. Bernadus Witbier, Jan de Lichte

Lambic: any fruity ones by Cantillon (cherry, blueberry, apricot, raspberry), Drie Fonteinen Framboos (raspberry)

Gueuze: anything from Drie Fonteinen, Cantillon or Girardin

Belgian Pale Ale: Trappist Westvleteren Blonde, Orval Trappist Ale, Cuvée de Ranke

Flanders Red: Rodenbach Caractère Rouge, Cuvée Des Jacobins Rouge

Dubbel: Trappist Westvleteren 8, Westmalle Trappist Dubbel, St. Bernardus Prior 8, Trappistes Rochefort 6

Tripel: Westmalle Trappist Tripel, Tripel Karmeliet, St. Bernardus Tripel, Tripel Van de Garre

Strong Dark Ale: Trappistes Rochefort 8, Cuvée Van De Keizer Blauw, Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue), Achel Trappist Extra

Quadrupel: Trappist Westvleteren 12, Trappistes Rochefort 10, St. Bernardus Abt 12, Pannepot

Saison: Avec Les Bons Voeux, Saison Dupont, Fantôme Saison D’Erezée – Été (summer)

The Unique Glasses

Belgium Beers 101: Westmalle Tripel
Westmalle Tripel

Visitors to Brussels make it a point to go and visit Delirium Café, a bar made famous by its long list of beers from around the world. Once there, two of the first things you’ll notice are the enlarged beer caps that decorate the ceiling and the different glasses showcased with matching beer names. In Belgium, and some parts of Europe, the beer you’ll be ordering will almost always come with a matching glass because the brewers believe that the shape of it enhances the flavors of the beer somewhat. They can come in different shapes and sizes as well and are often for sale at the breweries themselves.

About Iris A

Website: http://www.travelingwithiris.com

Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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