Is Belgium truly the home of the best beer on the planet? Or, is it Germany, home of tall steins and Theresienwiese (better known as Oktoberfest)? Some would argue that the Czech lager is the winner, or that Irish stout takes the cake. You can’t forget about British or American ale either.
However, it is a fact that nobody can ever deny how good Belgian beer truly is. But why is Belgian beer so good? After doing some digging, it seems that everyone loves Belgian beer for one reason or another.
Belgian beer is so good because of the taste, the mastery behind the brew (think – hundreds of years of Trappist monk knowledge combined with modern technology), and the fact that most Belgian beers are fermented twice. So, with that being said, Belgian beer is carrying centuries of wisdom and flavor! And, since most strong Belgian beers are fermented twice, they have more probiotic yeast inside of them which kills bacteria in the gut. Many describe the taste of a Belgian beer as floral, sweeter, and much less harsh than other traditional beers that are considered bitter.
So, pull up your barstool and grab yourself a Belgian beer. They taste amazing!
What is Belgian Trappist Ale?
Before Belgium was a country of its own, it was kind of half Germany & half France with the influence of the Holy Roman Empire. And that is where the monks come into play.
Around 1100 BCE, the monks and members of the Roman Empire were using local Abbey’s to brew beer. They would then sell the beer and use their profits to support the church. Through this process, they became what we know today as brew masters.
700 years later, when the French Revolution took place, monks from Normandy began to flee. They chose Belgium as their sanctuary. The monastery they came from was known as La Grande Trappe. La Grande Trappe, also known as La Trappe Abbey is known as the monastery where the Trappist monks originally resided. The Trappists brewed their abbey beers out of tradition and continued doing so well after the French Revolution.
What is the Oldest Belgian Brewery?
Eventually, the brewer monks would open the Westmalle Brewery (the first Trappist brewery), which is still in operation today! “Since its foundation in 1794, the abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Westmalle belongs to the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or the Trappists, after the French abbey La Trappe. Since the end of the eighteenth century, monks have devoted themselves here, to a life in a community of prayer and labor.”(trappistwestmalle.be) The Westmalle is not the oldest brewery in Belgium however. Surprisingly the oldest breweries in Belgium date back to the early 1700s and 1800s.
In 1702 Timmerman’s Brewery was established and it is the oldest lambic brewery still in operation in the entire world. In 1820, De Troch lambic was opened. Today, they currently offer over a dozen fruity and lambic beers. The 1800s were a popular time in the Belgian beer-making industry. Several breweries opened during that period that is still in operation right now. Lindemans faro (established in 1822) and Oud Beersel lambic (since 1882). What happened after that is history.
Belgian beer had become so widely popular that by the early 1900s there were well over 3000 breweries in the country. Unfortunately, due to WW1 and WW2, Belgium was left with only 775 breweries by the year 1946. Today, there are just under 400 Belgian breweries still in operation.
What is the Best Belgian Beer Ever?
Stella Artois may come to mind if you think of Belgian beer. Despite some people thinking that it is from France, it is actually from Belgium. Stella Artois was first brewed in Leuven, Belgium just east of Brussels. Researching Belgian beer has to lead me to wonder what the best ever Belgian beer is! Watch out, Stella! Westvleteren is coming through. If you were to go to Belgium, the number one beer that you would need to try is Westvleteren 12.
According to beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com Westvleteren, 12 is the absolute, number one, true Belgian beer. The distribution of this beer, however, is not exactly mainstream. It is quite hard to get your hands on it! You can only get it by going directly to the monastery that brews this specialty beverage. The only other option would be to visit a local tavern or gastropub that is near the direct vicinity of the monastery of the Westvleteren Trappists. If you’re feeling like you’re up for a trip to Belgium to try its famous trappist beers, this is a place you must visit so you can try Westvleteren 12.
What Makes a Belgian Beer?
Belgian beers are ales. Ales are fermented differently than lagers. A lager is fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast in much colder temperatures than ales. When the ale is fermented, it is done with top-fermenting yeast around 60°-70°F compared to the 35-50°F that is required to make a proper lager. Belgian beer tends to be malty, fruity, and have a stronger yeast flavor than lager.
Breweries in Belgium take their beer very seriously and they know the true importance of the fermentation process happening spontaneously. When spontaneous fermentation takes place, the wort is open to fresh air which allows bacteria and yeast to thrive inside of the beer. Bacteria and living cultures found inside of beer die off long before bottles make it into the tavern, or into our homes. Acids that come from the hops process of brewing are responsible for making that happen.
But when it comes to Belgian beer, this process goes right out the window. Belgian beer does have live probiotics in them. Since Belgian beer is fermented twice, things can be a little bit trickier. Traditional Belgian beers like Echt Kriekenbier, Westmalle Tripel, and Hoegaarden are perfect examples of beer with live cultures and probiotics.
What are the Best Belgian Beers to Try?
You will be able to find these popular ales at many pubs throughout Belgium. Tripel Karmeliet for example is one of the most popular Belgian wheat beers (witbier) you can try. What makes Tripel Karmeliet so special is the fact that it is brewed with wheat, barley, and oats. The beauty of Belgian beer is the wide variety of ales, lagers, and stouts.
Gulden Draak is another popular dark tripel ale that has been fermented twice. Duchesse de Bourgogne is one that I find incredibly interesting. Duchesse de Bourgogne is considered a Flemish red ale. This particular ale is matured in casks made of oak and is considered a Belgian specialty beer. With hints of chocolate and fruit, you can’t go wrong with this one! Paix Dieu Triple is an eye-catcher due to its ABV, and because of its history. Paix Dieu Tripel was produced long ago at the Abbey of Paix Dieu. This beer has had its tradition of only being brewed once per month depending on the cycle of the moon, particularly the full moon.
Pauwel Kwak is another specialty ale and is considered to be a strong Belgian pale ale. It’s described as being slightly sweet and has an intoxicating malt disposition.
Which Countries Make the Best Beer?
Belgian brewers produce a ton of beer and have been for well over 1000 years, but they still are not the heaviest drinkers or beer producers in Europe or the world! Belgium does make a great beer, but Germany comes in the lead with having over 1500 breweries in operation, and over 5000 brands of beer. There are four times as many breweries in Germany than the entire rest of Europe.
The Czech Republic and Ireland are also home to some of the best brews. The first brewery in the Czech Republic has been standing since the year 993.
England is home to more than 7000 pubs and is a sweet destination if you are looking to catch a buzz, or perhaps, more than a buzz.
If you decide to bar crawl over Europe, I suggest starting in Belgium. Why? Delirium Cafe located in the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert in Brussels, Belgium has more than 2000 types of beer on hand that you can try! In 2004 they were named in the Guinness World Book of Records for having exactly 2004 beers available for tasting, including a wide assortment of craft beers.
I truly believe though, that you are your own judge of which country makes the best beer! Happy Drinking!
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- Our Heritage | Stella Artois Brewing History in Belgium
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- Westmalle Extra | Abbey of the Trappists Westmalle (trappistwestmalle.be)
- Ordre Cistercien de la Stricte Observance: OCSO
- The history of Belgian beer | VISITFLANDERS
- Beer breweries in Belgium 2020 | Statista
- Lost Beers – What is Belgium’s oldest beer?
- Le Finest Shop ❙ Order your Beers Online ❙ Le Comptoir – Le Comptoir de Mont-Saint-Jean
- Beer sale – Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren (sintsixtus.be)
- Brouwproces (trappistwestvleteren.be)
- German beer consumption hit record low in 2020 – BRAUWELT international
- Delirium Village Brussels Beers