Some of the greatest beers on Earth have their brew roots in Belgium, a fact that has never been disputed by beer critics. The tradition of American breweries, both craft and “The Big Guys,” show their admiration for the Belgian brews by imitating them to varying degrees.
Unfortunately, the number of breweries based in Belgium today is less than in the year 1900. Two devastating World Wars, changing tastes, and business consolidations have all raised havoc with the industry there. Visitors to the country find some solace, however, in the fact that thousands of Belgian cafes (also known as taverns) serve fine beers along with their unique pub food.
Brewing in Belgium at one time fell into the laps of farm families. But in the 11th century, Monks got in on the activity and began brewing in the Abbeys, selling their wares to the masses. Today, there is a small handful of Belgian abbeys where beer is still brewed, and it’s a hot commodity worldwide.
By the 16th century, beer was such a big part of Belgian aristocracy that rich brewers built the famous Maison de Brasseurs (Guild Hall of the Brewers) on the Grand-Place in Brussels as a tribute to their brew.
Believing that brewing is a true art, the Belgians try in vain to classify their beers by the style used to produce it. Being that a Belgian ale could be anything from a cidery-tart Rodenbach, to a leathery Trappist ale, or an ambrosial cherry beer, this is a difficult – if not impossible – feat. The Belgians have combined the wine tradition of France, with the beer tradition of Germany, and the ale tradition of Great Britain – combining them into dozens of unique and amazing beers. Part of their uniqueness comes from the variation of ingredients used – any one or a combination of: fruit, invert sugar, unmalted wheat, aged hops, or many kinds of yeast.
Many Belgian-produced beers are treated royally, being corked, wired shut and wrapped in tissue paper, handled as delicately as champagne! Specific glasses are used for specific beers. It’s rumored that in some smaller pubs with limited glassware, patrons must wait for their beer until that brew’s special glass becomes available when another patron finally gives up the vessel!
Happily, you’ll never have to wait for that special glass when you reach for one of the selections from your favorite Beer of the Month Club . . . just pop the top and enjoy!