Don’t know if you noticed, but “Belgian,” “beer” and “bloody-hell-that’s-good“ all start with the same letter. Coincidence? We don’t think so. Yet looking at the numbers, it’s hard to say why Belgium has become the Motherland of Brewskies. Indeed, size-wise, Belgium is bigger than Haiti by a few inches only; and has fewer inhabitants than the state of Illinois.
Belgians don’t even drink that much beer, ranking only 15th in Europe with around 75 liters per capita, way behind countries like the Czech Republic (142), Germany (104) and Ireland (98). So, maybe they just produce a lot but don’t care to drink it themselves? Not even. With ‘only’ 16 million barrels of Belgian beer produced per year (10 million of which are destined for export), Belgium falls way behind the world’s top 10 beer-producing countries – China is number one, followed by the U.S. and Brazil.
Belgian Beer Culture – a UNESCO Treasure
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, Belgium is simply the country that has the most taste profiles worldwide – around 700 – for a total of 1,100 Belgian beer brands. Not bad, huh? It is also home to 180 local breweries, ranging from macro to micro, and boasts one of the world’s most expensive beers: la Vieille Bon Secours, produced by the Caulier brewery, costs around $1,000 US for the grand 12-liter bottle.
Beer culture is so important in Belgium that it was added to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list in 2016, highlighting its social value, the craftsmanship involved in beer production, as well as beer’s role in the gastronomical world.
Next to centuries-old breweries like the Chimay Brewery and the Orval Abbey (which both produce deliciously stinky cheese as well), a burgeoning number of craft and micro-breweries is entering the beer scene in Belgium. Young, passionate beer producers gather to create groundbreaking nectars in a mix between tradition and novelty.
But picking the perfect Belgian beer out of the 1000-plus brands is like looking for a needle in a haystack. That’s why we narrowed it down to 5 bubbly rising stars, explaining why they are so special, when you should drink them, and who you should drink them with.
The Five Essential Belgian Beers & Micro-Breweries
La Curtius by Brasserie Curtius (Blond Ale)
What? La Curtius is a refreshing blond ale brewed in the province of Liège using only top-quality ingredients. This Belgian beer combines a fresh, lively and fruity attack on the palate with a slightly bitter aftertaste and a generous head. To match the prestigious products used in its creation, the brewers picked a 37.5 cl corked bottle similar to a small bottle of champagne.
When? Although at 7% alc./vol., you could drink this one all year round, it is best enjoyed on a warm, lazy afternoon. You know, when you feel like anything could be put off till Monday.
Who with? That special girl/guy you’ve been meaning to ask out but didn’t quite have the guts to do so. You’ll finally have the chance to show them you’re not only handsome but that you’re a true brew aficionado as well.
Botteresse ambrée by Brasserie La Botteresse (Amber Ale)
What? A dark amber ale with a light white head, brewed in the tiny village of Sur-les-Bois, in the Southern part of the country. Notes of caramel, berries and citrus abound, for a light, sour finish. The brewery La Botteresse produces very different types of beer, ranging from a summery blanche to apple, cherry, and honey-flavored nectars.
When? When Autumn truly sets in, and you’re hesitating between going out and ordering a pizza before a Netflix marathon.
Who with? Instead of binging on cheap supermarket lager, try this micro-brew with your lifelong childhood friend. You’ve both grown, after all.
Jungle Joy by the Brussels Beer Project (Fruity Dubbel)
What? The Brussels Beer Project is where virtuosity meets freshness. Their slogan – Leave the abbey, join the playground! – says it all: they want to use co-creation to innovate and breathe new life into a “sometimes too-conservative Belgian craft brewing scene” (their words). The Jungle Joy, one of their all-star beers, goes all-in on tropical fruits like mango and passion fruit, giving this bubbly masterpiece a fresh aroma with just enough acidity.
When? Summer. Preferably by the pool and under a palm tree, thank you very much.
Who with? You really don’t need someone to drink it with when you’re in such good company; but if you really must, try it with your co-workers (outside working hours). Boom, you’re instantly the office superstar.
BRWN by the Jessenhofke brewery (Brown Ale)
What? A creamy, dark brown ale that will bring light into dark days, made using only dark barley malts. Gert, the owner, only produces organic Belgian beers, which means no chemical products are used during the brewing phase. Here, we’re surrounded by notes of caramel, coffee and chocolate and a head so generous that it would make a cappuccino blush.
When? By the fire, Christmas sweater on, and cheese within easy reach. Don’t forget the cheese. Cheese is important.
Who with? The perfect micro-brew for quality family time.
Hip Hop Extreme IPA by De Keukenbrouwers (Indian Pale Ale)
What? In Hove (Flanders), the Keukenbrouwers micro-brewery managed to create “Belgium’s bitterest beer.” Connoisseurs use the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) scale to measure a beer’s bitterness. American lagers have an IBU ranging from 5-15. This bad boy has an IBU of 170. Amidst all the bitterness, you’ll be able to notice notes of apricot, hops and – of course – citrus.
When? When things go wrong and you need some perspective.
Who with? We all have a friend who complains a little too much about anything. Hand them this one, and show them that life isn’t so bitter after all.
Pimsleur offers courses in all of Belgium’s three official languages, Dutch, French and German. So grab a delicious Belgian beer beverage, and click on over to Pimsleur.com to try a free lesson. Cheers!