Beer focus: Belgium

Belgium? What’s that all about? No-one’s quite sure, not even the Belgians.

belgian-beer.jpgIt’s a ball of confusion, 30,000 square kilometers of “eh?” cut across the middle into two regions that don’t like each other very much.

There’s a town called Silly and another one called Dave. What’s more, they speak two separate languages – French and Flemish.

If you include the German speakers, of which there are many, they actually speak three languages in Belgium but, seriously, let’s not make things any more confused than they are.

What does Belgium do? Bureaucracy – that’s why the European Union made Brussels its base – and a fine line in waffles, moules & frites, chocolate and of course, as we dovetail seamlessly into the main thrust of the article, brewing beer.

Belgian beer, much like the nation from where it hails, is a little unusual. The Belgians are the punks of brewing – anarchic advocates of esoteric ales who, unlike their strait-laced neighbours in Germany, refuse to be strait-jacketed by purity laws. Brewing boundaries are far broader than anywhere else in Europe and while America likes to think it invented “extreme beer”, the Belgians have been crafting it for centuries.

Belgium boasts more indigenous beer styles than any other nation in the world, a broad beer church whose pews are filled with Abbey ales, wild Lambic beers, gueuze, sour Flemish reds, witbier, farmhouse Saisons, pilsners and Trappist ales overseen by mashfork-wielding monks.

Regardless of style, Belgian beer is dispensed and delivered to drinkers with an unrivalled level of pomp and ceremony. Of the 30,000-plus cafés and bars serving beer in Belgium, you’d be hard-pressed to discover one that doesn’t serve beer the way it should – in the right glass and at the right temperature.

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