Belgium is where the increasingly popular small-batch beer scene began and is a must visit for any true beer lover. The small nation takes their brews very seriously, and there is an almost endless choice on offer. Here’s the top 10 to get you started!
Chimay is made by the Trappist monks of Forges-les-Chimay in southern Belgium and is often considered as one of the world’s best beers. They produce several brews and the most popular and readily available two (red top 7%, blue top 9%) are fruity and strong, deep in body, and somewhat spicy with a hint of nutmeg and thyme.
2. Gouden Carolus
Brewed at Het Anker brewery in Mechelen in the Flanders region, Gouden Carolus takes its name from the Habsburg emperor Charles V and is said to have been his favourite drink. The 8% proof full-bodied dark brown ale has a sour and slightly fruity aftertaste.
3. Bourgogne des Flandres
Bourgogne des Flandres (5%) is a typical example of the Flemish beer blending tradition which skilfully combines a beer of high fermentation with lambic beer, a beer of spontaneous fermentation, in order to achieve a perfect balance. It is created by blending Den Bruinen Os, a brown sweet beer brewed at Bourgogne des Flandres brewery in Bruges, with lambic beer sourced from Timmermans Brewery near Brussels. The red-brown beer has a complex flavour and the unusual blend of mixed fermentation gives it a refreshing sweet-sour balance.
4. Delirium Tremens
Brewed at Ghent’s Huyghe brewery, Delirium Tremens is their leading product and the 8.5% proof spicy amber ale is very popular. Recognisable for its famous pink elephant logo, you can even find Delirium-owned craft beer bars in several European cities including Brussels, Lisbon and Amsterdam. The Brussels bar is a must visit and popular tourist spot thanks to its offer of over 3,000 beers from around the world all available to try.
5. La Chouffe
The popular La Chouffe beer, with its emblematic logo of a red-hooded gnome (or chouffe), is produced in the Ardennes in the south of Belgium. A refreshing 8% pale ale with a hint of coriander and a peachy aftertaste, delicious.
Gueuze is a type of Belgian beer rather than a particular brew and is made by blending old and new lambic to fuel re-fermentation. The end result, which is then bottled, is a little sweeter and fuller-bodied than classic lambic because of the process used. Traditional gueuze like Cantillon Gueuze Lambic (5%) can be hard to find but there are some sweeter more commercial brands which are more readily available. These include Belle Vue Gueuze (5.2%), Timmermans Gueuze (5.5%) and Lindemans Gueuze (5.2%).
Named after a small town east of Leuven, Hoegaarden is a light and extremely refreshing 5% proof wheat beer brewed from equal parts wheat and malted barley, ideal for a hot summer’s day. In the late 1950s wheat beers were so unpopular they nearly died out, but over the following twenty years they were taken up by a new generation of drinkers and are now extremely popular.
Kriek is again a type of beer rather than a particular brew formed by adding cherries to a base beer (or in the case of the more commercial brands, cherry juice and perhaps even sugar). It is bottled with a cork, as with sparkling wine, and is often served with ice on a summer’s day. The best ones are not too sweet, even a bit sour, and very refreshing. For example Cantillon Kriek Lambic 5%, Belle Vue Kriek 5.2% and Mort Subite Kriek 4.3%. Other fruit beers are available too, but Kriek is perhaps the most successful.
Orval (6.2%) is made at the Abbaye d’Orvalin in the Ardennes. The abbey was founded in the twelfth century by Benedictine monks from Calabria, Italy. Orval is one of the world’s most distinctive malt beers, and has a lovely amber colour. It tastes refreshingly bitter and is ideal for an aperitif.
Westmalle is located just north of Antwerp, and according to the Trappist monks who brew Westmalle beers, these special drinks not only cure loss of appetite and insomnia but also reduce stress as well. Their most famous beer, the Westmalle Tripel (9%), is deliciously creamy and aromatic, and the popular Westmalle Dubbel (7%) is dark and supremely malty.