Drinking like a monk in Brussels
You can find Belgian beer all over the world, but for true fanatics and completists, a trip to Brussels is an efficient (and tipsy!) way to sample every beer Belgium has to offer.
Now, what makes a Belgian beer so special? First, Belgium has a long historical tradition of producing high quality beers. National pride makes the likelihood of running into an inferior beer infinitesimally small. Second, Belgium was not part of Germany, and therefore was not subject to the Reinheitsgebot, so they were free to add more than just water, barley and hops to their beers, crafting experimental beers with spices and fruit. Last, Belgium has a number of Trappist monasteries, owing to monks settling here after fleeing the French revolution. Trappist monks are allowed by their order to brew and sell beer to support the abbey, and let’s just say, they are devoted to their craft.
Now, there aren’t any monasteries in Brussles, but the city knows that in addition to eating their chocolate, you are there to drink their beer. Bars, cafes and restaurants all over the city proudly serve their native brews, so just about any place you choose will probably have something you will like. [Try Délirium Café, mpasse de la Fidélité 4] Just don’t order Stella; you can drink that at home. If you are looking to take some beer with you, there are beer shops surrounding the Grote Markt. Many are staffed with beer experts that would love with you about their favorites. [We recommend 250 Beers, Boterstraat 32 Rue au Beurre] If you are bringing some home for your friends and family and beer-snob acquaintances, remember, you will have to check your bag for the return flight. If you are just continuing on by train, be sure to grab a bottle opener and crack open a Westmalle Tripel as your train pulls away from the station. Op uw gezondheid!
Here is a quick primer on some beer terms you are likely to run into while drinking beer in Belgium:
- Trappist is specific term used to denote beers brewed at a Trappist Abbey. The beer must be brewed by monks at a monastery and the proceeds must be used to support the monastery and its programs. Chimay is probably the best known to Americans.
- Blonde is a malty pale ale and Duvel is the brand you have probably heard of.
- Lambics are made with wild strains of yeast and aged for months if not years. They have a sour taste and often have fruit added to them, such as cherries.
- Dubbel: When the monks began brewing beer, they did not have a method of accurately determining alcohol content of their beers. When the ingredients were doubled, they got a stronger beer. Today, a dubbel denotes a brown ale with an ABV of 6% to 8%.
- Tripel: You guessed it. ABV for tripel beers runs in the 8% to 10% range.