Belgium in a Glass – Exploring the Country through Belgian Beer

By andrew - June 8, 2012 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

This entry is part 3 of 16 in the series Belgium in a Glass.
Schaerbeek Museum of Beer, Brussels, Belgium

Schaerbeek Museum of Beer, Brussels, Belgium (photo via wiki)

Belgium is home to more than a thousand different varieties of beer produced by 178 different breweries. Some of them are known around the world, like Stella Artois, while others, such as 3 Schténg, are obscure.  With so much variety how does a newcomer know where to begin?

This post marks the start of our new series, Belgium in a Glass,  which will explore the country through Belgian beer.

Belgium is typically known for four things: beer, chocolate, frites, and waffles. While we’ve written about most of these, we’ve never written about beer; primarily  because Alison’s not a big fan of beer and she does almost all of the writing. No more excuses, it’s time for me to step up and fill this gap here on CheeseWeb!

Each beer tells a story linked to the history of its brewer, the region, and the country. In each article, we’ll explore the world of Belgian beer, by examining the different types and showcasing examples, including a bit of history and tasting notes. Our goal is to learn more about Belgium while enjoying its favourite beverage.

A Brief History of Beer Making in Belgium

Beer has been brewed for a long time in this part of Europe. Originally the monopoly of monks, beer was eventually commercialized and became an important part of day-to-day life. The number of producers grew until the French revolution, when monasteries, such as Orval, were destroyed. The industry eventually recovered and reached a peak of 3000 Belgian breweries in 1900.

Unfortunately, the world wars and the growth of alternative alcoholic drinks drove the industry into another steep decline, reducing the number of brewers to about 100, by the end of the 20th century.

The growth of international competition also forced many breweries to merge, creating massive conglomerates such as AB InBev. However, the 21st century has shown a glimmer of resurgence; the number of brewers has grown from 134 to 178 over the last 5 years.

Broadly speaking, Belgium has three types of beers: Lager (mainly Pilsner), Lambic, and Ale. Pilsner beer is the most consumed in Belgium and includes Maes, Stella Artois and Jupiler. However, “the great beers of Belgium are not its lagers.”  The real diversity, and variety, is found in the Lambics and Ales.

Belgian Beer - Where do we begin?

Belgian Beer – Where do we begin?

Coming Up in Belgium in a Glass

But this leads us to our current issue: with over a thousand different beers, how do you choose? You can be forgiven for being paralyzed by the complexity of choice. It’s simpler to stick to the well-known brands. We’d like to change that!

In this series of articles we will discuss

  • Lambics (Faro, Geuze, Fruit, …)
  • Ales (Trappist, pale, abbey, amber, wheat, blonde, brown, stout, …)
  • Other (seasonal, spiced, …)
  • What breweries you can visit
  • Which bars you should try
  • Where you can buy Belgian beer

If you have a question you’d like answered in this series, please contact us or let us know through the comments. I look forward to sharing my favourite beer with you and discovering more about Belgium along the way!

Find out more about Belgium’s favourite beverage on our Guide to Belgian Beer and Breweries in Belgium page.

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Andrew is our resident tech-geek and is normally found lurking behind the scenes on doing things with code that Alison finds mysterious. He comes out of hiding occasionally to write about history and technology. He is also part of the duo that produces Tech Brew, a podcast about beer and technology in Belgium. He loves castles, driving on narrow, twisty mountain roads and relaxing with a glass of peaty Scotch. Follow Andrew on Google+
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  1. Comment by Wandergirl

    Wandergirl June 11, 2012 at 16:09

    Exciting! I love Belgian beers – looking forward to the series!

    • Comment by Andrew


      Andrew June 11, 2012 at 16:39

      Thanks – I’m looking forward to the ‘work’ involved 😉

  2. Comment by Cecarelo

    Cecarelo June 13, 2012 at 22:40

    Yes ! There are so many unknown Belgian Beers from small-medium breweries. So many different flavors… Do you know the cookie beer from Ecaussines brewery ?

    • Comment by Andrew


      Andrew June 13, 2012 at 22:53

      Cecarelo, thanks for your comment! I have not tried that beer.. but I’ve looked it up and it intrigues me. 🙂 Thanks!

  3. Comment by cathy @ ma vie trouvee

    cathy @ ma vie trouvee June 28, 2012 at 22:00

    A fun new serious – will have the hubby read. This is what he misses most about Brussels – a good strong Belgian beer! Way too expensive in Singapore – even a boring beer is expensive. I am like you – yuck to the beer! He was able to pick up several cases of Westvleteren while we were there and has them packed in the secret place in VA!

    Have fun traveling with your girlfriend – I’ll be watching for the posts. Cheers – Cathy

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison June 29, 2012 at 10:02

      Hi Cathy! It’s great to hear from you and aside from the lack of good beer I hope you’re having a great time in Singapore. I’ve heard from other friends that it’s difficult to get decent beer/wine for reasonable prices in Asia in general. Hopefully the incredible food makes up for it!

  4. Comment by Unexpected Belgium

    Unexpected Belgium July 24, 2012 at 10:20

    Great idea! Might be interesting to add a few anecdotes too… Not only about the beer itself but also about traditions, unusual beer glasses, etc.

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