Belgian Beer Styles

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Belgium, just as France is known for its wine, is known for its beer. With a rich history that spans almost two full millenias, Belgian beer has developed and eventually matured into a unique character with a quality culture that is respected and is perhaps a leader in the craft of beer brewing.

Belgium has one of the world’s largest variety of beers, with over 1,000 unique beers being brewed in the country alone. At the same time, Belgians are amongst the most diverse brewers and have a wide array of brewing styles, most of which are limited to them alone.

 

1. Trappist beer

Trappist beers are known for their generally high alcohol percentage, consistently excellent quality and unique flavor. As these beers have received International acclaim, they have led to more breweries the world over to start on experimenting with other brewing methods and using creative ingredients.

Trappists beers are brewed only by a very specific group. Known as Trappists, this group is an order of Roman Catholic monks who, after the French Revolution, occupied different monasteries all over Belgium since the 18th century. They are under the protection of the ITA (International Trappist Association).

Adhering to St. Benedict’s Rule which holds self-reliance as one of its most fundamental tenets and which states that all monks should live on the labor of their own hands, Trappist monks make and sell different produce. These range from clothes to foodstuff, including beer of which they are well acclaimed for.

Currently, there are 18 Trappist monasteries covered by the International Trappist Association. Ten of these brew beer, and of which six are in Belgium. These bears are generally fruity, strong and carry yeast sediments.

Trappist Beers

2. Abbey beer

Also known as Abdijbier, Abbey beers are beers brewed through styles popularized by the Trappist monasteries of the mid 19th century. These are all other beers brewed as a collaboration between a commercial brewery and a monastery, any other monastery not of the Trappist order, or beers brewed following the Trappist beer formula and given a monastic brand.

While abbey beers got more recognition with the production of beer in Trappist monasteries, there were plenty other breweries still in operation way before the Revolution started and were funded by the sales made.

There are several brewing styles which fall under the abbey style of brewing. The most common are: Blonde, which is a pale Belgian ale; Dubbels, a darker, much stronger style that contains an of ABV about 6 to 8%; and Tripels, which is a strong ale with an ABV ranging between 7 to 10%.

3. Amber ales

Belgiums’ amber ales are pretty much the same as English pale ale. It is likely they were influenced by them. However, Belgian ambers are fruitier, less malty and can be found in varying alcohol strengths.

4. Champagne beers

Champagne beers are quite distinct in that they get secondary fermentation enabling them to have more effervescence than you would normally found in a beer. However, for the beer to reach maturity, it is conditioned for several months. This gives the beer its soft, distinctive character and very fine bubbles.

5. Lambic

Lambic beers on the other hand are the by-products of spontaneous fermentation, or subjection to wild yeasts instead of using cultivated strains. After fermentation, it is left to age or condition for a predefined period of time which usually ranges from a few weeks to several years. This is what gives the beer its uniquely sour and dry character.

Lambic beers can made using three common styles. These are:

Gueuze – newer beers are mixed with aged ones to create a secondary fermentation process

Fruit lambics –  fruits or their concentrates are added to lambic beer. Most commonly used fruits are cherries, blackcurrants and raspberries

Faro –  Faro’s are created by adding caramel or sugar into lambic beer to boost the fermentation process

6. Saison

These pale ales have a lower alcohol percentage in their volume compared to other Belgian beer styles. Their percentages range from 4% to 8%. The brewing style is commonly referred to as the Belgian farmhouse style as they are made for farmers to enjoy during harvest in a place called Wallonia to the south of Belgium.

7. Wheat beer

Also called witbier or white beer, wheat beers are typically brewed using a combination of wheat and barley. The style, which was conceived in Flanders in the Middle Ages uses a blend of herbs which include ground ivy, yarrow, mugwort, heather, gale and horehound. This blend of herbs is known gruit.

Today’s witbiers are brewed using orange peel and coriander which balance the sweetness imparted by the wheat.

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