I once had a friend ask me- “What makes a beer “Belgian?” My immediate response was, “A beer that is brewed in Belgium, of course!” That simplistic answer does not do the magnificent world of Belgian beer, any justice.
The term BELGIAN BEER is synonymous with greatness. A country only 1,232 square miles larger than the US state of Massachusetts is such a major force in the beer world; its beers are universally cherished. Today’s craft brewing trend is finding breweries outside of Belgium either duplicating traditional styles (Belgian-Styled) or taking some influences (Belgian Inspired) from classic styles. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Belgium produces the most beer per capita amongst any of the other larger brewing nations. It produces over 1,100 varieties of beer, more styles than any other brewing nation. The styles vary from light, straw colored lager, to the opaque Trappist ale, and everything in between. It’s the only country on Earth that produces a classic style of beer that requires no liquid yeast during fermentation- Lambic. Idiosyncratic is a word that comes to mind when describing Belgian beer. Artisanal is another.
But of course above everything, it’s the TASTE. Even non-native Belgians (a handful of American and British beer journalists come to mind) say that Belgian beers taste the best. What makes Belgian beers so unique and special are the yeasts they use. Malt is pretty standard (to a point). Hops are pretty standard (to a point). But it’s the unique yeast strains that transform Belgian beers into masterpieces. The beer yeast strains in Belgium are so prized, many breweries guard them under lock and key. Many are from the result of decades (if not centuries) of research and development. Some of the most effervescent beers are from the result of bottle conditioning with yeast in the bottle. Many unsuspecting consumers have rejected some beers because they saw large chunks of yeast at the bottom of the bottle- if they only knew those chunks of yeast is what gives the beer its unique character!
We realize that the above descriptive of Belgian beer styles is not the most narrative; our apologies for that. However, in the long run we think Belgian beer (and Belgian-Style and Belgian Inspired beers) ARE pretty special. We’ll list the major styles here, and with each style, a few world class examples of each style. We hope you enjoy your journey in exploring the world of Belgian beer.
NOTE: All Belgian Beer Style descriptives are quoted from industry recognized sources, and will be clearly indicated. This is to protect the consistency and integrity of the individual style description as much as possible.