Is Belgium Boring? not When it Comes to Beer!

By: Adam Singleton

It seems a little unfair that Belgium, a small country on the north-west European mainland, has been tagged as 'boring' by her neighbours. Ok - perhaps compared to nations nearby, it doesn't have such geological diversity; you won't find great swathes of forest like in Germany, the hot sandy beaches of Spain or the towering Alpine mountains of France, but who cares about that? Everybody knows the most important thing in life is beer, and when it comes to brewing, Belgium is anything but boring.

Whilst other European countries continue to churn out bland, generic lagers, Belgium has excelled at producing a massive variety of high quality and interesting beers that have made the country synonymous with the amber nectar.

In terms of global popularity, the fairly ordinary, (thought perfectly drinkable) lager - Stella Artois - has dominated pubs around the world and especially in the UK. When first launched it was backed up by the ad campaign which proclaimed it to be "reassuringly expensive". This lead to it being seen as chic and exotic, but it has since dropped in stature somewhat.

In contrast to Stella Artois, the white beer Hoegaarden, is still held in high regard and is available on tap in many pubs and bars across the UK. It's cloudy nature and spicy taste (created by adding extracts of coriander and orange peel) is usually served in the huge trademark Hoegaardeen glass, and sometimes comes with a slice of lime - though some beer purists prefer it unadulterated. It's complex and fruity taste also appeals to the female market, who tend to be less keen on traditional ales and lager. The only downside of Hoegaarden is the cost; due to Hoegaarden being the first white beer widely available in the UK, it cornered the market early and thus tends to be the most expensive beer in the bar, with landlords enjoying a larger than normal markup, for no other reason than that people are willing to pay a premium for something delicious and different.

One of the most well known styles of Belgian beer are the Trappist Ales. Trappist is an order of monks that were (are) noted for their austerity and vow of silence - instead letting their beer do the talking. There are six Trappist breweries in the world and all are in Belgium. They produce brews that are highly regarded in gourmet beer drinking circles such as Orval, Chimay, Rochefort and Achel, which tend to be strong in flavour and in alcohol content.

If you're thinking about visiting Belgium to taste their beers first hand, the Bruges Beer Festival is a great place to start. There you'll find forty brewers offering over 100 different firms' beers, including 5 Trappist Breweries, and you'll be able to sample the best from Belgium's beer-y landscape. Hotels in Bruges get booked up quickly during the festival, so get in early if you want to sample Belgium's finest produce.

So, next time you hear someone say that Belgium is boring, tell them to put down their pint of Stella, and try an Orval, Hoegaarden or Achel, after all, there's more to Belgium than dull lager.

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