Belgian beer is renowned throughout the world for its undeniable quality and for its impressive array of choices. If you like beer, then a Belgium vacation is for you. There are 115 breweries spread throughout Belgium, and when you consider that this country is just 11,580 square miles in size, that’s one brewery for every 100 square miles! These breweries churn out around 500 different kinds of beers, making it hard to determine what the best Belgian beer actually is. While someone’s favorite might be the rich and creamy Chimay Bleue, another connoisseur might prefer a lighter and less heavy Moinette Blonde. With 500 choices, you’re sure to find a Belgian beer, or numerous Belgian beers, that you love.
As there are so many choices for beer in Belgium, it is likely that you won’t get the chance to try them all, unless you are extremely determined and have a lot of free time on your hands. While dining out, asking the waiter for a recommendation is always a good idea, as Belgians take their beer as seriously as say France or California do their wine. Of course, you can always wing it as well and choose at random. Chances are good that if you like beer, you will at least be able to appreciate the many different varieties on offer in Belgium. For a more comprehensive taste testing, you can’t beat the Belgian beer festivals. Of all the festivals and events in Belgium, the Belgian beer festivals have to be among the most fun. Sure, enjoying a Girardin Gueuze Black Label even by yourself in the hotel room is an experience to savor, but get out in the streets with a bunch of people who are indulging in Belgian beer with you, and you have yourself a regular party. One of the best beer events in Belgium is the Brussels Beer Weekend, which is held in early September. It takes place in the stunning Grand Place, and besides being free and featuring plenty of great Belgian beer at good prices, this Brussels beer festival also offers live entertainment in the way of brass and jazz bands. There are also activities for kids to enjoy.
March is when another one of the top Belgian beer festivals takes place. The Zythos Beer Festival, which started in 2004 with the intent of replacing the now defunct Antwerp 24 Hour Festival, is easily one of the top beer events in Belgium. It is hosted in the attractive city of Sint Niklaas, which is just to the west of Antwerp on the route to Ghent. Around 150 beers are featured at the Zythos Beer Festival, and besides enjoying great beer here, it’s nice to meet and chat with some of the brewery representatives. They flock to beer events in Belgium like this one. Once you find a few beers that you like at one of the Belgian beer festivals, you can further inquire about the brewery where the beer is made. Perhaps a few side tours of some of these breweries will fit snuggly into your Belgium vacation itinerary. There’s always time for a visit to a brewery after all. The Stellas Artois brewery in Leuven is a good place to start if you want to see how beer is made on a grand level, and for a truly interesting brewery experience, head to one of the Belgian Trappist monasteries. Yes, in case you didn’t already know, monks are quite good at making beer.
Trappist monks adhere to the Roman Catholic religion and follow the guidelines of the Rule of St Benedict. Perhaps the best known Trappist monastery brewery in all of Belgium is the Chimay Brewery, and it is found in the town of Chimay in Belgium’s predominantly French-speaking Walloon region. Careful when sampling the Chimay Bleue or Chimay Rouge, as these beers are nine percent alcohol and seven percent alcohol by volume respectively. In other words, they are quite strong. If you know beer, you know the Chimay label. Abbey beers are another type of Belgian beer, and though the appellation suggests that these beers are also produced by monks, they are actually produced by commercial brewers who are licensed to use a specific abbey’s name. Leffe is arguably the best-known abbey beer in Belgium, and it is made by InBev, which is the world’s largest brewery company. InBev, which has its headquarters in Leuven, is a Belgo-Brazilian entity that was formed when Interbrew in Belgium and AmBev in Brazil joined forces. While InBev also deals in the soft drink industry, the bulk of its operations revolve around beer. One of the company’s most popular beers is the aforementioned Stella Artois.
Whether or not you get to enjoy one of the many different Belgian beer festivals during your Belgium vacation, you will have the chance to sample an untold number of brews as you go. Many Belgium hotels have onsite bars, so whenever you find yourself with some downtime in your room, you can always head down and try to find your next favorite label. You won’t have trouble finding good beer in Belgium wherever you go, that’s for sure.