ABBEY BEERS: Already in the early Middle Ages, the abbey beers were considered to be the very best. The age-old tradition of brewing in the abbeys came to an end with the dissolution of the monasteries during the French Revolution. Only the Trappist monks resumed the brewing tradition after Belgium became independent. The ‘modern’ abbey beers mostly date from after the Second World War, when brewers attempted to take advantage of the Trappist quality image by choosing a name for their beers that referred to an abbey.
The abbey beers are therefore comparable with the Trappist beers, except that they are not brewed at an abbey by – or under the supervision of – monks. They are all fairly strong, top – fermented connoisseur beers. There is a greater variety in aromas and flavours than with the Trappist beers – there are more abbey beers – but the sourness is lacking.
Abbey beers are and, for the time being, remain an exclusive Belgian phenomenon.
Certified Belgian Abbey Beer. The collective trademark may only be used by members of the Union of Belgian Breweries (UBB) having signed an written agreement with the UBB.
ALE: In Britain a distinction is made between ale and beer: beer is bottom-fermented, ale is top-fermented. Particularly after the First World War, a number of breweries in Belgium began brewing English-style beers because those overseas beers were very popular at the time. The English-style beers are usually copper-colored and contain little carbon dioxide. They are labelled ‘mild’ or ‘bitter’ according to their bitterness, but the name ‘IPA’ (India Pale Ale) occurs fairly frequently too.
BLONDE/DUBBEL/TRIPLE:The terms dubbel (for a dark beer) and tripel (for a blonde beer) are commonly used in Belgium, particularly for the abbey beers. They are inspired by the Westmalle Dubbel and Tripel; which have been on the market since 1922 and 1934 respectively. The term blond originated bith the abbey beers rather than with the Trappist beers. For many consumers, these blonde abbey beers from the stepping stone from bottom-fermented beers, also called lagers, to the world of special beers. Those are somehow perceived as more luxurious (the glass in which they are served already suggest this) and therefore better than a lager, from which those blonde beers do not differ all that much in terms of colour, clarity, foam collar and alcohol content. The idea of brewing a blonde abbey beer comes from France, where the Leffe beers (which only existed there in a dark version) only became popular in the 1980s when a highly successful blonde version came onto the market. From 1990 onwardsd, the other brewers of abbey beers also began to launch blonde versions, so that eventually blonde beer became available without the connotation af abbey beer.
BOCK: Brewing bock beers is not a Belgian tradition, although there are a few Belgian brewers who make them. In the Netherlands, however, this beer style has become the most commonly brewed special beer in the country.This bock beer was introduced into the Netherlands from Germany during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Because of its lagering time of several months, bock beers initially came onto the market in February/March, although in th interwar years it already became available in December. In recent decades, this moment was broght forward to the end of September, so that it can be called an autumn beer. It is a top-fermented dar kale with emphasis on the bitter malt and caramel character.
BRUT BEERS: One way of conditioning beer that has become standard practice with some Belgian brewers is the total application of the Méthode Champenoise. This is used for beers that undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, followed by remuage (riddling) and dégorgement (disgorgement), a process copied from champagne-making. Thes beers are bottled exclusively in champagne bottles sealed with a champagne cork and muzzle. They are drunk mainly as an aperitif.
FARO: Faro is as old as lambic and is the result of secondary fermentation of lambic. Until the end of the nineteenth century, faro was the most popular beer in the Brussels area because it was cheap and low in alcohol content. Nowadays, faro is made by adding caramelized sugar or liquid sugar candy to the lambic, which gives the beer a sweet-sour flavour.
In the days when faro was a beer for everyday drinking, the freshly made faro was delivered to the pubs in wooden casks. Turnover was high enough to avoid the added sugar from fermenting. Nowadays, with turnover being much smaller, faro is bottled. To avoid fermentation in the bottle, the beer is subsequently pasteurized. It is important to note, however, that although the name”faro” enjoys European protection, there are still brewers who also call their sweet dark table beers “faro”.
Together with lambic, Old Gueuze and Old Kriek, faro belongs to the family of spontaneously fermented beers that are still made exclusively in Belgium.
FRUIT BEERS: Although fruit- in particular Schaarbeek sour cherries- has been added to lambic in the Brussels area for some centuries already, the oldest recipe for fruit beer dates from as recently as 1886. This beer was originally made by people living on the outskirts of Brussels as a form of cottage industry; but around 1900 brewers began to make Kriek (cherry-fermented lambic) and Framboise (raspberry-fermented lambic) as well.
In recent decades, the fruit has been replaced more and more by fruit pulp or fruit juice, and sugar is added to the beer Therefore, since 1992 we make a distinction between Kriek, to which sugar has been added, and Oude Kriek, which has no added sugar. In recent years, brewers have come up with new fruit beers (cassis, banana, apple, strawberry, peach, etc.) which cater in particular to young people. In order to take advantage of the success of fruit beers, brewers are increasingly offering fruit beers base don other beer styles, such as witbier (white beer) or Oud Bruin (sour brown ale)
Beers that are seasoned with other herbs than hop are called herb beers, although this designation will seldom appear on the label. Before hop was introduced in beer brewing, herbs were used which in the low countries by the sea were known as gruit. When later on it was discovered that hop greatly improved the preservation of beer, brewers gradually turned away from other herbs. In some countries the use of those herbs was even prohibited by law, for instance in Germany with the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law) of 1516. Only in Belgium did brewers continue to use herbs.
LAMBIC: Lambic is a beer produced by spontaneous fermentation, i.e. without the addition of cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts, and is brewed from wort prepared with barley malt and at least 30% unmalted wheat. The oldest recipe for this beer was recorded by Remy le Mercier, the municipal treasurer of Halle, in 1559: “ six parts wheat and ten parts barley, as is done traditionally”
Typical of this beer style is the long boiling time (up to three hours), the use of large quantities of aged hop, and the cooling in open tubs. This last phase is a crucial part of the process: the wort is inoculated with bacteria from the ambient air (including Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus), so that fermentation (in wooden tanks) can begin. Lambic is a real seasonal beer, and is only brewed in winter. The beer is traditionally flat,which means that it is served and drunk uncarbonated; in the last few decades, however, it is used as the basis for old gueuze, gueuze and fruit beer.
OUD BRUIN and ROOD BRUIN: “The young barley beers, mixed with old or soured beers, preserve extremely well and even improve with lagering. Those beers are the genuine Flemish beers and were much sought after before 1914” wrote Hendrik Verlinden in 1916. At that time, those old dark beers were brewed everywhere in Belgium; meanwhile, however, their production region has shrunk to the province of East Flandres, with Oudenaarde as the mein centre.
These beers are traditionally of mixed fermentation- using brewer’syeasts and (lactic acid) bacteria – and are characterized by a sharp sourness combined with a sweet touch. This sharp sourness is produced by ageing the beer in wooden foeders (large wooden casks) . Beers of mixed fermentation are only brewed in Belgium.
Rood bruin (dark red) is for West Flanders what oud bruin (old dark) is for East Flanders.
“Rood bruin hit Zuidwest-Vlaanderen” (Dark red from Southwest Flanders) is the designation on a label given by VLAM. The specifications of tha beer show that thre is a difference from a product technical point of view between the West Flanders dark red beers and their East Flanders old dark counterparts, even though they originally derive from the same beer style.
OUDE GEUZE/GEUZE : Oude geuze ( Old Gueuze) is made by blending old and young lambics, which is then bottled for a second fermentation. Since the typical flavours of the lambics are transferred to the gueuze, the choice of those lambic types is crucial. The proportion between young and old lambics can vary from 30-70 to 15-85 for a classic old gueuze. The young lambic supplies the necessary sugars and live yeast cells to allow the mixture to ferment in the bottle.
Modern gueuze does not undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle; it is filtered, saturated, pasteurized and usually sweetened. Old Gueuze is usually served in 37.5 and 75 centilitre bottles with cork, Gueuze in 25 centilitre bottles with crown cap. Old Gueuze tastes sharp and sour, which makes it ideal for quenching the thirst on a hot summer’s day. Gueuze tends to be sweet-and-sour and therefore more appealing to a wider public.
PILS: Pils (or pale lager) makes up the bulk of beer consumption not only in Belgium, but throughout the World. This beer originated in 1842 in Plzen (Pilsen) in the Czech Republic with the breakthrough of bottom fermentation. The attractive golden colour of the beer was done full jusrice in beer glasses which then were beginning ro emerge in Bohemia, at a time when in Belgium beer was still served in wooden, stone or tin pots.
From the Bohemian spa towns (Karlsbad and Marienbad), where the rulers of the World came tob e cured, pils soon began its conquest of Bavaria, Austria, Denmark and the rest of Europe. Around 1880 – with the railways in full expansion – the first pils was imported to Belgium, but it was not until the late 1920s that the first Belgian pils left the brewery..
SAISON; The province of Hainaut is the main home base of this beer style, a style that is difficult to define. The oldest recipe of a saison dates from 1785. The beer was brewed at the Cuvelier farm in Pipaix to keep the farm workers at work in winter and to quench their thirst in summer. The beer had tob e strong enough to allow preservation for several months, but not too strong i fit was to act as a thirst-quencher in summer. These beers were therefore strongly hoppe dor heavily seasoned.
Saison beers are golden to orange in colour and have a dense collar. There are still a few brewers operating in Hainaut, usually continuing the tradition of the earlier farmhouse breweries. Nevertheless, since this style of beer is not so wellknown , the saisons are some of the most endangered beer styles of the country.
SPECIALE BELGE: The name “Speciale Belge” is unknown to the general public. Nevertheless, quite a number of Belgian thirst-quenching beers fall under this beer style. They are amber to copper in colour and, like the lagers, have an alcohol content of around 5%. The first “Belge” emerged in 1904 ( Belge du Faleau) and was proclaimed the winning beer at a competition in Liège that was organized by the Belgian brewery schools to upgrade the quality of Belgian beer.
In view of its success, this example was soon followed, particularly in the provinces of Brabant and Antwerp. Those beers acquired the prefix “ Speciale” or the suffix “Ale” (referring to the British pale ale, which has about the same colour). Speciale Belges are light beers with a yeasty and spicy flavour. Apart from their colour, these beers have little in common with the English ales.
SPECIALE BEERS: Although Belgium has many beer styles, beer types and brewing methods, there are still a great number of beers that not fall in the categories we have discussed so far. Those beers, which are virtually all top fermentation types and are high in smell, colour, flavour and alcohol potential, are therefore classed as “special beers)
They can be golden, amber or dark in colour, and their alcohol content may range from 5% (which is about the minimum for beer in Belgium, apart from the non-alcohol, low)alcohol and table beers) to 13%. In this category you will find every possible flavour(especially sweet and bitter) in every possible degree of intensity and every possible combination.
WITBIER/WHITE BEER: In Europe’s history, only two regions were prosperous enough to make beer from exmensive wheat, which was essentially intended as food for the people: Bavaria and Brabant. The epicentre of white beer or wheat beer production in Belgium was the Hoegaarden-Leuven area. Until the nineteenth century, wheat beer accounted for 75% of the Belgian beer production, a position which subsequently came tob e occupied by the lagers. After the Second World War, witbier lost favour with consumers, mainly because of its cloudy appearance. In 1958, the last witbier brewery in Hoegaarden, Tomsin, closed its doors. The fact that wheat beer is still being brewed today in Belgium is duet o Pierre Celis, who revived the old brewing tradition some ten years later.
Typical of witbier is its whitish yellow colour, its cloudiness and its fresh, spicy flavour. The beer is brewed with virtually equal parts of malted barley and unmalted wheat, and is flavoured with a mixture of herbs including coriander and bitter orange peel.