What Makes Belgian Beer So Special?

Belgian BeerOne would have to include Belgium among the top beer-drinking countries in the world. They’ve been drinking beer in the Western European country since long before the country was even there. Their beer has both a very distinct taste and presentation, unlike anything you’ll see with a German, Irish, or American beer. So what makes Belgian beers so special?

To answer that question, we suggest you find yourself a local bar or craft brewery with a large selection of Belgian beers. You need a large selection in order to understand the wide variety that comes out of that country. Take our word for it: If you start sampling Belgian beers today, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy for a long time to come.

What makes Belgian beer taste different?

As far as we can tell, Belgian beer has its religious followers known to be just as zealous as French wine drinkers who think Bordeaux is the only place in the world capable of producing a fine vintage.

The Venture Café in Cambridge, Massachusetts says about Belgian beer that it’s all in the yeast. We’ve heard bakers say that before, but never beer makers. But apparently it’s true.

Venture Café claims that different kinds of yeast yield different types of flavors. To be honest, we didn’t even know there were different kinds of yeast. The yeast Belgians use allegedly gives Belgian beer a fruity, spicy, or earthy flavor. By contrast, the yeast used by one famous American brewer produces a beer that tastes like something picked up off a rocky mountain hiking trail.

What makes Belgian beer look like champagne?

When beer is produced, it’s not naturally bubbly. Most American breweries add the bubbles by introducing carbon dioxide into the mix at bottling time. But Belgian brewers prefer the process of re-fermenting―just writing that word is making my mouth water. This process is also known as bottle conditioning, which should not be confused with teaching your dog to grab a cold one out of the fridge when you ring a bell.

The Chicago Tribune explains that bottle conditioning is a method of carbonation in which the brewer adds a little bit of sugar and yeast to a bottle of flat beer. As the yeast gorges itself on the sweet feast―much like the little fat kid in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory―the process results in carbonation.

It is this re-fermenting that gives Belgian beer the look and presentation of champagne. And trust us when we say they take this very seriously. According to Rick Steve’s Europe, breweries in Belgium are as serious about their beer as the French are about champagne. Some even use champagne bottles, complete with corks and wire, to age their beers for up to six years.

What are some examples of more well-known Belgian beers?

Believe it or not, Belgium is slightly smaller than Maryland but a little larger than Hawaii. Yet, despite its relatively small size, there are more than 150 breweries around the country. There are small craft breweries in every town as well as a handful of big boys. We get the distinct impression they love their beer.

One of the more well-known beers in Belgium is called Holy Ale. According to the Huffington Post, what makes this brew so fun is that it is produced by Trappist monks. There are apparently six monasteries in Belgium devoted to producing fine beer. How’s that for a vocation?

HuffPo also mentions the strong dark ales like Lost Abbey Judgment Day, and Russian River Salvation. These sound like beers worth giving a try just for the names alone! If you like blonde ales, there’s Russian River Damnation and Delirium Tremens. Apparently the Belgians have something going with the Russians and the salvation of the soul.

Are all Belgian beers the same?

We don’t want to give you the impression that all Belgian beers are the same. There are as many varieties in Belgium as there are in Germany. The thing to remember about Belgians is the fact that they are born rebels. Any country that lets Trappist monks make beer is not a place where conformity reigns.

The thing about Belgian beer is that it is as much a way of life as it is a tasty beverage. It’s so important that the Belgian capital of Brussels boasts several brewing museums where you can see plenty of artifacts dating back hundreds of years. This is important history to Belgium; as important as our Revolutionary War documents are to us. The only thing is, their history tastes better.

So next time you’re in the mood for a strong Belgian beer, remember this one thing: It’s all in the yeast. Look for a brewery employing Trappist monks and baking lots of bread, and you should find what you’re looking for. Just be careful of Judgment Day and Damnation. They don’t play well together.