Brasserie C in Liege serves three different versions of Torpah, a Belgian ale. // © 2016 Brasserie C
Feature image (above): The brewing room at Brasserie C, a microbrewery located in a convent building that was first constructed in 1611 // © 2016 Melissa Karlin
Belgium takes its beer seriously. Take, for instance, Delirium Cafe in Brussels, which had more than 2,000 different brews upon count a few years ago. Belgium is a paradise for brewski-loving visitors thanks to the strong beer culture that thrives in the diverse small nation. Though brewers in the Western U.S. have adopted some Belgian brewing practices, the experience is a bit different in Belgium itself. Here’s our guide to drinking beer in Belgium, including where to stay and an introduction to a new comer in the saturated brewing market.
What to Expect
Beer made in Belgium runs the gamut, from light to dark and everything in between. The varietals tend to be sold in 330 ml bottles (about 11 ounces) and have a higher alcohol percentage than American brews. Taps aren’t as common, and most beers will be served from their bottle, poured into a glass specific to that particular beer — and not just specific to that type of beer, but specific to that one beer. Breweries make individual glasses designed with the best drinking experience in mind, brand them with their logo and provide instructions for how to pour.
What to Try
With so many varieties, it can be hard to decide what to have. Saying something is “Belgian style” isn’t a definitive term. Every kind of beer is made in Belgium: wit, stouts, sours, light ales, dark ales and more. Additionally, each city or region has its own local breweries and varietals, though regional beers are served throughout the country.
Here’s just a brief showcase of the diversity of Belgian brewing practices, starting from light brews to dark. The wit-style Blanche de Namur is a refreshing brew from Namur with a scent of orange blossoms. In Bruges, there’s the slightly hoppy but refreshing blond Brugse Zot. Duchesse de Bourgogne, with its wine-like, cherry-pie flavor, is a sour brewed in Vichte. Stouterik is a rich, bitter, brunt chocolatey stout brewed in Brussels.
But perhaps the most interesting concoction brewed in the country is Trappist beer. This old style of ale, similar to an abbey ale, is still made by strict rules in accordance to those first laid out by monks in monasteries — and it is still made by monks. Only six breweries in Belgium can be labeled Trappist, and two great iterations are made by Chimay and Trappistes Rochefort.
A new generation of beer-making is beginning to put its mark on this vast playing field. Microbrewing may be taking America by storm, but it has been slow in coming to Belgium. In Liege, Brasserie C, at the foot of the stunning Mount Bueren stairs, aims to change that. Its brewery and brewpub, located in a convent building first constructed in 1611, is looking to grab hold of the competitive Belgian market and beyond.
Brasserie C’s creative and meticulous attention to detail led to the creation of its award-winning Curtius blond beer. The drink’s light, refreshing flavors are created by combining different malts of barley and wheat with a touch of a fruity hop to create an aromatic, flowery and slightly bitter taste.
The company’s second offering is a concept beer with tasting in mind, drawing inspiration from the IPAs taking hold of the American craft-beer market. Essentially, it’s three beers; three different versions of Torpah (30, 60 and 90) are crafted with different mixtures of hops. The different tastes are measured by the International Bitterness Unit level, making each one more bitter than the next. Miraculously, though, this three-bitter tasting isn’t overwhelming in the way that many American IPAs are. Even the 90 is balanced and clean in flavor.
Where to Stay
Zoom Hotel in the posh Louise district of Brussels is a not only a great place to stay, but also a wonderful spot to enjoy an extensive beer list in the stylish common area. When the staff hands over nearly a bible of beer choices, it may seem overwhelming. But don’t worry — simply explain what you like or are in the mood for, and the team at Zoom will recommend exactly what you’re craving.