About Belgian Beer

Belgium: Home of Abbey Ales, Lambic, Wit and Diverse, Distinctive Ales

Belgium is a small, beer-producing country where beer, culture and religion coexist in unique harmony. People have been brewing a variety of styles in this region since as early as the 1st century BC, and continue to offer a wide assortment of exotic ales to today’s connoisseur. Belgian brewers capture a wide range of flavors by straying from the German tradition of strict adherence to yeast, malted barley, water and hops and experimenting with barley sugar, fruits and spices in their beer-making process. The results are strikingly varied beer styles that mirror the diversity of the people and culture of the country.

Unique to Belgium is its long-standing tradition of producing beer in self-sufficient monasteries—a process rooted in the Middle Ages—with seven monastic breweries still operating in Belgium and Holland today. These Trappist breweries are part of the Benedictine order of Catholic monks and produce about 25 labels, all marked with the special designation of “Trappist” ales. It is from this tradition that the separate categories of “abbey” ales were developed, typically brewed in commercial secular breweries.

Other popular Belgian beer styles include lambic and wit beers. Distinctive in the world of brewing, modern lambic beers are almost wine-like and have tart, acidic flavors. Some are flavored with fruit juices. This style has become synonymous with producers like Bellevue, Cantillon and Lindeman’s. Alternatively, wit or white beers are cloudy wheat ales, traditionally lighter and easier on the palate and spiced with coriander and orange peel. A classic example of this style is Hoegaarden (the model for Blue Moon), which resurfaced in the U.S. and is increasingly popular with consumers.

Although fewer than 200 breweries are currently active in Belgium—compared to approximately 3,000 at the beginning of the 20th century—those that remain continue a rich tradition of brewing diverse, distinctive ales. Of the breweries still in operation, many can trace their foundation back further than 300 years. To the U.S. consumer, Belgian beers represent sophisticated examples of beer styles that the US craft-brewing industry strives to emulate. These distinctive ales invite contemplative, less-hurried drinking, serve as striking examples of Belgium’s rich brewing history, and are superb accompaniments to their cuisine.
Top Picks for Belgium
Trappist Dubbel
Hypnotic reddish mahogany color. Rich aromas of toasted banana-raisin muffin and spicy vanilla custard with a satiny, fruity-yet-dry medium-full body and a long, elegant finish with notes of caramelized nuts and dried fruits, peppery spice, and earth. A fantastic flavor ride and an archetype of the style.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Trappist Tripel
Cloudy sunset orange color with a fine blanket of eggshell white foam. Attractive aromas of orange marmalade on multigrain bread and peach soufflé with a supple, fruity medium-full body and a long, rich, tightly knit fabric of herbs, peppery spices, honey, fruits, minerals, and radishes on the finish. An amazing tripel that sets the benchmark for the style.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Brasserie d’Orval
Orval Trappist Ale
Rich hazy amber color with a fine blanket of bone foam. Beguiling sweet and sour aromas suggest sourdough, apple cider, leather, barnyard wood, clay, and spiced pears with a rich, frothy, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a long well meshed finish of nuts, grains, dried fruits, peppery spice and minerals. A fantastic example of a brett-influenced, but not dominated, Belgian pale ale. Relish with charcuterie.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Brasserie Dupont
Avec Les Bons Voeux Saison
Hazy old gold color. Aromas of sliced peaches, buckwheat crepes, asparagus, sourdough, and coriander with a crisp, finely carbonated, dry-yet-fruity light-to-medium body and a medium-length tinned vegetables and sliced banana finish. A crisp and funky saison with plenty of hop influence.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Vliegende Paard Brouwers
Prearis Quad
Cloudy walnut color. Toasty aromas and flavors of dark chocolate cake, roasted nut brittle, sassafras, and banana bread pudding with a satiny, soft, finely carbonated, off-dry medium body and an engaging, medium-length mocha, chocolate cream, and hint of peppered greens and cedar finish. A delightfully smooth and chocolatey quad with beautifully meshed flavors.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Private Domain 2015
Minutely hazy gold color. Lively, smoky, sour aromas and flavors of grilled lemon, dark roasted nuts, scorched prairie, and horse blanket and barn with a tart, effervescent, sourish light-to-medium body and a tingling, medium-long nectarine pit, baked lime, chalk, and chia and hemp seeds finish. A very complex gueuze with cascading waves of flavor.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Liefmans Brewery
Dull dark bronze color. Bright, sour, rotten funky malty aromas of honey roasted chestnuts, dried cherries, silly putty and Playdoh, and soy rice cake with a soft, tangy, fizzy, very sweet medium body and a graceful, layered, medium-long cherry barrel, dried raspberries, tamarind vinaigrette, and earth finish. A complex and layered Flanders red ale with impeccable balance.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
2014 Lambickx Private Domain Gueuze
Brilliant clear light gold color. Bold, sour, earthy aromas of white balsamic vinaigrette, sourdough nut bread, reduced lemon, and stinky cheese rind and horse hair brush with a silky, puckering, spritzy, sour light-to-medium body and a tingling, long Swiss chard, citrus pith, and sour green apple finish. A racy, palate awakening lambic that will excel at the table.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Rochefort Trappist Monastery
Trappist "10"
Minutely hazy brown color. Bright, buttery aromas of fruitcake, spiced praline, creme brulee, and oak with a silky, tangy, finely carbonated, off-dry medium body and a warming, complex, medium-length caramelized citrus, chocolate mint, pepper, and watercress finish. A rich, inviting dessert in a glass.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
Framboise Raspberry Lambic
Bright maroon color. Fruity, fresh aromas and flavors of fresh picked raspberries, wheat crackers and cereal, and beet root and greens with a supple, tangy, effervescent, off-dry medium-to-full body and a smooth, complex, very long hint of greens and berry vinaigrette, key lime, and mossy earth finish. A vibrant, mouthwatering, exquisitely balanced framboise lambic.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab