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Brewing it Belgium Style A Guide to Beer in Brussels

Anyone who knows anything about beer will recognise Belgium as one of the world's most prolific brewers. Perhaps it's Belgium's long history in brewing that has led to the country being such a leader in the amber nectar; indeed, Belgium's beer making origins go back to the Middle Ages, when Trappist monks started experimenting with brewing techniques. Belgians love their beer, and amazingly the health properties of the drink have even led the government to introducing it into the school lunch menu! A Flemish beer lovers club approached 30 schools and suggested that they could substitute low alcohol beer for sugary fizzy drinks, such as lemonade or cola.

According to a pilot scheme in Belgium's Limburg province, 80% of children who took part said they preferred having a beer to a soft drink, and other schools are considering following suit. Pupils even get a choice between bitter and lager, although neither beverage exceeds 2.5% alcohol by volume.

For those who are not lucky enough to attend a Belgian school and get beer for lunch, don't worry - the world of Belgian beer is still open to you. Belgian beers can be roughly split into eleven categories, including Pils, Amber, White, Abbey, Trappis, Geuze/Lambiek, Fruit, Strong Pale, Strong Brown, Red Brown, and regional or town beer. Each has distinct criteria, for example, Trappist beers are brewed in a Trappist Monastery, and to qualify the entire process must be carried out or supervised by Trappist monks on the site of the monastery.

Only seven monasteries currently meet this qualification, six of which are in Belgium - the other is in the Netherlands. Because of this way they are categorised, in terms of flavour and style, one Trappist beer has little in common with another. The Gueze beers (or Lambic) are unique to Belgium, and are distinguished by their tart tastes. Lambics are brewed via a method of spontaneous fermentation by wild yeast, which are said to be endemic to the vicinity of Brussels and the Senne Valley. Pilsner-style lager, also called Pils, is a common, bottom fermented lager which are recognized for their light colour and smooth taste. These are by far the most popular style of beer and make up almost 75% of all Belgian beer production.

The best known brand on the international market is Stella Artois, whilst within Belgium itself, Juplier tops the sale charts. With so much great beer around, it's not surprising that many of the hotels in Brussels are full of beer drinkers who come to sample the city's bars. So, if you're a beer lover, make sure you visit Belgium and in particular Brussels, to sample what is renowned for being the world's best beer brewer.

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Matthew Pressman is a freelance writer and frequent flyer. When not travelling, he enjoys golf and fishing.



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