Belgium: A Beer Lover’s Paradise

March 28, 2018

Think of Belgium and there a few things that are almost guaranteed to come to mind: chocolates, moules-frites, and beer. Admittedly, these are all food-based, but they’re integral to the national character of Belgium. With over 1000 varieties of beer brewed across the country, including the biggest and best in the world, it’s every beer-lovers dream.

 

The beer landscape

Belgium isn’t a huge country, but every region has its own particular beers, and often they’re not available elsewhere. The holy grail of Belgian beer is its Trappist monastery breweries, where creating beer is treated with as much veneration and care as champagne-making. There are six Trappist breweries across the country, three in the northern Flanders region, and three in the southern Wallonia region.

This makes Brussels, roughly in the centre of the country, an excellent base for exploring.

 

The Trappist breweries

These monastic breweries are famous the world over, and for Belgians they demand as much respect as the most famous champagne producers do in France. There are six to choose from, but we’ve picked out a couple of our favourites:

 

Abbaye d’Orval 

About two hours’ drive from Brussels in the far south of the country, Orval Abbey is probably the most beautiful abbey to visit. Orval comprises an impressive collection of buildings and medieval ruins surrounded by forests, and the beer is brewed from water drawn from an 18th century well. You can also pick up some Orval cheese while you’re there, still made to a recipe concocted in 1866.

 

Westvleteren

Repeatedly rated as the best beer in the world, this Trappist brewery has been going since 1838 at the Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren. Despite its international reputation, it’s still a very small-scale operation, with only enough beer brewed to cover the running costs of the monastery and its work.

You can’t visit the monastery itself, but there’s a visitor centre showing the history of the abbey, its famous beer, and the daily life of Trappist monks. To get hold of a crate of beer yourself, you’ll need to order in advance over the phone.

 

Other breweries

Rodenbach

Rodenbach in Roeselare offers something a bit different to the multitude of other brewery tours. When it says barrel-aged it really means it, with vast oak casts that stretch up to the ceiling. The barrels give this traditional red Flemish beer its unique flavour, for which it has gained international recognition .

As you’d hope, the two-hour tour also features plenty of beer sampling, including a taste of the renowned Rondenbach Grand Cru.

 

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