Because you knew there had to be one. I mean, aside from chocolate and waffles, beer pretty much rounds out the top 3 associations with Belgium. And with good reason. Although the exact number is unclear, there are literally about a thousand different brews originating from this country. Belgian big-timers Stella Artois and Hoegaarden (one of my personal favorites) are barely noticed due to my pinwheel eyes glazing over at the sheer number of options on menus and signs. If there was ever a beer culture, Belgium has it.
The widespread story explains that, in the Middle Ages, water was so contaminated that beer simply became the alternative. Apparently this isn't true but it might as well be. To my untrained eye, I see a heck of a lot more beer bottles than water bottles. Not to mention the did-I-just-see-that-right beer vending machines. There's even a 3 km beer pipeline that runs underground from a local brewery in the Bruges city center to its bottling plant.
So from Day 1, my David and Goliath struggle began with those gargantuan beer lists. Hoping to come away with (and remember) even just one newcomer to add to my beverage repertoire. An awesome Beer Walk, a local Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery tour, many suggestions from servers, and countless shots in the dark later, my fave Belgian tastes have emerged. Crazily, they are dark brews and not the witbiers I gravitate to at home!
In addition to trying to remember what has intrigued my taste buds, the thing I can't still quite wrap my head around is that every single beer has its own special glass. I guess when you create a beer you must also designate the glass from which it will be drunk. So hats off to all the Belgian bartenders who now not only have to remember how to make the drinks, they must remember what unique glass it is served in. And, consider now, there are hundreds upon hundreds of them. Some glasses are so exclusive that a bar in Ghent asks to keep customers' shoes while they're drinking in order to discourage them from pilfering the glass. There's got to be a chart in the backroom on this stuff or something.
And speaking of charts, how great is this one? I would have been so much better at science if this educational tool had been available.
So with a few weeks still left, I will continue to chip away at the beer selections of the local watering holes. Thankfully, since Stella is now being branded as a luxury beer overseas, it is being pulled out of the mainstream Belgian choices. Fine with me. One less I gotta focus on.
Historic carving of the story of beer making in the Bruges city center
One of my favorite bars so far, Le Trappiste. The name references Trappist beer which is made within monastery walls in just twelve locations around the world. Six of them are in Belgium.
The beer wall in Bruges showcases many Belgian beers with their respective glasses.