Last Updated on 9th March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
One of Belgium’s most famous exports is beer and many visitors head to the pint-sized country purely to try its local tipple. In this Belgium beer guide, I’ll delve into the history of beer in Belgium, as well as some of the types of Belgian beer and drinking etiquette. In fact, beer is so common in Belgium (and around the world!), that it’s the third most popular drink in the world after water and tea.
If you’re planning on spending several days in the country, be sure to check out our perfect Belgium itinerary.
A history of beer in Belgium
For as long as recorded history, there’s evidence that people have brewed beer. Some of the oldest records of the brewing of beer date all the way back to 4000 BCE in Iran and also appears in written records from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Similarly, beer has been brewed in the region that is now Belgium since before Belgium was even a country. In the past, people would have drunk more beer than water due to the unsanitary conditions of the water (though it should be noted that the alcohol percentage of these daily beers would have been very low).
The art of brewing in Belgium means that the Beer Culture of Belgium has been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2016.
Belgian Beer styles
There are actually around 1500 separate beers in Belgium. For those who are looking to visualise them all in one place, the rather touristic, but admittedly still interesting beer wall at 2Be Beer in the heart of the city of Bruges.
The world-famous ‘beer wall,’ which allegedly includes every single type of Belgian beer, all in one place, on shelves set up against a wall. Though a little touristy, it’s well worth going to have a look at if you ever get the chance.
The two most famous types of beers from Belgium are the Trappist beers and the Abbey beers. Trappist beers are particularly unique in that they can only be called such if they are brewed in Trappist monasteries.
Trappist monastery beer style
There are further stipulations in such that the beer must be brewed in the monastery, a monk must have some sort of say in the production, and the money from the sale of the beer must be used either for the monastery or for a social programme.
There are 169 Trappist breweries around the world, though only a handful have their own breweries. This means that there are currently only 11 Trappist breweries in existence, making it one of the most sought after beers in the world.
The seven original Trappist breweries are as follows; Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren, all located in Belgium, and La Trappe, which is situated in the Netherlands. You’ll know if your beer is a Trappist one as it will have “Authentic Trappist Product” written on the label.
Abbey beer style
While there are many conditions surrounding the naming of a Trappist beer, the abbey style beer is much more common due to the fact that it only needs to be created in the style of; i.e. monastic or a monastic-style beer.
Since there are so many types of Abbey beers, they might be produced outside of a Trappist monastery, be a commercial brewery with some kind of agreement with an abbey, name their beer after a defunct abbey, or even given some sort of monastic branding without even giving the name of an abbey or monastery!
Interesting things to know about Belgian Beer
One of the most interesting things to know is that almost every beer has its own unique glass and the glass is designed to fit the entire bottle of beer in one go.
Bar tenders in Belgium take their roles seriously and might even apologise if it comes to their attention that beer has been served in a different glass than how it is intended to be served.
Depending on what kind of beer you have, it may or not foam, though typically there will be foam when you pour the beer. The ideal amount of foam to have for the average beer is two fingers worth of foam. The beer glass will also be designed so that it can fit these two fingers of foam without overflowing.
Belgian beer is entirely different from British beer in that it’s normal to be served your beer with the head (the foam top). In the UK this is not the norm and all pint glasses served should be full to the brim with liquid and no foam.
The most common type of glass that beers are served in is the tulip glass. As you might imagine from the name, the glass bottom is round and then tapers towards the end. Meanwhile, flute-style glasses are often used for fruit beers in order to better display the colour and clarity of these types of beers.
Particularly unique beers in Belgium
One of the most unique beers that I sampled on a recent trip to Belgium is that of Champagne beer. Though I must warn you that none of our group actually enjoyed the beer (and the drink remained unfinished, even at the end of the evening), it was rather interesting in that it was served together with a champagne flute.
Though more of a novelty for tourists than anything else, a particularly fun experience you can have in the city of Ghent is to swap your shoe for a beer. Yes, you read that correctly, one of the most unusual things to do in Ghent is give up your shoe for the evening!
Pub de Dulle Griet can be found on a square of the same name. The bar is open every day of the week and boasts the largest selection of Belgian beers in Ghent!
Not only will you soon discover that the shape of the glass is most unusual (and comes with its own little wooden stand), but that in order to be given your tipple, you’ll need to hand over a shoe, which is then hung over the bar in a little metal cage! The bar is cash only. Proost!
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A Francophile at heart, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She splits her time between Paris and London and travels as much as she can! Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.