So what do these small independent breweries produce?
Most concentrate on producing "ales" not lagers with alcohol strengths from 3% to 12%, with colours from nearly white to black. 6 abbeys produce beers to earn money to maintain their abbeys. Only these 6 can call their beers "Trappist". There are commercial breweries who produce beers named after abbeys (paying them for the use of the name) or beers brewed to taste similar to the Trappist ales.
The brown beers are aged for several years, beers that are brewed using wheat and barley rather than just barley that are naturally cloudy and are very refreshing.
There is a very old tradition in Belgium for using fruit, particularly cherries in the brewing proccess. Some of the very strong beers are more wine than beer!
Some beers are brewed by spontaneous fermentation (using yeast blowing around in the atmosphere), and some use herbs and spices in their beers.
Blenders mix beers to get the tastes they want.
Some help and advice to get you started...
Most of these beers are naturally conditioned in the bottle - this means the beer is not pasteurised but is still a living beer. The bottle will contain a small amount of yeast, so that the taste continues to develop in the bottle.
During transportation the yeast may have been disturbed and will need to settle back to the bottom of the bottle. So please store upright for at least 24 hours before opening.
Don’t worry about needing to drink these beers soon after buying in case they go off just check the best before dates, they will normally be a good time away (possibly several years).
Getting ready to sample a beer or two
Blond and Amber and Wheat beer must be kept in a fridge before drinking.
Dark and Fruit Beers should be kept in a COOL 'pantry' or fridge before drinking.
Remember the beer has a sediment so bottles should be poured carefully into a glass that will hold the contents of the bottle.
The custom with Wheat Beer is to empty the bottle into the glass, including the sediment. It will be cloudy, it is intended to be.
With other Belgian ales there is some disagreement but the norm is to pour the contents slowly down the side of a glass, to get a reasonable head, but leave the last couple of millimetres in the bottle so not adding the sediment to produce a clear beer.
In a Belgian bar you will be brought the beer and the appropriate branded glass. The waiter will pour the beer for you, and leave the empty bottle and filled glass in front of you with the brand logos pointing away from you, so other drinkers can see what good taste you have! We have the special glasses for some of the beers, there are many shapes and many will swear the right glass improves the taste; it may be all in the mind but!
One very important statement though - these beers should not be drunk from the bottle. They are developed and brewed to be sipped out of an appropriate glass.
Belgian Beer around the World
The best bars or cafes to sample Belgian beer are of course in Belgium itself. The specialist beer cafes will have a huge range, the proper glasses , table service only and often very knowledgable waiters. But in other parts of Europe there are pubs, cafes and bars that offer a wide range of Belgian beers with very keen owners and staff.And this now includes Malta.
ENJOY, CHEERS and SAHHA