Belgian Beer: No Hops, No Glory

Upon mentioning Belgium, people are generally quick to make the association with great beer. And for good reason! Beer is to Belgium as wine is to France. For such a small country (Belgium measures only 11,000 square miles) it offers an incredible range of beers, from the sweeter fruit based brews to the world renowned “Trappist.”

The story of Belgian beer has its origin in the Middle Ages, when monasteries and abbeys had a monopoly on beer brewing. Because of the uncertain quality of the water supply, the relatively low alcohol beer of the time was preferred to drinking water. Over the next 7 centuries, the brewing methods evolved to what are now considered the traditional, artisanal methods.

At the beginning of the 1900s, Belgium counted more than 3,000 beer breweries. Today, Belgium is still home to roughly 180 different breweries giving Belgians a wide range of different beers to choose from. From low alcohol to heavy, from a light pilsner to a dark trappist, from sweet and fruity to immensely bitter and sour, Belgians have every type of beer available to them.

Linked to this large selection of different beers is another very Belgian phenomenon, the beer glass. Almost every beer has its own specific glass in which it should be served. It is believed that this special glassware is designed to bring out the flavor of each beer. The most well known are perhaps the typical Stella Artois glass (which is actually different in Belgium than it is in the US!) as well as the goblet shape of the trappist glass.

Just like wine, the diversity of Belgian beers allows them to pair well with different courses of a meal. In many Belgian restaurants, there is often a course paired with beer rather than wine. Though Belgian beers can be consumed at almost any point of the day, people often tend to forget that they make an excellent aperitif! The bitterness that is inherent to most beers stimulates the appetite and their flexibility allows them to pair well with the appetizers such as cheese and crudités that are often served with this course.

At Le Pain Quotidien, we carry a number of Belgian and Belgian style beers that are perfect for doing just this. Join us this summer on one of our patios to sit back and enjoy one of Belgium’s greatest inventions! Through the end of August, our restaurants in New York and in DC offer a happy hour that allow you to try some of Belgian’s finest at half price from 4PM to close. We look forward to seeing you there!

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