Beer…..Where does one start when tackling such a monumental topic such as beer. My introduction to beer was the frequent teenage binge drinking sessions on the commercial crap we used to get back in New Zealand and we don’t want to go there!! But alas, I have learnt to appreciate and recognise the quality of the increasing amount of micro brewries cropping up of late.
Beer is one of the oldest beverages humans have produced, dating back to atleast the 5th millennium BC. Almost any cereal containing sugar can be fermented due to wild yeast in the air. Therefore, it is possible that beer-like beverages were independently developed throughout the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was produced about 3500BC in what today is Iran and in 7000BC in China.
But lets focus on Belgium since I was recently there and was fortunate enough to have a considerable amount of “exposure” to the Trappist and Abbey beers. So first off, what is a Trappist beer? A Trappist beer is a beer brewed by or under the control of Trappist monks. There are a total of 174 Trappist monasteries world wide, yet only 7 produce beer. They have of course very strict guidelines to comply as a trappist brewery, which are:
1) The beer must be brewed within the wall of a Trappist monastery by the monks themselves or under their supervision
2) The brewery must be secondary to the practices proper to a monastic way of life
3) The brewery is not a profit making venture and any profits are donated to charity
4) Trappist brewries are constantly monitored to assure quality of their beers
With Abbey beers; the term or designation was orginally used for any monastic or monastic-style beer. That was up until the official designation of the Trappist beer in 1997. Now it can refer to products similar in style or presentation to monastic beers. This has opened the flood gates to commercial brewery who monopolise on the fact that it can be branded with the name of a defunct or factitious abbey.
Beer in Belgium is something that is so steeped in history and is still as important to modern daily life as it ever was. Either with a meal or used in the meal “Flemish stew” or “mussels steamed in beer” are just too comman examples. But its the beer bars that really take your breath away. They have managed to take beer to another level and it is sold comparatively to wine. Massive beer menus that feature vinatages of up to ten years for a single beer. It was amazing to compare the flavours from year to year.
The best example of this would have to be “Delirium Cafe” in Brussels. They boast a beer menu of 2400 varieties and are currently in the Guinness Book of Records for the same. I recommend that you make several visits to Delirium just to try and touch the surface of what the have to offer……Cheers!!!