Belgian Craft Beers – there are so many, it can be hard to determine which ones are maybe even worth travelling to Belgium for. There are a thousand lists out there but as a Belgian myself, already looking forward to having some Abbey cheese and beer in a pub garden in the West of Flanders during the Summer, here are the 9 ultimate brew gems…
Even the Belgian’s themselves think of this beer as something very special. Famous for its heavy and strong taste, impeccable foam and dark colours, Karmeliet is the kind of beer you order one of and simply indulge. Its fame is rare for a beer that’s only been around for about 20 years, however the monk-crafted recipe itself dates all the way back to 1679. Its popularity ran particularly high when it won the World’s Best Ale prize in 2008.
A strong contender with Karmeliet, Omer is a blonde and quite fruity although also has a heavy and wintery beer character. Omer made its way in to American hearts a long time ago, although it is hard to come across outside of the country of mussels and fries.
When you have this beer, try to have it alongside the cheese with which it shares its name. Traditionally brewed by monks in Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy, it is one of the most common craft beers to find in Belgium. The story goes that it was first produced as a special New Year’s Eve drink in 1955, but because of its popularity, was quickly put into full production.
My absolute personal favourite, this beer’s notoriety is hitting the mainstream. It’s so fruity and light golden, you tend to forget that this beer is actually 9.5% ABV! You can get it in almost every supermarket or bar in Belgium, and it is a classic craft beer that locals like to serve with another Belgian classic: asparagus.
This is a contentious one and could almost go along with that other so-called ‘craft beer’: Leffe. Ciney beer is produced by one of the biggest beer giants out there Alken-Maes, owned by Heineken. Luckily it is a much more flavourful beer than the old Leffe, with a very original taste, and has an almost golden rose, burnt colour, which is quite unique.
One of the lesser known beers, the Quintine Amber is brewed in Ellezelles and belongs to the list of strong ales. Its taste is best described as ‘roasty’, with dried fruits and a hint of caramel. If that is not triggering your taste buds, I don’t know what will!
Chimay is a beer that has its brand nailed down, and it has broadcast numerous television ads in Belgium (most of which revolve around their cheese accompaniments). But that doesn’t necessarily make it less good as a craft beer. Chimay Bleue (9%) is truly a global brew that is easy to source. The Chimay Monastery products date back to 1862, and the cheeses and beers are the monks’ biggest trademark.
This is the absolute favourite in the West of Flanders. From 1931, Orval has only 6.2% alcohol, and can therefore be considered a light beer in comparison to the others in this list. It has a dark and rustic taste, almost a bit rough. It is a ‘Trappist’ beer, which means it’s also brewed by monks. The history of this beer dates back to the 12th century, which makes it one of the oldest beers to be founded in Belgium.
This beer is veiled in mystery, and by that extremely loved by craft beer enthusiasts all over the world. To get your hands on it, you have to call the monks on a specific date and time and try to reserve a few bottles; which you can only pick in person. The monks refuse to give any interviews about the beer and you will be lucky if you ever get to taste it!
Travelling to Belgium soon? Although a Westvleteren will be hard to find in a regular pub in Belgium, you should try the original and less mainstream Belgian Beer activities we talked about last month, like the Brussels Beer Tour or the Belgian Beer Casino, to discover more authentic brews.