6 No-Nonsense Belgium Beers
The best Belgium beers are hard to find. Looking at the massive Belgium beer industry, it’s easy to be persuaded by the big beer makers and fancy marketing. But the best Belgium brews – and breweries – are out there. You just need to do a lot of research, or maybe take a trip to Belgium and discover for yourself who brews the best beer.
Because let’s face it: epic bike riding calls for some epic post-ride beers.
What Makes a Belgium Beer?
Beer and Belgium culture are as intimate as Bordeaux in France, Brunello in Italy and Cava in Spain. Belgium had epidemics for hundreds of years. Being a flat land, the residents had no fresh water source to drink and frequent floods created sanitary issues for these lowland dwellers. However, before than the Middle Ages, the Belgians began boiling the water they had (fermentation) in the beer-making process. Unknowingly, they succeed in killing off the toxic bacteria that made them ill. It was a win-win situation: the population flourished, and the country perfected its brewing processes.
Today there are thousands of Belgium breweries making all kinds of beer. The high fermentation temperatures, a focus on a balance of malt and hops, and the Belgium yeast strains all establish a “Belgium beer.” But no matter how you pour it, they are all delicious: from the ales to the tripels. So good, in fact, that Belgium beer is on the UNESCO heritage list. You can raise a pint to that.
Here are our picks for the best 6 craft brews you can find in Belgium:
De Halve Maan
Bruges is famous for a great number of sites: the Markt Center, the beautiful medieval Belfry, and the De Halve Maan brewery. The Maes family has been running the brewery for centuries, crafting some of Bruges’s special recipe. The local annals mention a certain “Die Maene” beer-hall in 1564. During the 19th Century, this location became a brewery focused on maintaining the authenticity of its heritage while creating innovation in their brewing processes. All this has led to their success today.
Their Brugse Zot is by far one of our guide favorites. The blonde is a nice light beer crafted from the family tradition, in the heart of Bruges. You can find it in all the pubs in the city, and at the brewery itself when you’re biking through Belgium. They also craft a dark “dubbel” Zot: a heavy beer with bitter tones and robust flavor. The family also brews a seasonal Zot in winter with more malty flavor. The “Zot” or the “fool” of Bruges has an interesting legend that is worth a read.
It would be difficult to make this list without including a Trappist brew (or two, actually). Trappist beers are a special product. When the label contains the words “Trappist” it means the monks brew the beer within the confines of the monastery. The monks are therefore responsible for the fermentation, bottling and distribution of the beer. And all proceeds go to fund their social engagement projects.
There are only ten Trappist breweries making Trappist beer, and six of them are in Belgium. These are uniquely authentic beers with a special origin. The Trappist will brew all kinds of different beers and they all taste even better in the specially etched Trappist beer glass!
A group of monks left La Trappe after the French Revolution. The bishop of Antwerp convinced these monks to set up an abbey at a small farm near Westmalle. There were ten monks in the late 1700s – today there are hundreds. They all share in the doctrine that manual labor contributes to a person’s wellbeing and development. Their Westmalle Tripel is an excellent example of that philosophy. A beer that uses three-times the quantity of the ingredients used in other brews, it is a fine example of a strong and fruity Belgium Tripel.
These days you hear of software engineers building entire tech companies out of their garage in Silicon Valley during the 80s. In Belgium, you build breweries in your garage.
The Brasserie d’Achouffe has a special history. It is not an age-old brewery run by Trappist monks nor a family business passed down through centuries of generations. In 1982, two brothers-in-law who shared the passion for beer-making, finished their first batch of 49 liters in a mother-in-law’s garage. Four years later they acquired the farm they were brewing on and this hobby became a profession.
The Chouffe line has a selection of fruity beers, darker brews and classic Belgium IPAs. Our favorite is by far the blonde Belgium La Chouffe. It is the classic original recipe these two relatives began with almost 40 years ago. Its lemony notes and light alcohol content make it perfect when you’re biking through Achouffe on a beautiful spring day. Make sure to enjoy one (okay, maybe two…)
Kwaremont Beer is a product of the De Brabandere Brewery in Bavikove, Belgium. Founded by Aldophe De Brabandere in 1894, it was only in the 1950s the Brewery had success thanks to focused marketing efforts.
But we love the Kwaremont. It is a full malt beer blonde beer, with character and full-flavor richness. Top fermented with a strong bronze color, when served in its special chalice, it appears as an award for biking one of the toughest sections of cobblestones in the Ardennes: the Oude Kwaremont. It is no accident the beer has the same alcoholic “grade” as the steepness of the fabled road: 6.6%.
Yet, regardless if you make it to the top of the Oude de Kwaremont by bike or other means, it is an exceptional post-ride brew. Rich and flavorful, don’t be surprised if you order another one (just make sure you’re done riding for the day!).
How could we not include this paramount brewery in our list? Sure, these days Leffe is part of the beer conglomerate Interbrew (now AB-InBev), but consider Interbrew itself was an older, Belgium company and saved many smaller breweries from financial ruin. These days you can find Leffe everywhere, and their story has roots dating back to the 1200s.
The Leffe Braun is your quintessential Abbey beer. The abbots used top-fermentation for centuries – even during the plague of the Middle Ages. The heat destroyed all bacteria and created a beer so smooth parishioners preferred having a glass on Sunday instead of going to church. Its genuine balance between softly bitter and caramel flavors give it hints of coffee and chocolate, without being overbearing. An age-old tradition, check out the Abbey and Maison Leffe as you pedal through the village of Dinant.
Imagine going to a brewery where you had to reserve your bottles in advance due to their popularity. Imagine arriving at the brewery only to discover you are allowed a limited number of bottles, if they aren’t completely sold out for the day.
That’s the Trappist abbey of Sint-Sixtus, deep within the forest of Westvleteren, making beer since 1839. Throughout the centuries, the monks have maintained their heritage while changing with modernity: from traditional brew methods to steam brewing to the most modern technological beer-making machinery. For example, today the abbey has its own water-treatment plant, purifying the water for the brewing process, powered by solar panels.
The Westvleteren 12 is a dark amber beer, known locally as the “Flemish Burgundy.” It maintains a steady alcohol percentage at 10.5% and holds notes of chocolate, nuts and raisins. They are best enjoyed in company, at the tables just outside of the brewery in the park.
What’s your favorite post-ride brew? Let us know by contacting us or come along for our Bike Across Belgium and come taste for yourself!