All about Beers in Belgium and Brussels

Mar 10, 2016 by Stephane

Belgian Beer almost always has 4 fixed ingredients from which many different types and “styles” of beer are made. It’s very difficult to formulate a definitive classification of beer styles. When trying to classify a beer there are various factors to take in to account, such alcohol content, color, economics (mass produced or not), traditions (Trappists beers like Westvleteren 12 or Oude Gueze), variations of ingredients (wheat beers, fruit beers) and quantities (tripel beers having a higher density and thus more sugars and alcohol). All these elements play a role in the naming of Belgian beers.

The most scientific approach to classify beer examines the way the fermentation takes place. “High” or “top fermentation” happens at relatively high temperatures with a controlled strain of yeast that can handle high temperatures and alcohol concentrations and which eventually raises to the surface. 

Most “special” beers are top fermented. Low fermentation happens at low temperatures with yeast falling to the bottom of the barrel. This procedure produces typical thirst quenching beers Belgian beers of the pilsener variety, like Maes, Stella and Vedett. Belgian beers that are classified as “old brown” or “red” are of mixed fermentation and combine top fermentation with spontaneous fermentation.

This latter form of fermentation, spontaneous fermentation is the oldest and most primitive way to convert sugars to alcohol and carbonic acid. Micro organisms such as “wild” yeasts and bacteria that occur in the outside air (like the typical Brettanomyces Bruxellensis and Brettanomyces Lambicus) are responsible for the spontaneous aspect of this process. The lambic from the Zenne valley in Brussels and Pajottenland which is used to produce old geuze, old kriek and faro are unique examples of spontaneously fermented beers. Breweries like Cantillon, De Troch and 3 Fonteinen still produce these beers.

The international reputation of Belgium as a beer loving and producing country also has to do with the mega Belgian / Brazilian brewery InBev, which is the world leader in this industry. The group was created in 2004 through the fusion of Interbrew with AmBev. 

Famous Belgian brands such as Belle-Vue, Hoegaarden, Jupiler, Stella and Leffe cover about 57% of the Belgian market and around 15% of the world market. Above all, Belgium is especially a beer country because of the unparalleled amount of different styles of beer that are produced here: Trappist beers such as Westmalle and the famous Westvleteren 12, white beers, fruit beers, amber colored beers, pilseners, geuze, etc. A definitive count is hard to reach but all estimates exceed well over a thousand.