Bierfesten Euro Beer Trip – Thoughts on Big Breweries in Belgium

Posted on October 27, 2012


In coming to Europe I was aiming to try as much Belgium beer as possible, and drink as much Westmalle Dubbel and Rochefort 10 as I could. I was not expecting to drink beers that were made by the larger brewers such as AB INBEV or Duvel and expect to try and drink some interesting an unique beers. Though spent most of my time in the great beer bars of the world, I didn’t infact visit one brewery which is kind of sad, but I think spending nights in Kulminator and Moeder Lambic & Bier Circus definitely made up for it.

It was only going to be a matter of time before we saw the bigger brewers start to wake and explore using different hops, recipes and start to break into the craft beer movement. Some of the most interesting beers that I saw were from Duvel Triple, Leffe Royale, L’Chauffe Fresh Citra Hop IPA.

It was evident in eastern Europe that AB Inbev was the king of taps, as nearly every bar had on the Staropramen, and Bellevue Kriek, and other Inbev products. It has been said the sales expansion in the eastern block countries is where the growth is for companies like ABINbev and SABMiller. In terms of the volume it was definitely in existence back east, where in Belgium of course the Jupiler beer is the king of the country, and in terms of quaff beers its not a bad beer. I drank some Jupiler on my time there and I’m not too proud to say its a great beer for what it is. I only wish Aussie or Canadian macro beers were as tasty as Jupiler. No this isn’t a paid endorsement I’m stating what I think is the truth.

The growth of craft brewers is growing in Belgium but they do not have the tap capacity to get onto bar taps as easily as many of the bars are owned by the larger breweries. But what are the large brewers doing to help change perception of the slow moving beasts? they are changing around some recipes and allowing their own brewers to change ingredients and put out special releases. It is no surprise that I’m taking home with me some Leffe & Duvel products in my suitcase.

It was the first time in my experience in Belgium where I saw a dozen brewers producing IPA’s that are going to be American Belgium IPAs as opposed to what I’m used to drinking Belgian IPA’s. In speaking with many bar locals and the guys and girls behind the bar the Belgians are definitely aware that the American and North American segment, even the British brewers are producing more interesting varieties and its no longer are Belgium on their own again for having interesting beers. No longer are people only seeking out Chimay, or Westmalle Dubbel. They are seeking out special release beers that are hard to find and the brewers release in limited quantities.

This beer is a beer made with Chicory Root instead of Hops, or with Hops I’m not sure. It was not very good, but it was one of those beers with strange ingredients that I noted on beers lists in various bars.

What the brewers are doing well in Belgium is ‘every beer has its own glass’. I do find the different shape in the glass makes a huge difference based on the style of beer. I’m a fan of the Tulip shaped beer glass, even the Orval round bulbous one. These are what I think the IPA brewers around the world should get to next.. ‘GLASSWARE’. But as one bar said they only lose their glasses when tourists steal them, the locals don’t.

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It is hard being so passionate about beer and seeing only the macro lagers that the large boys produce, and then you go to a great beer like belgium with amazing beers only to find now its not just the American ABINBEV producing some interesting beers but also the Belgium compatriots. Even in the supermarket I saw Hoegaarden Rose on the shelf that ultimately is a take away new version of raspberry or fruity Hef, this is not something we see in our Western countries, we still have bar staff throw in a fucking Lemon, or a Wedge or Orange. Neither does anything to the taste of the beer anyway.

So yeah beer in Belgium is very healthy from an outsiders perspective, especially one who loves craft beer and seeing what they are producing is definitely craft beer made by the big boys.