Last month, my day job as editor of Halifax Magazine took me back to Belgium to cover events marking the centenary of the end of the First World War. And as you’d expect, I seized the opportunity to sample every local beer I could get my hands on. Belgium has more great beers per capita than any place on earth and one human couldn’t possibly sample them all, but I gave it a good try; here are my six favourite discoveries.
Cuvée Jeun’homme by Brouwerij De Leite in Ruddervoorde, Belgium
Dry-hopped with a blend of four local hops, this sour ale has a smidge of citrus bitterness and whole lot of mouth-puckering tartness. Four months ripening in oak-wine casks make it complex, full-flavoured, and easy to sip. Paired nicely with the leek soup at Café De Republiek in Brugge.
Trappist Westvleteren 12 by Brouwerij De Sint–Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren in Westvleteren, Belgium
Trappist beers aren’t as easy to find in Belgium as you’d expect (a shopkeeper told me the monks prefer to export, to avoid competing with local brewers), so I was pleased to find this big boozy quad. Rich and fruity, with roast coffee and dark-fruit notes. Paired well with the peppery beef goulash at La Poupée gastropub in Poperinge.
Hercule Stout by Brasserie des Légendes in Irchonwelz, Belgium
After a couple days of sours, saisons, and blondes, I was starting to yearn for a stout, so I was delighted to find this locally-made one on at the stylish and popular L’Excelsior in Mons: malty and dry with a hint of smoky sweetness. Accustomed as I am to American-style stouts, I kept waiting for a hop hit that never came. But that’s not a beef; this was a tasty surprise.
Queue de Charrue Blonde by Browerij Vanuxeem in Comines–Warneton, Belgium
A textbook example of what has to be the most popular style in this part of the world: the strong golden ale. Sweet and crisp, with a slight hop bitterness to finish and refreshing minerality throughout. Nicely balanced.
Super 8 IPA by Browerij Haacht Brasserie in Boortmeerbeek, Belgium
This Flanders IPA gets some lukewarm reviews online and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It starts fruity and floral, with a surprising (but pleasant) grapefruit zing; effervescent with a lively mouthfeel and a subtle hop finish. Easy to drink.
113 Ambrée by Brasserie 113 in Mons, Belgium
If you had predicted that an amber lager would be my favourite beer from this trip, I would have laughed in your face… but here we are. Hard to find even its hometown, this beer comes from a tiny Mons brewery (when I tried it, it had just five Untappd check-ins) and I had the good luck to be just sitting down at La Petite Provence as the brewer was delivering a shipment. It is, by a wide margin, the tastiest lager I’ve ever had. Rich, malty, full-bodied; nicely balanced and a genuine pleasure to drink.
Regular contributor and guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing). You can see what Trevor is drinking on Untappd and follow him on Twitter.