Beer and Loathing in Belgium

You get a lot of funny/interesting articles into your inbox when you are in college–and yesterday, someone sent me a link to a Washington Post article about beer.

Normally I don’t enjoy beer much–its thick wheat content usually chokes me or at least caused some indigestion, an unfortunate result of drinking a little too much knowing that beer has less alcoholic content. (Another consequence would be the need to rush to the toilet after inordinate amount of imbibing). Americans here enjoy their beer. Enjoy may not be the best word to describe their endless drinking games but what they say with vodka or whiskey in the order parts of the world, they say it with beer in the United States.

Another country that like America has long beer tradition and many topnotch breweries is Belgium. My friends who consider themselves to be beer snobs–just because the only proper way to drink beer is to scoff at what others are drinking–deem German beers inferior and any brew east of Hamburg virtually undrinkable. I, being my good jolly self, annoyed them royally by sending them an endless pictures of me enjoying Stella Artois when I was in Belgium. These snobs consider Stella to be Budweiser of Belgian beers. Belgian beer is as much of an institution as French wine, but instead of vineyards, they have monasteries.

The best beer are brewed in these Trappist monasteries–there are only six of them left now, five in Belgium and one across the border in the Netherlands. The best is Abbaye d’Orval in the Ardennes apparently. I said apparently because although I tasted it (quite good but quite hoppy too) I haven’t tasted any other Trappist brews to compare it with. I also liked Duvel (which means Devil, a nod to its high alcoholic content) and Gouden Carolus (which was a favorite of one of those Holy Roman Emperors invariably named Charles, thus the name). Gouden Carolus and many other beers in the country has special variations, akin to those wine appellations, which made things more interesting for snobs. (Gouden Carolus, for instance, has Cuvee Van De Keizer, a ‘special’ brew made on the birthday of Charles V.)

I had funny story with Gouden Carolus anyway–I was traveling back from Antwerp and decided to stop at Mechelen for the beer. It was around 7 pm when I arrived at Mechelen and after walking thirty minutes to the city center, found out that all the shops were already closed. Mechelen looked like an abandoned city–most cities in Belgium look the same way after five. They weren’t the most diligent folk, the Belgians. But come on, I expected at least some shop at the city centre to be open. None was. I took a train back to Brussels, searched for Gouden Carolus at the nearest beer shop. But it wasn’t the same, you know. I really wanted to have Carolus in front of the Archbishopric of Mechelen, but there is always the next time.

Anyway, my favorite was Straffe Hendrik (Strong Henry). Probably I am partial because I visited their brewery (The Half Moon) in Bruges, the only brewery left in the city centre of that old town. Alcohol content for their brews varies but I quite liked their somewhat fruity nature. Above picture, their beer (superb!) and their beer-soup (so-so).

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