“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – Benjamin Franklin
For me, beer is more than just an alcoholic drink. Beers have imprinted the best period in my life, which was my journey in the country of beers, Belgium.
When I am in a good mood, beer is a cheerful comparison. When I feel down, beer brings me up. When I do not know what to do, I know the best way is to drink a beer. After ping pong matches, a wit beer, Hoegaarden, helps quench my thirst. When I celebrate a special event, a champagne beer, Lindemans, is an award. Beer is my good friend, my faithful companion. I give myself the privilege of writing about the culture of beer as I have drunk over 150 different beers in the world, including the best-rated Westvleteren XII.
The beer community does vary. We cannot compare beers of different types. To tell a Guinness is better than a Heineken is stupid. We need to compare beers of the same type. So which types?
Beer is categorized into different types based on taste, color, brewery, and the fermentation process. In general, we have the following:
Pils or Lager beer is the most popular, such as Tiger or Korona, is a good choice for whatever reason. It is bottom-fermented, with ABV ranging around 5%. Pils is not very special but quite ok on a sunny day or in a dead thirst.
Amber beer: is not so strong, with ABV ranging from 6-8%. Amber beers are outstanding by their color. However, there is an exceptional case, Bush 12, which is a very strong ambree (12% ABV). Others are Palm Special, Vieux Temps or La Gauloise.
Wit beer, my favourite, originated in the Flemish region, spearheaded by Hoegaarden. Wit beers have ABV of about 5-6%, making them quite refreshing, especially in peak summer. Traditional, wit beers are made with a mixture of wheat and barley. Before hops became widely available in EU, beers were flavored with a mixture of herbs called gruit. However, wit beers would become watery if we drink too much.
Brown beer is differentiated by its color. Brown beers are quite strong, with ABV ranging from 8-12%. Some popular ones of this type are Gulden Draak, Blue Chimay, etc. I prefer drinking this strong beer with a cigar, to substitute the expensive “cognac”. They are very perfect companions. They also tend to go well with night events when we have nothing to worry about, just to chat with our mates or even drink alone while buring a Cuban cigar.
Stout: Belgium is also proud of its stout. Despite not being famous as Guinness, Belgium boasts to the world Hercules, a dark, aromatic, and strong beer. It seems that Hercules is brewed and fermented in a different way from Guinness, which is made from burnt malt.
Golden ale or Blonde: the most popular beer in Belgium. I can count on a variety of blond beers: Orval, Achel, Chimay, Emane, Rocherfort, etc. All of them are brewed twice, first in oak barrels, and second in the bottle itself. Blond beers are quite strong, with ABV ranging from 8-12%. It is better to drink blond beers in the afternoon, evening, or weekends when we do not have to work after that. Some others include Lucifer, Judas, Satan, and Moinette.
Tripel or triple beer: derives from Duvel Tripel. The name “Tripel” is then widely used in other breweries to name their blond, strong beers that are often brewed twice or triple times. All tripel beers are fermented on top of the barrels.
Abbey beer: is brewed by the monks. In the past, abbey beers were not sold for profit as all incomes were used for community works. Nevertheless, commercial breweries are now using this name based on an agreement with the abbey.
Trappist beer is the proudest beer in Belgium. It only offers and authorises 06 breweries to sell under the name: “Trappist Authentic”. I remember all of them: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmall, and Westvleteren. Of those, Westvleteren XII has been crowned the best beer in the world many times and in many beers rating events or competitions.
Geuze/Lambic beer is quite sour. Lambic is a wheat beer brewed by spontaneous fermentation. Contrary to most modern beers, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts, Lambic’s fermentation is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne Valley, which locates the Brussels Capital region. Lambic undergoes a long aging period of 3-6 months to 2-3 years to mature. It is the unusual process that gives the beer its distinctive flavor: dry, vinous, and cidery with a slightly sour aftertaste. This category is composed of 03 subcategories: Gueuze, Fruit Lambic, and Faro.
Holiday or special beer is only brewed on special events like Christmas or Easter. Holiday beers may contain more alcohol than the brewer’s other types of beer and even spicing.
Dubbel: has a characteristic brown color, which is one of the classic Abbey/Trappist types. Dubbel was first developed in the 19th century at the Trappist monastery in Westmall. A dubbel has ABV range of 6-8%. Some typical dubbels are Maredsous, Sint Bernardus Peter, etc.
Flemish red: is represented by Rodenbach. I don’t quite like this type. This beer is distinguished from a technical viewpoint using roasted malt, fermentation by a mixture of several ordinary top-fermenting yeasts, and maturation in oak barrels. The result is a mildly strong beer with a deep reddish-brown color and a distinctly acidic, sour yet fruity and mouthy taste.
Table beer is the cheapest one in Belgium. We can drink during lunch as its ABV is only 1.5%.
I used to have a collection of Belgian beer bottles in Brussels, including all Trappists. Now, back to Hanoi, Belgian beers are still my friends. I often resort to 02 bars specializing in Belgian beers: SBB and Beer Temple but both sell at hefty prices:)