Beer in Belgium varies from the popular pale lager to lambic beer and Flemish red.Belgian beer-brewing's origins go back to the Middle Ages. There are approximately 125breweries in the country, ranging from international giants to microbreweries. In Europe, only Germany, France and the United Kingdom are home to more breweries. Belgian breweries produce about 800 standard beers. When special one-off beers are included, the total number of Belgian beers is approximately 8700. Belgians drink 93 litres of beer a year on average.

History

Beer has been made in Belgium since the Middle Ages. It is believed today that beer was brewed at some monasteries during this period; however, no written proof exists. The Trappist monasteries that now brew beer in Belgium were occupied in the late 18th century primarily by monks fleeing the French Revolution. However, the first Trappist brewery in Belgium (Westmalle) did not start operation until 10 December 1836, almost 50 years after the Revolution. That beer was exclusively for the monks and is described as "dark and sweet." The first recorded sale of beer (a brown beer) was on 1 June 1861.

Beer Festivals

Beer can be sampled at festivals. In view of the high strength of many Belgian beers, visitors are often required to drink out of small tasting glasses.

Draught and bottled beer

The vast majority of Belgian beers are sold only in bottles. Draught beers tend mostly to be pale lagers, wheat beers, regional favorites such as kriek in Brussels or De Koninck in Antwerp; and the occasional one-off. Customers who purchase a bottled beer (often called a "special" beer) can expect the beers to be served ceremoniously, often with a free snack.

These days, Belgian beers are sold in brown (or sometimes dark green) tinted glass bottles (to avoid negative effects of light on the beverage) and sealed with a cork, a metal crown cap, or sometimes both. Some beers are bottle conditioned, in which they are reseeded with yeast so that an additional fermentation may take place. Different bottle sizes exist: 25 cl, 33 cl, 37,5 cl, 75 cl and multiples of 75. (8, 12, 24 or multiples of 24 fl. oz.) The 37,5 cl size is usually for lambics. Other beers are generally bottled in 25 or 33 cl format (depending on brands). The bigger bottles (75 cl) are sold almost in every food shop but the choice is often not wide. Bottles larger than 75 cl are named following the terminology used for champagne and are limited in quantity. In Belgian cafés, when someone orders a demi (English: "half"), he receives a 50 cl (half litre) glass (with beer from the tap, or from 2 bottles of 25 cl) whereas in France, demi means a 25 cl glass.

Serving and glassware

Virtually every Belgian beer has a branded glass. Beyond the basic shape of the glass (wide-mouth goblet, curvaceous tulip glass, tall pilsener, etc), each glass is imprinted with a logo or name. The brewery usually selects a glass form to accentuate certain qualities of their beer. A goblet, for example, lets the drinker's nose inhale the beer's aroma at the same time the mouth is drinking in the liquid. A tulip glass, for example, is very good for foam retention.

International distribution

60% of Belgian beer is exported. Some draught beer brands produced by InBev — Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe — are available in several European countries. Aside from these, mostly bottled beer is exported across Europe. Cafés exclusively or primarily offering Belgian beers exist beyond Belgium in Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, amongst others. In North America, a growing number of draught Belgian beer brands are becoming available, often at "Belgian Bars". Among these brands are Brasserie Brunehaut, Karmeliet, Kwak, Maredsous, Mont Saint-Aubert. Palm, Rodenbach and St. Feuillien.

Trappist beers

Trappist beers are beers brewed in a Trappist monastery. For a beer to qualify for Trappist certification, the brewery must be in or near a monastery, the monks must play a role in its production and policies and the profits from the sale must be used to support the monastery and/or social programs outside. Only seven monasteries currently meet these qualifications, six of which are in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. The current Trappist producers are Achel, Chimay, Koningshoeven (the Netherlands), Orval, Rochefort,Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Trappist beer is a controlled term of origin: it tells where the beers come from, it is not the name of a beer style. Beyond saying they are mostly top-fermented, the beers produced by the Trappist have very little in common.

Abbey beers

Abbey beers (Bières d'Abbaye or Abdijbier) are either: 1.)produced by breweries under an arrangement with an extant monastery that does not meet all of the criteria for a Trappist brewery; or, 2.)branded with the name of a defunct or fictitious abbey by a commercial brewer; or 3.)given a vaguely monastic branding, without mentioning a specific monastery, by a commercial brewer.

Abbey beers can be in a number of styles, but often include dubbels and tripels, the most recognizable and distinctive Trappist styles. Some beer writers warn against assuming that closeness of connection with a real monastery is indicative of quality of product. Various Abbey beers include Inbev's Leffe, Affligem, Grimbergen, Maredsous, St. Bernardus, Tripel Karmeliet, Saint-Feuillien, Floreffe, and Val-Dieu.