Beer is an integral part of Belgian society. Besides the fact that there are over 500 standard beers produced by Belgian breweries, each brand will often have its own glass. Heaven forbid if your Leffe is not served in its own Leffe glass. Although being the farthest thing from a beer fan or especially a connoisseur, I was anxious to delve deep into the Belgian beer culture when spending part of my honeymoon there last September.
When given no other beverage options, I have on occasion drunk Budweiser and Corona beer, but it’s usually resulted in me having a look of mild disgust on my face with each sip I took. However, on my first day in Brussels, I finally found a beer I could drink without the aid of food, one that I also mildly enjoyed. Our first foray into the Belgian beer culture was at A La Morte Subite (Sudden Death), a historic cafe a couple of blocks from the Grand Place.
Its interior appeared to be the same as when it first opened, more than a hundred years ago. Although there were a few modern conveniences, you felt as if you were in a different era, before Brussels became the melting pot city it is today, and before two world wars irrevocably changed Belgium. The drink menu was quite extensive, even intimidating, but I knew immediately what I wanted based on earlier research. A lambic beer, specifically framboise (raspberry). I had read that fruit beers have become especially popular and that whole fruits are traditionally added to the beer after the spontaneous fermentation has started. Malt and hop characters are generally low to allow the fruit to consume the palate.
Although D opted for the more masculine Chimay Blanche (White), not wanting to be caught ordering a “fruity beer,” my framboise even managed to garner a thumbs up sign upon his taking a sip. I reasoned that when in Belgium drinking its wondrous beers (or so I am told), you can never have a bad experience unless you’re not really a beer drinker to begin with.
What I loved most about Belgium was that cafe life didn’t include a variety of wines to sample too. It was all about the beer, but not in an obnoxious American spring break kind of way. Beer is drunk and regarded with the same amount of class and respect that wine is. One sniffs his glass of beer in much the same way that a sommelier sniffs and appreciates his choice of wine.
With the exception of the taste or two I had at the De Halve Maan brewery in Brugge, I drank no more beer for the rest of our time in Belgium. Beer is just not my cup of “tea” and yet I am immensely fascinated all the same by a country in which it is their piece de resistance. Something that is an integral part of their culture, their society, and their history. I much enjoyed writing down the names of all the beers D sampled on the rest of our trip, and reading up on them after we returned home.
I do hope to return to Belgium one day, for it was a country I fell in love with, and when I do, I have every intention to try another beer (or two). If there was one thing that could induce me become a beer drinker, it would be the wonderful country of Belgium.