Belgium is the beer capitol of the world and feature 580 different brands and 120 different varieties- more than any other country. This is truly amazing, especially considering how tiny this country is! There is close to 200 breweries in Belgium, which is more per capita than any other country in the world. Belgium beer dates back to the 1100’s when it was first brewed in the local abbeys. Belgium’s sure know their beer, and many of the brands have their own uniquely shaped glass to match, which brings out the full flavor of the beer.
As far as taste, Belgium beer is yeastier, stronger in flavor and higher in alcohol content than beers in other countries. Most Belgium beers are only available by bottle, as it is fresher and holds the flavor better. Jupiler beer is the biggest-selling beer in Belgium and is literally everywhere you look, it is like Bud Light for the USA, they even have vending machines specifically for this beer as if it were Coke or something. Until 2007, there was no age limit in Belgium for drinking alcohol. Now you must be 16 years old to drink beer, and 18 to drink wine and hard liquor. Many Belgium breweries produce special beers just for the Christmas season. Most contain more alcohol than the brewery’s other types of beer and often contain spicing.
If you go to Bruges, you will see that many of the restaurants specialize in the famous “Kwak” beer, which is served in a scientific test tube looking glass that is held by a wooden holder. It cannot sit up on its own as it has a round bottom, and requires the wooden holder to keep it upright. The Kwak shown in the photo below, is the larger of the two sizes. The more traditional glass is half this size. When drinking the Kwak, you grasp the wooden handle and lift to drink. You are not to drink with the glass out of the wooden base. I broke the rules and drank it without the base, because I thought it was extremely awkward to hold and much easier to drink without it. Our waiter told us that this drink gets it’s name because as you drink, you will here a sound that resembles a duck quack due to the unique shape of the class.
The Kwak is brewed at the Brouwerij Bosteels brewery in the village of Buggenhout, Belgium. The brewery was founded in 1791 and is still owned and operated by the same family, now it’s seventh generation. The Kwak is said to be named after Pauwel Kwak, an 18th-century innkeeper and brewer. The glass was originally designed for mail coachman because by law, the coachman were not allowed to leave their coach and horse. Pauwel Kwak decided to have a special glass blown that could be hung on the coach so they could bind the glass at their horse without spilling. The thin stem also made it easier for the coachman to hold with their thick gloves.
The city of Bruges once contained dozens of breweries, but now De Halve Maan is the last one left. With a history that dates back to the 16th century, the brewery has been continuously operating at its current site and under the same family name since 1856. Bruges Zot and Straffe Hendrik are the only beer that is still brewed in the center of Bruges. The brewery also hosts very informative tours that end with a glass of the town ale.
I would not recommend wasting your time taking a tour, mostly due to the fact that as of recent, (we went in April 2014) the brewery has been moved to a different location, so don’t go thinking you are going to see an active brewery. All you really get to see is the unique build of the brewery in the narrow dutch style building, which is pretty fascinating to see how it was made to function in the many narrow, laddered, claustrophobic levels. The guide explained the only way to originally get the brewery equipment in the building was to put the pieces in and build the brewery around it .
The reason dutch architecture is tall, long and skinny, is due to rent being charged for the amount of land the house actually took up, thus, you made up for the lack of width by height. The guide was extremely informative- almost too informative for the lay person, and had an obvious passion and impressive knowledge of brewing. The best part of the tour are the views of the city from the top of the brewery.
If you are looking for a popular hot spot to drink any kind of Belgium beer you could imagine while taking in the most gorgeous canal views in Bruges, look no further than the Beerwall. The beerwall features a large display of the many varieties of Belgium beers with their matching glass.
The next night we discovered yet another interesting glass at a wonderful local restaurant- the viking horn stein!!