BELGIUM, October 4, 2013 – Just because Oktoberfest is over in Germany doesn’t mean travelers have to give up beer for another year. Though the Brussels Beer Challenge may live in the shadow of its Bavarian counterpart for the moment, the “Belgian Brewers Association” in that tiny European country is one of the oldest professional organizations in the world.
Munich, Germany takes guzzling honors where beer-loving Bavarians wash down an average of more than 50 gallons of brew each year. The Czech Republic, which is famous for inventing Pilsner, comes next at about 40 gallons per capita. (An interesting bit of beer trivia is the Budweiser Budvar Brewery in the city of Budweis, gave its name to the first Budweiser beer in the world.)
Belgian beer is making a name for itself (en.wikipedia.com)
At 29 gallons of malty hoppy brew a year, Belgians may appear to be a distant third in the world of swigging, but quality quickly catches up to quantity. According to Michael Jackson, not the late one-gloved pop singer but the author of more than 15 books about beer and whiskey, “…the greatest variety of styles, the most gastronomically interesting specialties, and the most unusual beers in the world are produced in Belgium..”
Jackson’s popular television program The Beer Hunter was syndicated in 15 countries, which is ample credibility for his opinions.
Liege, Belgium (Belgium Tourist Office)
November 1 to 3 marks the second year of the annual Brussels Beer Challenge which commences in Liege, Belgium’s third largest city. Unlike Oktoberfest, which is a massive gala beer drinking carnival, the Brussels Beer Challenge is a competition bringing together brewers from around the world to a central venue known for the excellence of its beer.
Last year’s inaugural event in Brussels featured more than 500 beers from 16 nations that were judged by 40 international beer experts.
Belgium ’s brewer’s guild was founded in the 14th century in one of the first stone houses built on what is now Brussels Grand-Place. Today, the Brewer’s House stands on the spot once occupied by De Goulden Boom, “the Golden Tree.”
Brussels Grand-Place (Pinterest,com)
Belgians take their beer seriously. Though the country is roughly the size of the state of Maryland, Belgium’s 100-plus breweries create several hundred brands of beer. Like Swiss wins, there are several reasons why Belgian beer is relatively unknown to the world at large.
Also, like the Swiss, who drink their own wine rather than export it, Belgians like to keep their secret to themselves. Another reason is the fact that Belgian beer must be fresh to be enjoyed to its fullest, which means it does not retain its integrity when shipped abroad. Reason number three has to do with the size of the country. Brewers simply could not meet worldwide demand. Reason enough to entice visitors savor one of Belgium’s premier products at its peak.
Just as Brits may have lifelong allegiances to their local pubs, Belgians feel the same about their local beers. To a Belgian, beer is every bit as important as wine is to the French. Most beers can be recognized by its glass which has individual characteristics that loyal guzzlers immediately recognize.
In Belgium beers are served at temperatures appropriate to the individual subtlety of its particular flavor. Therefore, it might be cold, at room temperature or somewhere in between depending upon the brewmaster’s intent.
Brussels Beer Challenge (facebook.com)
The bilingual capital and largest city of Brussels nestles within the center of the Flemish-speaking region to the north and west and the French-speaking area in the south. Also famous for its food, Brussels is said to have more high quality restaurants per capita than any city its size in the world. Consequently, the Belgian capital serves as an arbiter between the fiercely competitive beer regions. That made it the ideal location for the inaugural Belgium Beer Challenge in 2012.
Belgian menus often feature huge beer selections. Travelers may also discover that even tiny cafes have six to eight choices.
Though there are other prominent international beer competitions throughout the world, the extent, quality and legacy of Belgium’s beer is a major point of pride for a country that has realized it is time for the world to know about its beer as locals do.
For travelers, the Brussels Beer Challenge in November is a good time to see what’s brewing in Belgium
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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