Peter Morrell goes to a tasting and discovers the sheer diversity of beers from an area the size of Yorkshire.
Flanders is the Flemish speaking part of Belgium and has always been renown for the quality of its beers. I recently went to an event to taste just exactly how different the beers are. But first an anecdote, several years ago, and in another life, I won a new client based in a town near Brussels called Aalst. The start of our relationship was a two day session in their offices. After an early flight from London and a long, hot first day in meetings I was grateful for their invitation to have dinner with them in nearby Ghent.
Before dinner we had a drink on the terrace of a bar. The cooling evening breeze that blew across the cobbled square was as welcome as the cold beer I had trustingly asked them to recommend. It was thirst quenching and delicious and I drunk it quickly, like an English session ale. As we stood up to leave my legs gave way and I sat down again, I had just met a beer called Duvel, the Flemish word for devil.
Since that day I have always slowly sipped the beer in Flanders to appreciate their flavours, complexity and strength. Starting the tasting the first beer, Deus, thoroughly deserved this respect. It is brewed near Dendermonde then bottled and sent to the caves of a champagne house for finishing. It’s light, with toasty notes and flowery hops, is truly unique and at 11.5% can support its depth and complexity.
There were another thirteen beers to taste which had been well curated to give a representative sample of the region. They were all outstanding but I will major on the highlights. In Ghent, where I had my first Flemish beer experience, there is female brewer who started to make beer in 2009. In her Gruut brewery Annick De Splente has created a beer that is flavoured with medieval herbs rather than hops, which gives it an intriguing and mysterious taste.
The area of Brabant to the west of Brussels is known as Pajottenland, the market garden of the Belgian capital. The Timmermans Brewery in Itterbeek produce a beer called Oude Gueuze. After the first stage of the brewing process wild yeasts in the air are allowed to start the fermentation. This makes each brew different. However it consistently produces a very dry drink which matches well with food.
It was then time to try some beers from Antwerp, the De Koninck Pale Ale, brewed by the makers of Duval, is a very floral beer with a pleasant bready taste. It is typically served through a thick head in a bowl shaped glass called a bolleke (much to the amusement of the English).
My last beer of the evening was made in the town of Hoegaarden, made famous by the wheat beer of the same name. This was a very dark ale made by the Nieuwhuys brewery, called Alpaïde, it’s 9% strength gave it real character. There were delicious notes of bitter chocolate, caramel and spice, it was a magnificent finale.
Flanders is very easy to get to, Ghent for example is only about a 90 minute drive from Calais. As well as the beer, the region has a rich history of medieval architecture, imposing cathedrals, excellent food and many museums and sites commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War 1.
For more information about Flanders go to www.visitflanders.co.uk
To read more about Flanders on AboutMyGeneration here are the links to two articles and our E Magazine
In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow
Fascinated by Flanders
Flanders Life and Style Magazine