Eurofoods: Belgian beer

It had to happen, having covered food and drink in Europe in relation to cycling, it is time for a beer. The piece here was prompted by a superb article in The Economist that marries brewing with history, business and politics and I’ll borrow from this to explain the subject.

Nutritional Facts
Water, hops, barley. Fermented to form an alcoholic beverage. In Belgium it is not uncommon to find additional ingredients, like cherry juice or strawberries.

Euro cyclist use
A recovery drink, in moderation. The water and sugars help after a ride and some of the trace elements, including silicon can do some good.


[Belgium] makes a bigger range than any other—1,131 at the last count. Apart from six Trappist ales and other abbey beers, it churns out lagers such as Stella Artois and its stablemate Jupiler, the more popular brew in Belgium. Tipplers can also choose from an array of wheat beers, brown ales, red beers from West Flanders, golden ales, saison beers based on old farmhouse recipes, and any number of regional brews. Oddest are the austere, naturally fermented lambic beers of Brussels and the nearby Senne valley, a throwback to the days before yeast was tamed. These anachronisms have survived only in Belgium.

Too far north for fine wine, Belgium lies in a “beer belt” that stretches across Europe, an arc from Britain that bends down to Slovakia, the same zone where hops can be grown so find a source of clean water and you can start to brew beer.

A small country, Belgium sits close to France, the Netherlands and Germany and across the last few hundred years each of these nations has been instrumental in trade and new flavours with spice and sugars landing on the docks. Indeed whilst the Germans set down medieval laws prescribing the purity of beer, Belgian brewers joined the trade and added flavours and ingredients to their beers, a tradition that lives on in Belgium today. The Economist explains the more recent history:

The number of breweries in Belgium peaked at the turn of the 20th century. By 1907 the country boasted nearly 3,400 commercial beermakers… …These brewers had considerable advantages over their counterparts in other countries. In Britain beer was a drink of the lower orders: no such snobbishness obtained in Belgium. Heavy import duties discouraged Belgians from buying French wine. Competition from spirits was blunted by the temperance movement.

Today the traditions live on but Belgium has also gone into mass production. Interbrew bought Canada’s Labatts in 1995 and merged with Brazil’s AmBev in 2004. The merged firm became known as InBev and acquired Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, in 2008. Today AB InBev is the world’s largest beer producer. A world beating company from Belgium.

More modestly monks have a long tradition of brewing beer. The Trappist order, founded in La Trappe in France, ruled that monks had to live by their own means and selling beer soon became a prime source of income for some. Today there are seven Trappist breweries with six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. Wikipedia offers more on the monastic traditions.

A barman who neglects to inquire whether you prefer your bottle of Duvel shaken slightly to mix in the yeasty lees shouldn’t expect a tip

You’ll find beer all around the world but Belgium offers variety and unique flavours, curiosity in a bottle. This is matched by the variety of glasses, each matches a particular beer. This makes the barman knowledgeable and if you visit a café for the first time many will give you a tasting menu for the beer or gladly share their preferences.

The choice is yours

In fact whilst most beers around the world are drunk in tall glasses, a Belgian bar offers a surreal collection of glass receptacles. Balloon-shapes, goblets and there are some that wouldn’t look out of place in a laboratory. It lends a touch of mystique but the shape is meant to help with the flavour and texture, to retain the bubbles or to concentrate the bouquet of aroma, much like a wine glass. This requires some knowledge but unlike wine nobody is trying to add ceremony or pretence.

There is beer across Europe but I’d venture that only Belgium offers the massive diversity. In France today a brasserie – the word for brewery – is in reality a café that offers beer from an aluminium keg, the days of local brewing are long gone. Yes there are microbreweries popping up like mushrooms yet I’d venture that in one afternoon in Belgium you could sample more variety than a day spent driving around France or Italy, these countries are more excited by their wines after all.

But is this linked to cycling? Well there is the recovery drink aspect above but to know Belgian bier or bière is to know Belgium a little bit better. And if you cannot ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen the next best thing is to be in Flanders on a Sunday in April, to watch the race with the locals and whilst sampling the local food and beer.

Roman Kreuziger beer
Kreuziger enjoys a beer during the Tour

In addition, Roman Kreuziger is from Plzeň, also known as Pilsen in the Czech republic. The town is the birthplace of the Pilsener beer and the photo above was taken by him during the Tour de France.

This is part of a series on European foods with links to cycling or simply for fuel:
Part I: Nutella
Part II: Pâte de fruits
Part III: Stroopwafels
Part IV: Coffee
Part V: Frites
Part VI: Pasta
Part VII: French Bakeries
Part VIII: Water
Part IX: Sirop
Part X: Pharmaceuticals
Part XI: Summary
Part XII: Esta Thé
Part XIII: Grated carrots
Part XIV: Speculoos
Part XV: Belgian beer
Part XVI: Oman Coffee
Part XVI: Italian Ice-cream

18 thoughts on “Eurofoods: Belgian beer”

  1. Pingback: inrng : nutella
  2. “Just 100 grams of hops (about 3.5 ounces) contains anywhere from thirty thousand to three hundred thousand IUs of estrogen, depending on the type of hops. Most of it is the very potent estrogen estradiol. Estradiol, as it is taken into the male body, causes a direct lowering of testosterone levels in the testes and an increase in SHBG levels, which then binds up even more free testosterone in the bloodstream.”

    Maybe you should think twice before ingesting estrogen, eh?

  3. Recovery drink, pah! I am still not recovered from quaffing to much “recovery drink” on xmas day, went for 4hr ride on Boxing day and crawled around 3mph slower than usual!

  4. “Just 100 grams of hops (about 3.5 ounces) contains anywhere from thirty thousand to three hundred thousand IUs of estrogen, depending on the type of hops. Most of it is the very potent estrogen estradiol. Estradiol, as it is taken into the male body, causes a direct lowering of testosterone levels in the testes and an increase in SHBG levels, which then binds up even more free testosterone in the bloodstream.”

    AHA ! That explains a lot, so in future it’s the red wine for me.

  5. Seems all those beer drinkers should be extinct by now, eh? Reminds me of the impotence claims about cycling awhile back. To me there’s nothing like a cold beer after a ride on a hot day, though I usually try to throw down a good quantity of water before hitting the suds. While the Romans got things going up there, beer here in Italy is no big deal for the most part, unless you get up into the northeast where the German/Austrian influence is stronger. I’m looking forward to when we can see the Ronde live and enjoy some of the good quality local brew along with the frites, etc.

  6. One of the best meals I’ve had in the last 10 years was a bottle of Belgian beer and a bowl of Carbonnades Flamandes (with chips of course!) I ate in the town square of Ypres during a cycling tour of the Western Front a couple of years ago. It really was outstanding!

  7. Agree with Bikecellar!!! My folks were visiting from UK for the weekend, and he wanted to ‘sample’ some Belgian beers! Felt it would be rude if he had to quaff them alone, so I joined in! Spent the last two days recovering from three days of recovery drink!!! Still, Belgian beer is good! More for savouring though than for getting tanked!

  8. In Belgium they mix beer with coke and have it back right after the race. Now, if knock back more than a couple of triples or doubles and you are not used to drinking real beer, you are going to feel like shite the next day on the bike and that includes the Irish ‘Euro’.

  9. Somehow I get the feeling that Inrng lives in or near Belgium (or lived there for a long time). The tone of the article hints at great fondness.
    My third and fifth best/worst hangovers occurred in Belgium (I becomes a blur after the sixth), I’m not very proud of them but they were kinda good at the time. I was fortunate to meet some great (and Great) Belgian cyclist, fans and race officials during both of them.
    Although I, enjoy beer from Belgium I usually drink the German stuff, true to the no longer true ideals of the Reinheitsgebot, I just don’t get the same downside from the “purer” German beers – well that’s how it feels anyway (besides, my German in-laws would kill me if I preferred anything else).
    “Recovery” beers usually make me feel infinitely worse.

    Unless you have actually been to a big race in Belgium (if you discount the Dutch on Alpe D’huez) most people have no idea how much harmless fun can be had by an enormous crowd of tiddly cycling fans, just with the application of a little lubrication.

  10. I lived in Rotterdam for six months and enjoyed many a Dutch beer but I can say with hand on heart that Duvel is my all time favourite beer.

    If I lived in Belgium I wouldn’t ride cos I’d be in a permanent state of “recovery.”

  11. First of all, although hops have estrogen-like compounds, the actual effect of these is unclear:

    Second, even if true, the amount of estrogen would be severely diluted by the brewing process. This is also may explain why I prefer Lambics and avoid IPAs.

    Thirdly: ” Beer Revealed as Historic Female Plot….

    Yesterday scientists suggested that, considering the results of a
    recent analysis that revealed the presence of female hormones in beer,
    men should take a concerned look at their beer consumption. The theory
    is that beer contains female hormones (hops contain phytoeostrogens) and
    drinking it makes men turn into women.

    To test the theory, 50 men were fed 6 pints of beer each within a one
    hour period. It was then observed that 100% of the men: talked
    excessively without making sense; became overly emotional; couldn’t
    drive; failed to think rationally; argued over nothing; had to sit down
    while urinating; and refused to apologize when obviously wrong.

    No further testing was considered necessary.”

  12. Belgian Beers are great yes, but I ve only ever been offered a Sports Beer in Germany!

    from the site:-

    Isotonic – calorie reducing
    Physical and mental activity and wheat beer are not mutually exclusive.

    On the contrary Hütt Hefeweizen alcohol instead of alcohol-free offers a lot of energy. This is due to the isotonic effect: The body absorbs the minerals and ingredients from the beer quickly – at 100% wheat beer flavor.

    The ideal companion for sports and energy source and as a reward – not only by exercise.

    I can confirm, it tastes pretty decent!

Comments are closed.