Alright, I may as well start my ranting: Belgium is a fantastic place for beer. Beer tourists come in the thousands every year to discover the darkest corners of this country. After touring Belgium for a few days and visiting many watering holes that they find in Mr Webb’s book, they leave with this image of a deep rooted beer culture in Belgium, where every local is proud of their small local brewery and serves wonderfully inventive beers with each meal. Celebrations with these beery folk must be something really special!
Well, no. Beer has an very bad reputation with Belgians. They will tell you that Belgium produces the best beer in the world and has many breweries… as they sip on their Juplier, Maes, or Stella. And forget about serving beer with food, “don’t ruin the meal by serving beer! Are you crazy?” Instead a cheap bottle of wine comes out. To most people here, beer is nothing more than a “pintje,” a mass produced lager that is best suited to be served cold, and drunk quickly for fear that you may actually taste it. All those other beers that have color and aroma… those are what their forefathers had to put up with, but now they can afford to import wine, so who needs beer!
Have no fear, the many beer organizations and festivals will come to the rescue! There have been quite a few events in the recent past that have been praised for their helping hand when it comes to getting Belgium’s lesser known breweries into the public eye. Events like the “Internationale Streekbierenfestival” . According to their website they are a small group of beer lovers who wanted to start up an event to promote smaller breweries (both national and international). Huzzah! Lets celebrate! Break open the bottles of bee…. bubbly? Looking through all the press photos and reports on their own site and other blogs it is hard to find a beer. Lots of wine and champagne though. I mean afterall.. they are celebrating the award of the Golden Glass at the Regional Beer Festival so naturally bubbly is in order! The categories for the awards at this event are classic (excuse the literal translations): Best Thirst-quencher, Best Sweet Holder, Best Cautious Sipping Beer, and Best Pronounced Sipping Beer. Huh? The winners were beers like Cuvee de Trolls and Timmermans Kriek. Hmmm, I can go to any supermarket in Belgium and pick those up, and the Timmermans is one of the poorest examples of a lambic possible. And where is the “International” part by the way? I guess, breweries that are owned by bigger international giants?
Lets look at what else is going on. Ah, here we go. A government sponsored group “Tafelen in Vlaanderen” has their Vlaanderen Lekker Land campaign. The theme for 2009 is “Leven in de Brouwerij” (life in the brewery). They kicked off their campaign recently with a press event. In attendance was a handful of government ministers, brewers, cooks and others. Lets see what was served. Timmermans again!?, this time Timmermans Strawberry. ..And Mystic? They also served Tongerlo, Kaizer Karel and Duvel (Mystic, Tongerlo and Kaizer Karel are all from Haacht who brings us wonderful treats like the grocery store brand 365 pils for Delhaize supermarkets, and who also likes to market many of their beers under 3 or 4 different names). This is what happens when people are actually trying to make a point about how good Belgiums small breweries are? Does this actually help or hurt small breweries?
Now, there are holes in my arguments, but this is a rant.. just let me get it out. Belgium produces a hell of a lot of quality beers, but if it wasn’t for export there would be fewer breweries left here. Belgians are more concerned about being chic and refined than actually embracing something traditionally Belgian… something that has been brewed down the street by skilled and passionate artisans. Artisans who will be going bankrupt soon. Beer has a real strong history here, and it is sad to see it poured into the gutter in favor of boxed wine and Cava. I know there are a lot of passionate beery folk around the country, but we are completely outnumbered, unheard, and laughed at for our silly remarks. I enjoy good wine too and can really appreciate a fine margaux, but come on people, give your real beer a chance!
Please support your small local brewery.