Belgium is most renown among American beer enthusiasts for flavorful, complex ale styles that have a rich history going back thousands of years. The Trappist and Abbey-style ales of Belgium, along with Belgian-inspired ales from breweries in other Old World countries such as France and Italy, and New World countries including the United States and Canada, offer delicious complexity ranging from mild to strong in alcohol, with a character profile from light and fruity, to dark and malty, to tart, sour and “barnyard.” Perhaps most interesting, in Belgium—and most of Europe—today, many locals most often reach for a more simple pale lager as their daily beer of choice. No matter, the wealth of Old World Belgian brewing tradition and Belgian-inspired brews from the New World is worth close exploration.
The breadth of beer styles that originated in Belgium may at first seem as intriguingly complex as the aromas and flavors of the beers themselves. Let this serve as an invitation, and not an intimidation, as there is no more effective and fun way to become familiar with these time-honored styles than to taste them all!
We’ve listed these most popular Belgian-style beers light to dark (then by alcohol strength), followed by Saisons, Sours, Lambics and others. But grab some beer glassware (we’ll recommend which) and line up your bottles any way you’d like—light to dark, mild to strong or sweet to sour—and take a trip to the Brussels and Flanders regions of Belgium for a true beer adventure.
Most light- and dark- colored Belgian ales, including Saisons, deserve a wide-mouth vessel that allows a large surface area of beer and a sizeable head to form, so the beer’s aromatics can escape. The typically complex aromas of Belgian ales are an important aspect of experiencing these beers. Many Belgian breweries have their own branded glass with a signature shape that is typically either a chalice-type or stemmed tulip that curves outward at the top rim. Large, wide-rimmed wine glasses are also terrific. For Flanders Red and Oud Bruin Ale, Unblended Lambic, Gueuze and Faro, a snifter is more appropriate, as they’re poured in smaller quantities due to their strength. Well-carbonated Fruit Lambics and Bière de Champagne work well in a traditional Champagne-style flute. Finally, Belgian Pilsners provide versatility in glass choices; however, Brussels-style Pilsner glasses (curved-sided V shape) and traditional stemmed or non-stemmed Pilsner glasses (straight-sided V shape) are ideal.
Similar to Wheat beer styles, the delicate fruity and spicy aromas of yeast esters and phenols are integral to the full experience of most Belgian ales, so pour to allow a generous head to form and for the beer to open up—especially bottle-conditioned beers which are alive with active yeast in the bottle. In most cases, leave residual yeast at the bottom of the bottle, although it’s harmless if some or all of it pours out. It may change the appearance of the beer by making it more hazy or cloudy and/or darkening the hue a bit.
Try our Belgians