DDuring October we celebrated Belgian beer across our campaign activity: the styles, flavours, breweries and brands. Belgium is one of the most revered brewing nations in the world and we were lucky enough to have a chat with Jef Versele, Master Brewer at the Van Steenberge Brewery, and the brain behind some of Belgium’s finest and most loved beers.

So Jef, what makes Belgian beer so special?

“What makes Belgian beer special is that throughout history Belgium has been under many influences from its neighbours – French, German and British – all of which have had an influence on beer brewing. Belgians were taking the best from all worlds and became a melting pot of European beer culture, creating the richest and most diverse range of beer styles.

Do you think Belgians love beer more than Brits?

“I think it is a different kind of love. In the UK, you have a big wine-drinking culture, especially when you go out for dinner. In Belgium, beer is more sophisticated in its taste, so people often drink it with their meal. Our beer is often available in bigger bottles too, so they can be shared at the table just like wine.

Why are Belgian beers often much stronger than lagers?

“Most Belgian beers use live yeast; this is where we add wild yeast to the bottles just before sealing them. This causes the beer to come to life and age over time, just like wine. So if you open a beer like St. Stefanus today, it will taste very different to how the same batch would taste a year from now. If you are used to drinking lagers, I think the young St. Stefanus would be a great gateway beer for you. It is not too strong at 7% ABV and has light hints of apricot and other delicate fruits.”

What about fans of bitters or IPAs?

“For true bitter fans I would go with Piraat Triple Hop. Four different hops are added three times in the brewing process – hence the name – making a full-bodied and fruity brew that bitter fans will love.”

“As for the IPA, it is important to remember that Belgian breweries have been making IPAs for many years. But one of my favourites is Houblon Chouffe from Brasserie d’Achouffe. It also uses three kinds of hops to create a delicious citrusy bitterness that balances well with a sweet honey finish.”

How about darker beers like stouts and porters?

“Here, it has to be Gulden Draak. The amazing smoothness that comes from the caramel malt will be familiar for Guinness drinkers. It is a much stronger brew at 10.5%, but more strength means more flavour.

Speaking of food, is there any dish in particularly that you would recommend pairing with one of your own beers – St. Stefanus, for example?

“Ah, well it would have to be moules-frites. It doesn’t get more Belgian than mussels and beer, and the light flavours of St. Stefanus perfectly complement the fish and creamy sauce.”

So there you have it. Next time you find yourself at the bar in your local or browsing the beer ale, trade in the lager and stout for a Belgian tipple. We promise you won’t regret it.

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