In Europe, beer seems to be a culture. To understand this, all you have to do is visit a European brewery, English Pub or German beer garden!
Let’s briefly explore two countries that receive a lot of travelers seeking out their beer!
Belgium is known to have many varieties of beer, by most sources, they have the largest selection of varieties in the world. The repertoire of beers found in Belgium include Wits, Dubbels, Tripels and Flanders and range in color from white, brown, red to golden. The best known beers from Belgium are Lambics, Saisons and beers brewed in Monasteries.
Lambics are beers fermented with a special blend of yeast and bacteria or allowed to spontaneously ferment and then aged in oak barrels for years in some cases. These beers tend to be sours and often contain fruit from the region in which they were made. Lambic beers are specific to the Brussels area.
Saisons are another popular beer from Belgium and are also known as farm beers. They have a distinct clove and banana flavor that comes from the type of yeast used. As for the overall character, Saisons also have spices added to the mix which are known to include orange peel and coriander but the exact mix depends on what farm the beer comes from.
The last and most popular are the Dubbels and Trippels which are traditional beers made at Abbeys and Monasteries. Chimay is the most well known of these types of beers which is brewed with candy sugar and a good dose of malt and hops. The result is usually a crystal clear, highly carbonated, balanced golden to amber beer with above normal alcohol (8-11%abv). Travelers need to keep in mind many Trappist ales are not available outside of Belgium, so planning your visit is more important if you want to get a chance at tasting them.
Most people think Pilsner when they think of German Beer. Sure it was a German that started this style, in an area that is now the Czech Republic, but there are many more varieties from all over the country. In Germany, over 5,000 different types of beer are created by 1,250+ breweries which include well known styles such as Bock, Helles and, of course, the Pilsner.
Bock beers are usually dark, very sweet and malty beers while Helles and Pilsner are the lightest offerings differing in only their hop usage. Helles beers are all about the malt but may have some subdued hoppyness to them. Pils are balanced more to the middle of malty and hoppy but sometimes move over to the hoppy side. Both are very light straw colored and brilliantly clear.
There are several other styles that are less known, but equally delicious!
Kolsch is ale from the Cologne region and comes from a time before lagers. It is fermented warm and aged cold like a lager resulting in a malty, slightly hoppy and fruity Pilsner like beer.
Another similar style, the Altbier from Dusseldorf, is like the Kolsch in that it is fermented warm and aged cold, but it is darker and maltier than the former. Altbier is usually copper in color, with some fruity notes that are given by the yeast used. Did you know there are more than 200 pubs in a one square mile section of Dusseldorf’s Old Town?
The last and probably most unique beer is the Rauchbier found in Bamberg Germany. This beer is a lager, fermented cold and aged cold, but what sets it apart is the use of malts that are dried in the traditional way over a fire. This imparts a smoke character to the grain that is carried over into the beer. Keeping the flavors in balance is the trick but they have it down in Bamberg a medieval town known for its 9 breweries!
Basing an itinerary around beer will take you through beautiful countrysides serving up castles, local history and great regional cuisine all while sampling some of these great local brews!