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Drinking My Way Through 1,000 Belgian Craft Beers

on 01/11/11 at 2:27 pm


Charles De Gaulle, who moaned about France, “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheeses?” might have had a nervous breakdown running Belgium, which is smaller than Maine and has over 1,000 different beers.

A book on the subject, “All Belgian Beers” by Hilde Deweer is 1,568 pages long and weighs 3.4 pounds.

Try as I would to make a dent in the nation’s favorite beverage while on a trip to Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels last month, I came away only flabbergasted at the variety and styles of the brews there, each with its own signature glass.

There are amber, blonde, brown, champagne, sour, and strong ales, lambic and fruit beers, pale lagers, stout, white-wheat beer, winter varieties, and many more.

For a crash course, I headed to Antwerp’s De Groote Witte Arend (the great white eagle), set in a raftered, brick building, built in 1488 as a convent. Since 1976 it has been a beer hall/restaurant with a menu of 280 brews and hearty dishes like beef stew, mussels in a curry sauce, and eel baked in cream. I sampled beers that ranged from a mere 4.6 percent alcohol up to a whopping 9.2 percent.

What I found overall was the enormous difference between Belgian beers and most American brews, which are overwhelmingly bland lagers. At De Groote Witte Arend, I drank a Buffalo Bitter ale on draft, named after Buffalo Bill, whose circus once played in town and distracted a young beermaker enough to have him neglect stirring the beer, resulting in a very bitter brew, which this definitely is, with 9 percent alcohol.

FULL STORY via John Mariani/SF Chronicle

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