Question: is it true that Belgium is THE country for beer? Yes. As a former inhabitant and traveller, I can honestly say there is no other country with the variety and passion that we boast, out there.
Belgium has over 1000 kinds of beers, produced by about 200 breweries. And we only have about 11 million inhabitants! So yes, we love our beers.
However, with such a variety of craft beers, you tend to get different segments: top, nice, decent and just bad.
So here is a list of MY favourite Belgian beers, after 18 years of extensive testing. And most of these won’t surprise you, the most famous ones are just rightfully the famous because they are amazing.
This list will not go in-depth about the complexities of the flavours. It is just how I experience them and why you have to try them. If you are disappointed in my choices, feel free to let me know in the comments.
If you like this article, please feel free to share it. It helps me stay motivated to put the work in.
Santé, schol, proost, geniet er van! (We speak a lot of languages, badly)
1. Duvel – My Best Friend Forever
Official Website: https://www.duvel.com/
It is magical. The malt, yeast, hops and somehow very subtly fruity flavours are unique. This is not one for the faint of heart with al ABV of 8.5 and its tummy-filling richness.
The glass has a unique feature as well: the round shape has a small carving in the centre, which reacts with the gasses in the beer to create a central column of the finest bubbles. It is mesmerizing to just watch that stream of bubbles flow upwards towards the rich foam on top. You can find these glasses on Amazon, or ask a local speciality shop about them if you’re living outside the EU.
A duvel has its own ritual. You can’t just pour it into a glass and get going. You need to treat it with the love and respect that it deserves. Follow the pouring ritual in the video below for the best result. (not following it will probably lead to an extreme explosion of foam)
But Yannick, why is it your number 1?
Thanks for asking. It is, has been and always will be the my go-to for every bar visit. It’s even my favourite aperitif at a restaurant, even though that is often not understood by waiters. It brings me happiness in the flavour, the ritual and the sensation. It has enough alcohol in it to keep me going without ever having to go too far. It’s balanced, as all things should be. It is what I will always miss about not being in Belgium. (except friends and family of course)
2. Westmalle Tripel – Strong Yet Tranquil
Official website: https://www.trappistwestmalle.be/nl/de-tripel-van-westmalle
One of the trappists, the rarest type of clergy-brewed beers in the world and therefore very special. It is more full-bodied than Duvel and most other beers but also boasts an ABV of 9.5. However, due to the incredible craftsmanship of the monks at Westmalle, that high alcohol level is never disturbing the taste.
Want a glass? You really need the correct one. Check it out on Amazon.
It still drinks like a velvety, hoppy, herbaceous golden liquid with a lovely hint of citrus in there. In my opinion, it should be paired with the local Westmalle cheese and drank slowly to fully enjoy every sip. It also pairs amazingly with a hearty stew!
I remember this beer fondly from my birthday dinners with the parents. My dad used to book a restaurant in Brussels and every time before going there we would visit a local bar and order 3 Westmalle Tripels. The perfect start for any evening. Just don’t drink too many, this one really slides in easy but will drop you faster than you will realize.
3. Chimay Blue – Oh So Dark, You Beauty
Official website: https://chimay.com/en/bieres/bleue/
Sunday evening… Crackling from the wood in the fireplace. You lean back in the sofa, your favourite show is on tv and a beautiful glass of Chimay Blue is in your hand. You take a sip…
The complex aroma explodes in your mouth. You can taste the hops and some caramel. Suddenly you get a hint of fruitiness mixed with dark chocolate and good old malts. The 9 per cent alcohol level is there, you feel it, but it blends in well and you long for another sip. But not too many, because it makes you numb fast.
The Chimay Blue (Blauw in Dutch) is my comfortbeer, if such a thing exists. Had a rough day? Kick back and let the beer take your tastebuds on an epic journey to Walhalla or wherever you want to go. Complex, strong yet not overwhelming. Its taste will linger in your mouth for a while, revealing even more complexity. Pure bliss.
Buy this and let it steep in your basement for about one year to bring out its full potential. You can thank me later.
4. Delirium Tremens – Not As Crazy As It Sounds
Official website: https://www.delirium.be/nl/world-of-delirium
Objectively this one would probably never be this high on a top 10 of Belgian Beers. But it is one of my favourites because it’s special. The taste is so hard to describe, really, I can only advise you to try it.
It is sweeter than Duvel, has more bitterness than a Westmalle but still has some hints of lime in there. Subtly hints of fruits complete something truly interesting.
Don’t let the name fool you, it doesn’t have an extreme amount of alcohol, but its still hefty 8.5 should not be taken lightly.
When you open the bottle, don’t immediately smell it. The beer is quite carbonated and the first thing that will come out is a strong waft of alcohol. Let it stand for a minute, pour it and then allow it to play your senses.
Certainly a beer that deserves a lot more attention, even if it has won several international prices. A smaller brewery that cannot fight the giants in the industry.
5. Westvleteren 12 – Best Beer of The World, Can’t Buy It
Official website: https://www.trappistwestvleteren.be/
I will be honest here. I had no idea what Westvleteren Trappist was until it became the best beer in the world. In fact, only the true Trappist aficionados would have known it.
The monastery is small and even if they have this incredible product, wants to remain that way. In order to get 1 crate (and only one!) you need to drive to the monastery and have ordered it in advance. One crate per license plate.
Officially only bars across of churches, with the religious background still there, are allowed to sell it. Some bars do manage to get their hand on some bottles, but those often are gone before you get the chance to drink one.
If you’re looking for this incredibly beer outside of Belgium, you’re probably out of luck or are going to pay quite a lot. This is Belgium’s most exclusive beer. But is it worth it?
Well… yes! It’s probably the most complex aroma out there and I’ve talked about some complex beers here already. It manages to strike an amazing balance between the malt, yeast, alcohol, burnt caramel, fruits, … other things I don’t even know how to describe.
Note: for me personally this ties with the Rochefort 10, which is cheaper and actually obtainable.
6. Tripel Karmeliet – Sweet Sweet Karmeliet
Official website: http://bestbelgianspecialbeers.be/nl/tripel
I say “sweet”, let me clarify that. It is sweeter than any other beer on this list. I don’t like the really sweet beers like Kriek or Rodenbach, but I do love some variety in my stronger beers.
The Tripel Karmeliet is a leisurely beer in my opinion. It has a smooth but still complex aroma and that little extra sweetness just makes it perfect on a hot summer day. We don’t actually have those in Belgium, but I live in Greece now, so I would really go for a Karmeliet any day here.
It still has everything you would expect from a tripel: yeast, hop, malt and quite a bit of alcohol. But again, even if these explanations sound similar, the difference is quite clear in the sweeter taste. Try having a Delirium first and a Karmeliet after and you will absolutely understand what I’m trying to tell.
7. Brigand – Don’t Let That Arrow Hit You!
Official website: https://www.vanhonsebrouck.be/bieren/brigand-2/
Another fine Belgian beer that is often forgotten. It leans close to Delirium and Duvel but has more bitterness and spices.
Look at it like this: Duvel is the balance and is unique, Delirium mixed bitterness and lime, Karmeliet mixed Sweet, spices and lime and Brigand mixes bitterness and spice.
Sounds confusing? It is, without actually tasting it.
Just think of Brigand as the stronger brother in a large family. He has to be tough so he is more bitter and spiced up, he also has 9% ABV, so he’s on top of things. But he respects his family and he incorporates their nuances, just more inconspicuously.
He’s a rebel, but a damn tasty one at that. Also I think this is one of my mothers’ favourites, I’ll ask her next time I’m in Belgium.