The Belgians have been brewing beers since the Middle Ages. Modern produce is recognised for quality, and many are exported worldwide.
The country produces more than 450 different varieties of beer and has approximately 125 breweries. Including the "one-off" beers, the total number of beers produced exceeds 1,000. Many are associated with a glass, its shape designed specifically for the beer variety.
Perhaps the most famous of all the Belgian beers is Lambic beer, which for many years was produced in the Senne Valley. This is made using an ancient style of brewing, which relies on spontaneous fermentation to produce a very dry and naturally gassy beer that improves with years in the bottle. EU regulations mean that it can only be produced in a small area of the country. Gueuze is a famous Lambic beer, produced by mixing a young Lambic beer with more mature vintages.
Trappist beers are ales brewed in a Trappist Monastery. The production process for this beer must be carried out, or supervised on site, by a Trappist monk to qualify for this category. At the moment, there are only six monasteries in Belgium that meet this requirement. Brands include Chimay, Orval and Achel.
The other main types of beer produced and drunk in Belgium are:
The main Belgian tourist site has many links to breweries open to the public, plus details of the national beer festival.
This is an annual event organised by the Belgian Brewers' Association and the city of Brussels. It usually takes place in early September in Brussels. Small and large breweries are well-represented and samples can be tasted.
Belgium only recently began developing its domestic wine industry. The vineyards that had been established by the Romans in Genoels-Elderen were ruined by the change in climate in the fifteenth century. Colder weather prevented the successful growth of vines at this time, and the country favoured beer production over wine production. However, recent global rises in temperature mean that once again vines (including the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir traditionally associated with Burgundy) are thriving, and there are now a number of vineyards.
Some wines even have AOC status (Appellation d'Origin Controlée), and the best vineyards are in the Hagueland, Haspengouw and Sambre-et-Meuse regions.
Many of the vineyards in Belgium are situated between the towns of Diest and Leuven. Overijse is known for it's grapes - Chasselas and white and sweet Muscat - which are grown in heated greenhouses. Some vineyards are open to the public (including Genoels-Elderen near the Dutch border at Reimst). Harvesting tends to happen later than elsewhere in Europe to give the grapes maximum exposure to the sun.
Belgian wines are mainly sold to vineyard visitors or distributed in local shops and restaurants. Wine production levels are still modest, and there are only around 20 wine producers in Belgium.
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