This small nation produces so many types of beer that you practically need a brewski Baedeker just to survive a trip to the local brasserie. And since Belgium is a bilingual country, most of the styles also have both French and Flemish names, adding to the joyous confusion.
On the safe end of the spectrum are the very accessible but not terribly exciting Belgian lagers. These quaffers, especially the ubiquitous Stella Artois, are familiar names on cafe umbrellas from Paris to Poughkeepsie. On the other end of the scale fall Belgium's unique specialty brews. The rare lambics, for example, are made from unmalted wheat fermented with wild yeasts found only around the village of Lambeek. They have a tart, sour flavor that's definitely an acquired taste. Sometimes lambics are blended to make gueuze, which undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, just like champagne.
Yet another Belgian style, called saison, has a high alcohol content and is highly hopped, a process that was once designed to preserve it over the warm summer season. But with all the styles to chose from, my own personal favorite remain the delicious Belgian abbey ales. These are luscious, top-fermented beers that preserve the monastic brewing tradition in all its divine glory.
CHIMAY GRANDE RESERVE ALE
Chimay, the most revered of all Belgian beers, is made at
the Abbey of Notre Dame de Scourmont, near the town of Chimay. While some abbey ales retain monastic names but are brewed commercially, Chimay is still made by Trappist monks. The rules of the Trappist order state that the monks must work, and that the work must benefit the poor. Chimay isn't cheap, but you can rest assured that the proceeds go to a good cause. In addition to their brewing, the Trappists at Chimay make several cheeses, available at better cheesemongers.