Belgian beer was made a long time before Belgium became an independent country. It all started even before the first crusade.
Beer was favoured over drinking water. All drinking water was very polluted and unsafe but beer was safe for everyone! During this time beer was not what we recognise beer as today. It was low in alcohol content and mainly based on oats and barley.
Around 800, larger and professional breweries were created to brew beer for noblemen and their courts. Up until this point brewing had been done largely by women. Men soon realised that brewing was financially viable and stopped women from brewing for fear of being labelled a “beer witch”.
In the South of Europe locals drank wine, but in Belgium the climate was not hot enough for successful crops, so they turned to beer brewing instead.
Where did the monks come in? Abbeys owned lots of land and could readily provide the ingredients needed to brew the beer. The monks quickly became beer experts. Over half the Abbeys consumed 90% of the beer themselves and to generate revenue.
Outside of the Abbeys beer was often used to pay salaries. This tradition was known to continue until after the Second World War.
Bruges became known as the city of beer with an increase in breweries from just 50 to 425 in 1622. The law changed and each person in the city could brew at home for their own consumption, leading to the dramatic increase.
Over the next several centuries traditional brewing methods slowly evolved into what they are now. There is no law in Belgium that tells a Belgian how to brew their beer, which explains the great variety that we enjoy today.
In recent years we have also seen more breweries merge with microbreweries and export their beers all over the World. Popularity has also increased following the limited supply being produced by some of the monasteries.
Passion and innovation makes Belgium the home of exceptional beer. Every year it is the Belgian brewers that regularly win awards at international beer competitions and long may it continue!