Hop to it: beer festival season is here

Summary

Every week, Flanders Today surveys the world of local cuisine to fill you in on the best recipes, food events and special places to eat. This week: Holiday beer festivals

On Flemish food and drink

As spring approaches, thoughts turn to beer, and the beginning of the procession of beer festivals that will continue until the autumn. (In fact Bruges kicks everything off in February, but there’s always a long gap before the season really gets going, for weather reasons.)

The Easter holidays have a good selection on offer in Flanders. We’ve chosen a few to get you into training for the biggest of them all, the Zythos Beer Festival in Leuven at the end of April. No less than three of these events happen on Saturday, 26 March; our apologies for forcing you to choose.

Highly specialised is From Abbey beer to Westvleteren, a Trappist evening organised by beer expert Harry Van Royen in Stekene, East Flanders. Find out all about the rich history of brewing by the monks of the Belgian abbeys in a style that’s become much admired and much imitated worldwide. That includes the Trappist beers, of which there are very few, most of them in Belgium.

The main attraction: the chance to taste the famed Trappist Westvleteren 12, as well as newcomers to the Trappist group Spencer (US) and Tre Fontane (Italy). Not bad for €15.

The Kastels Bierfestival is open until 2.00 and offers 100 beers to discover, so if you’re any good at arithmetic, you may want to look up some B&Bs in the area. It takes place in the Kasterlee parish centre, just south of Turnhout, and is hosted by the Kastelse Beer Association.

Slightly different but still closely related to beer is a gastronomic dinner of seven courses, each of them including hopkeesten – the name given locally to the hop shoots that remain buried under the soil until they’re dug up for harvest. Only one hop grower remains active in this part of the region – in Moorsel, East Flanders – and the tradition looks back to a time when there were many. The dinner costs €65 and includes accompanying beers.

Speaking of hops, Het Anker brewery in Mechelen would like to explain the difference between Belgian hops and the increasingly fashionable American varieties, let you taste some fresh hop shoots (pictured) and answer any questions you may have, such as “What’s the difference between green hopping and fresh hopping?” Of course, illustrative beers will be served. That’s on 24 and 31 March at a cost of €20.

Photo courtesy De Pikkeling/Facebook

Belgian beer

Belgium has a beer-brewing tradition going back centuries and is known around the world for both its beer culture and hundreds of craft brews.
History - Beer culture has been recognised by Unesco as part of Flanders’ Intangible Cultural Heritage. The local beer culture dates to the middle ages, when farmers brewed their own beer from the rich harvests of local grain, later transferring brewing to local guilds and abbeys.
Beer styles - The main styles include lambics, white beers, fruit beers, Trappists and abbey beers. The Trappist beer Westvleteren 12, brewed by a dozen monks in a small West Flanders town, is regularly rated by various sources as the best beer in the world.
Exports - Sixty percent of the Belgian beer production is exported abroad, with France, Germany, the Netherlands and the US the largest markets.
74

Litres of beer annually consumed per person in Belgium

100

breweries in Flanders

19

million hectolitres of beer produced in Belgium in 2012