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  • Writer's pictureCalgary Brewery Tour Guy

What is Belgian Beer and can you find it on a Calgary Brewery Tour by YYCTOURS

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

We recently stopped in at Two Pillars Brewing in Calgary who are making small batch Belgian styles beers and figured we would share a little about the style itself. You can read our review of Two Pillars here.

A flight of beer at two Pillars brewing in Calgary

Belgian beers have a very long and storied history riddled with conflict, revolution and war, each playing a part in advancing the craft to where it is today. Origins of brewing in the area can be dated back to the Roman era or 4th century A.D. Since that time, the styles of beer have evolved into gold standards in the industry and are well respected for their quality, alcohol content and range from Trappist Ales to sours.

During the early middle ages, beer was the most widely consumed drink in Europe. As most of the water was full of bacteria, beer was consumed by all, including children and pregnant women. It was brewed by families and often included anything that could be found around the farm. This would often lead to spoiled and unsanitary beer.

Around the 5th century, the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance began brewing their own beer and found a way to do so without making everyone sick. They believed that they represented God and had to make sure they made the best possible product. In the 6th century, the Rule of Saint-Benoit, a book of precepts that monks must abide by, stated that abbeys have the duty to offer food and lodging to travelers. From here, monks began making money to fund their monasteries. It is believed that the monks brewed in three batches, one that they would drink themselves, which was higher in alcohol, one that they would donate to the poor, and one they would sell to travelers. This is the beginning of what we now know as Trappist Ales.

A pint of Belgian Blond Ale at Two Pillars Brewing in Calgary by YYCTOURS

Trappist Ales are beers that are brewed in a Monastery. During their peak, there were more than 600 Trappist breweries, today in Belgium there are 5, Westmalle, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort and Westvleteren.

Beginning in the 1400’s beer left the walls of the monastery and was being made by breweries all over the area. This competition led to advances in quality, the invention of sour beers, and to the formation of brewers guilds.

Beginning the 1700’s Belgium was ravaged by multiple conflicts, including the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. This found many monasteries being looted, ransacked and burned, forcing them to close or to be abandoned altogether and brewing guilds were banned. Prior to the First World War, it is estimated that there were around 3000 breweries in the region but that number dropped to around 2000. Then after the second world war, it is believed to have dropped down to less than 800.

The First World War also introduced English Ales to Belgium and it is believed that a brewer at the time traveled to the UK (where he was forced out for snooping around) then to Scotland to obtain yeast so that he could emulate English style beer. In 1918, he released a dark Belgian beer influenced by English brewing named Victory Ale. This began another step in Belgium’s beer history.

In 1952, after seeing so much destruction over the years, another huge step was taken. Father-Abbot Nys made a deal with Albert Lootvoet allowing Lootvoet to brew the monks beer outside of the monestary, and this is what we now know as Abbey Ales. This also began a tradition for many monasteries who sold and licensed their recipes and names to outsiders.

A pint of Belgian Wit beer at Two Pillars brewing Calgary by YYCTOURS

In the 2021 BJCP guidelines, Belgium beers can be found spread across three main categories and then included in a fourth as sours in European Sour Ale. First would be Monastic Ales which were brewed for religious reasons and to this day are still influenced by original and protected recipes. Often these ales are higher in alcohol than most other styles and include Belgian Trippel, Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Single and Belgian Dark Strong. Secondly are Belgian Ales which tend to be the styles of beer that were around prior to the introduction of English Ales and include Witbier, Belgian Pale Ale, Saison and Biere De Garde (beer for keeping). Lastly are the Belgian styles that are young and were influenced by events of the first and second World Wars. These styles include Belgian Blonde and Belgian Golden Strong. Sour beers from Belgium, which are difficult to find today include Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, Gueuze and Lambic.

At YYCTOURS, we believe knowing a beer style history creates an added element when tasting and we are always on the lookout for these unique styles of beer. If you would like to try some Belgian Beer on a Calgary brewery Tour, let us know below.

Hummus toast and a flight of beer at Two Pillars brewing by YYCTOURS

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