BEER 'O' CLOCK IN BELGIUMOctober 13, 2016
If there's one thing that Belgium is known for doing best, it's beer. The city of Leuven has gained notoriety for being the brewing capital of Belgium, so it was safe to say that we had come to the right place for a world-class pint. With several hours set aside, a selection of Belgian beers and some connoisseurs in tow to talk us through them, it was time to bring on the beer!
The beer tasting session was hosted by beer doyen Freddy Delvaux (above, right), also known as the "best nose in Belgium", who single handedly accounts for about 70% of the Belgian beer industry's expertise. He's previously been enlisted by some of the top Belgian beer brands to offer up his extensive brewing knowledge. Also hosting the session was Master Brewer, Joris Brams (above, left), to impart some of his extensive brewing knowledge. It was safe to say that we were in pretty good hands for our booze-filled evening ahead.
Heverlee Premium Belgian Beer ( 4.8%)
First up was the star of the show, the beer that we had traversed Europe to sample, Heverlee Beer. This "Belgian born and brewed" Pils style beer is incredibly drinkable: it's light, palatable and has a perfectly balanced taste. Heverlee beer has a subtle sweetness to it (in my opinion it had a hint of banana) wrought by a malt and maize mash that is used during the brewing process, which has a distinctly bitter aroma of Saaz - the world’s most expensive hop. It's crafted using traditional, archaic techniques - Heverlee beer has a fascinating backstory, which I will be getting onto later in the article. Spoiler alert - it was my favourite beer of the lot!
Super Kroon Pale Ale (6.8% alcohol content)
Next up we tried some beers from Brewery De Kroon, which is located near Brussels. Super Kroon beer is based on a historical recipe and is amber is colour. It has subtle hints of a caramel flavour to it, along with a lower bitterness level, thanks to an extended ageing process.
Delvaux Special Blonde (8.5% alcohol content)
Next up it was a beer that is between the descriptions of a Belgian strong blonde and a Belgian trippel beer - so I guess that means that you get the best of both worlds. Interestingly, this beer has characteristics of wine - it has been brewed in a way that gives it notes of Chardonnay and Sauvignon. It's fruity and floral and overall a jolly nice tipple.
Duvel (8.5%' alcohol content)
Next up it was the aptly named Devou beer, notorious for its high alcohol content, which is said to bring out the devil in people. It contains pretty much double the alcohol percentage of most of the popular beers that we enjoy in the UK - let's just say you won't be guzzling many of these before you're well and truly inebriated.
Finally, we rounded up the beer tasting session with Orval. This Belgian Trappist beer has cultivated world fame for its subtly sweet and citrusy flavour; it's bespoke brewing process creates an array of umami notes. It's a truly unique beer.
Next it was time to sober up a bit and and head down to Heverlee Abbey (also known as Order of Premontre), the spiritual home of Heverlee beer, to learn more about the story behind it. It's famed for being Belgium's largest abbey and dates back to the 11th century - no doubt it's an incredible feat of architecture to behold.
How Heverlee beer came into existence is a fascinating tale, centred around the abbey. Historically, beer was brewed at the abbey by the monks that resided there, however when the beer production dried up, the brewery at the abbey was demolished and the beer was forgotten about. Luckily Master Brewer Joris Brams, who is from Leuven and was born just a stone's throw from the abbey, took it on himself to breathe new life into the beer. He based Heverlee beer's brewing process on the arctic descriptions of ancient beer production that the monks had once pioneered, taken from brewing notes found in the Monk's library. Fast forward to today and Heverlee Abbey is currently undergoing a multi-million pound restoration process to bring it back to its former glory and Heverlee beer is fast becoming one of the best pints to be had in Belgium and beyond.
The abbey's ornate 17th century stained glass windows were scattered across the globe over the centuries but as part of its restoration process they have have been brought back to their true home where they belong.
There's even a fully functioning traditional mill on site where some of the locally grown grains are milled.
So there we have it, Heverlee is a delicious beer with a fascinating backstory. I will most certainly be ordering my first pint of Heverlee beer as soon as it arrives at my local - in fact I can't wait for that!