Types of Belgian beers

How to find your way

Many types of Belgian beers exists such as Trappist, Abbey Beers, Witbier, Lambic, Geuze, and fruited beers and more. In this post an exhaustive introduction to the different beers. A short ABC!

When trying different Belgian beers, don’t forget to use the right glass, every beer has its own glass! Santé!
Below: from several sources. See here one, the original French version: “Le petit guide des grandes bières!”, 8 mars 2019.
And also: Belgian Beer Styles


Trappist is undoubtedly the best known and most famous high fermentation beer in Belgium and is made by five Trappist breweries: Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Orval and Rochefort. Globally there are only 11 recognized Trappist breweries. Achel used to be the sixth Trappist beer of Belgium until it lost its official status in 2021 after the last monks left the abbey. The quality of the beer hasn’t changed though!
To be considered and certified as a Trappist brewery, brewing must occur in or near an active monastery belonging to the Cistercian order (a certain Catholic order of monks and nuns). Brewing must be done by, or under the supervision of, the community of monks, and the revenues have to be used to support the abbey or fund charitable works. Additionally, all recognized Trappist beers carry the ‘Authentic Trappist Product’ logo on the bottle, which means the beer was brewed in a Cistercian abbey.
Other than the unique brewing environment, Trappist beers tend to be high in alcohol % and rich in aromas, and are most commonly found in, “dubbel” or “tripel” varieties. The terms dubbel, trippel, and quadrupel have been used since at least 1956 by the abbey of Westmalle, and although their origin is uncertain, they are often used to designate the strength of the beer, with quadrupel being stronger than trippel, which itself is more potent than dubbel.

From left to right: the ex-Trappist Achel from Belgium, the Belgian Chimay, the Austrian Gregorius, the Dutch La Trappe, and the Belgian Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren.

Abbey Beer

The designation “abbey beers” (Bières d’Abbaye or Abdijbier) was originally applied to any monastic or monastic-style beer. After introducing an official Trappist beer designation by the International Trappist Association in 1997, it meant products similar in style or presentation to monastic beers.  In other words, Abbey beers are similar to Trappist beers, but can be produced by non-Trappist monasteries –  such as Benedictine or other orders, can be made by a commercial brewery in partnership with an extant monastery, or be branded with the name of a defunct abbey by a commercial brewer.
Conditions still apply to be called an “Abbey beer” in Belgium: the brewery has to have a demonstrable, historical connection to the Abbey it takes its name from. Conditions are less strict than for Trappist beers though, so you can say that every Trappist is an Abbey beer, but not every Abbey beer is a Trappist!


‘Witbier’ (wheat or white beer) is a kind of unfermented beer that has gained a lot of popularity worldwide lately. Using a significant proportion of wheat to barley (higher than in most other beers), as well as adding herbs such as coriander and orange zest, give witbiers a pleasant fresh aroma and crisp taste.
The town of Hoegaarden is inseparably connected with witbier, which has been brewed here since human records began. The first written sources that link this sour, cloudy brew to the town of Hoegaarden date from 1318.
As an unfiltered beer, it will also re-ferment in the bottle, and when served in a glass, has a cloudy appearance, due to the heavy concentration of suspended yeast and wheat proteins, which give it a mild and slightly sour taste. With similar alcohol % as a pils, witbier is a refreshing and satisfying drink for any occasion.

Lambic, Geuze, and Fruited Beers

Lambics are another Belgian classic made from spontaneous fermentation. This means that instead of adding yeast to the hops and barley to start the fermentation process, fermentation is started by natural bacteria in the air, which is only possible in certain places. The bacteria responsible for this fermentation are uniquely tied to location, one of the bacteria used in this process is even called Brettanomyces bruxellensis, as it’s typically found and produced in and around Brussels.
Not only due to location, but also the complexity and mystery of the process, Lambic beers are only produced by just a handful of companies. The product’s scarcity is necessitated by a time-consuming method of production that few fully understand and can require several years between kettle and shelf.
The name “lambic” covers a bit more than just a single type of beer. It’s more commonly used to refer to all of the beer styles made from a spontaneously fermented lambic base. This includes not just that simple “lambic,” also known as unblended lambic, but also Gueuze, a blend of a young and mature lambic beer, and fruited lambic variants where the fruit is jammed right into the barrel, kickstarting fermentation that eats up all of the fruit’s sugars leaving a fruity, richly colored beer.
Read “A Brief History of Lambic in Belgium”, one of the many articles talking about this special beer.
And also: Cantillon, Brasserie et Musée Bruxellois de la Gueuze.

Flanders Red / Flanders Brown

Flanders red beer are indigenous to the northern half of Belgium and are available in two varieties: red and brown (AKA oud bruin).
Despite their Belgian origin, Flanders red ales likely inspired the tart blended porters that once dominated the English beer market. Eugene Rodenbach, credited with the style’s inception, brought knowledge of porter blending techniques back to Belgium after a stint studying brewing in England.
Flanders brown ales are similar beers but tend to be a bit maltier. Fruit flavors trend toward plums, figs, and dates more so than red berries, and there tends to be a bit less vinegar-like sourness.

The different families of beers

The Triple: The Triple is a stronger blond beer than its little sisters, the Single and the Double. “Triple” is one of the denominations of abbey beers. It is called Triple because of the three stages of fermentation it goes through: a primary, a secondary and a third directly in the bottle.
Ex: Chimay, Kasteel, Westmalle, Chouffe, Karmeliet

The IPA: IPA (Indian Pale Ale) is a beer from the United Kingdom originally intended for English troops in India in the 18th century. It is a beer with a fairly high alcohol content and lots of hops.
Ex: Tennent’s IPA, Lagunitas IPA, Hitachino Nest Dai Dai IPA, La Chouffe IPA

The Pale Ale: Pale Ale beers are quite different from their IPA cousins. They come from different countries and are made from a malt called “Pale”, they are amber and rather red beers. They are made using ancient roasting techniques from England.
Ex: Delirium Tremens (Belgian Pale Ale), Sierra Nevada PA

The Lager: Lager is a low fermentation beer. It can be blond, amber or brown. It is a beer of German origin dating from the 15th century.
Ex: Hitachino Nest Lager, Tennent’s 1885 Lager, Heineken, Tsingtao

Stout: Stout is a beer with a high content of roasted beans. It has a smoky or even grilled taste (which can be similar to that of coffee) and a very dark color. We find the origins of Stout in Ireland and more widely in the United Kingdom.
Ex: Tennent’s Stout, Guinness

Old China Hands lunch 10th Anniversary

Ten years of great lunches

On 5 May 2023 we celebrated the Old China Hands lunch 10th Anniversary.
Great to see many familiar faces, we even had friends flying over from Xian and Chongqing to join our event. We were 32, with many being away on a trip or meeting.
We look back at ten years of great lunches, not only because of the food but even more because of the community of friends.
Thanks to Claudia from Cheers who brought me a BIG bottle of champagne!

Thanks to Renaat for a great special menu and the birthday cake.
The menu:
Starter: A Combination of white asparagus and smoked salmon
Main dish: Medallions of beef tenderloin with truffle sauce, served with daily vegetables and pan fried potatoes – or – Red Snapper Provençale Style, served with ratatouille and steamed rice
Desert: Happy Birthday Cake

Later I will post a video of the event.

Our famous OCH of the month

Peter came over from Chongqing where he is now a local star. See the article about Peter in China Daily, dated 28 February 2023:  “Love for China highlighted by Belgian pianist”.
I quote:

Peter Ritzen conducts his new symphony, Love for China, on February 22, 2023.
A concert featuring Love for China — composed and conducted by Belgian pianist Peter Ritzen and performed by the Chongqing Symphony Orchestra — was held at Chongqing Guotai Art Center. The concert was conducted by the municipal cultural and tourism commission and co-hosted by the orchestra and Chongqing Opera House.
“The aim of this work is to imagine the impressions of me, a Western artist, in a symphonic work where Western harmony and the ultimate Chinese element go musically hand-in-hand, without mixing them,” Ritzen said.
He has played throughout Europe, Asia and the United States, but he has an especially profound connection with China. So he used some of his former inspirations in China — Chongqing in particular — in his creation.
See the PDF of the article: 230228 PeterRitzen

Here other article in Chinese dated 21 May 2021.

The Belgian ambassador Jan Hoogmartens led a small delegation to enjoy the concert!
Watch here on VIMEO part of his concert!

Promotion of Belgian Beer in China

Our diplomats at work

Promotion of Belgian Beer in China is of course often by the beer companies but the Belgian embassy and its partners actively promote the different brands. As per a near general rule, events at the embassy (or consulates) have Belgian beers for the guests, through sponsorship.
An example: “International Beer Day” by WalloniaAndChina, see the original article in French. Here the translated version.

7 August 2020, was International Beer Day, a special day for Belgium, which is the world’s leading exporter, ahead of Germany and the Netherlands. Belgian beer is known for its many varieties and for its superior quality. In 2016, Belgian beer was listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
The brewing sector makes a major contribution to the Belgian economy. It directly and indirectly employs more than 50,000 people. There are now more than 260 breweries in Belgium, for a total production of more than 20 million hectoliters per year. 30% of Belgian production is intended for own use while 70% is intended for export. Domestic market consumption in 2018 was more than 7 million hectoliters.

Belgium is particularly known for its Trappist beers. A Trappist beer is a beer brewed in a Cistercian abbey, under the supervision of Trappist monks. Beer must be produced with a view to social and charitable solidarity. Of the twelve producing Trappist abbeys in the world, six are in Belgium, and three in Wallonia: Chimay, Rochefort and Orval.
Since 2017, a 290-kilometer hiking trail has linked these three abbeys, to the delight of sports enthusiasts and beer lovers.

The best known Trappist in China is probably Chimay. It is produced at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont, and comes in four versions: amber (red capsule, 7%), triple (white capsule, 8%), brown (blue capsule, 9%) or golden (capsule golden, 4.8%). The abbey was built during the second half of the 19th century and currently has 13 monks aged 45 to 99. Its dean, Father Bernard de Give, died in January 2020 at the age of nearly 107.

In Rochefort, the monks of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy abbey brew three types of beer: “6” (red capsule, 7.5%), “8” (green capsule, 9.2%) and the “10” (blue capsule, 11.3%). The discrepancy between the figure attributed to beer and the percentage of alcohol is explained by the use of an old unit of measurement of alcohol, the “Belgian” degree. The Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy abbey was erected in 1230 and the brewery has been operational since 1889.

The mythical Orval is tasted in the province of Luxembourg and has a content of 6.2%. The Notre-Dame d’Orval abbey was founded in the 11th century in the middle of the great Ardennes forest.

Beer Big Bang

On 16 October 2020 our Belgian ambassador Jan Hoogmartens presided the opening of the Belgian beer stand in SOHO Sanlitun in Beijing.

A number of Belgian beers were promoted, such as Lindemans, Hoegaarden, Delirium, Rochefort, Kasteel and others.

Brian & Kevin live in Beijing

Dinner in Blue Star

We had a lively evening with Brian & Kevin live in Beijing, in Blue Star Restaurant on 25 April 2023. Pretty good turnout with many friends.
It was an evening of Standup Comedy and Live Music, featuring Brian Nelson and guest starring Kevin Gouldmann. Brian is from the USA and has been living in China now for over 2 years. He received a classical theater acting degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and has utilized these skills to enhance his entertainment and business career. Brian shared his Real Lao Wai China experiences and frequent miscommunication challenges. We listened how his life is truly lost in translation. Kevin has been working together with Brian for the past few years, complementing Brian’s presence with solid musical underpinnings.

I personally love their music and whenever possible I attend their performance.
Thorsten of Blue Star did a great job, the spare ribs were really great, Texas BBQ style.

Dinner in Home Plate

Another good excuse to return to Home Plate in Sanlitun to see Brian & Kevin live in Beijing.
We had the pulled pork sandwich and the pulled chicken sandwich, never disappointing. We even ordered a second pulled pork!
As announced by Home Plate: Brian has been entertaining crowds with his music in the USA for more than 20 years. He continues his musical journey here in China and loves connecting with many musicians from around the world.

Kevin studied music composition and guitar in his younger years, and played in numerous bands in America , Germany, and Denmark. He came to Beijing in 2014, working as a master piano maker. He has been working together with Brian for the past few years, complimenting Brian’s stage presence with solid musical underpinnings.

See the VIMEO video.

I was surprised at one point when a pretty girl came to say hi, she knew my food videos on WeChat Channels and loves them. So, a picture with a fan!


Old tradition of Belgian beer

Since 1100s

Old tradition of Belgian beer means there is a lot to talk about and of course it’s famous.
Opinions differ on how many beers and how many breweries we really have in Belgium. See here some of the estimates.

Duvel (Devil) and Mort Subite (Sudden Death), two famous beers

The country has been in the brewing tradition since the 1100s, before it even was a country.
The region’s interest in beer began when the Catholic Church sanctioned the use of abbeys to brew and distribute beer to raise money for upkeep near the end of the 10th century. Another reason was that most drinking water was polluted and the beer offered a safe alternative.
Over the years, the nuns in the abbeys began pioneering new ways to brew, strengthening the diversity that was available to the locals in brewing villages. At the turn of the 20th century, there were over 3,000 breweries in Belgium, but the two World Wars had a devastating effect on the Belgian economy that reached deep into the brewing industry.

Over centuries of experimentation, Belgian beers have become world-famous for their unique qualities, such as their strength, sourness, or their uniqueness in that many have been brewed in churches by monks! Also, with over 3,000 types of beer, there is a beer for any preference.

Belgium has more individual styles of beer per capita than any other country in the world. With a population barely scraping past 11 million, they produced a whopping 1,132 distinct types of beer in 2011. Fast-forward to 2013 and that number is a mind-blowing 3,043 beers that were brewed among all 10 provinces of Belgium.

Big industry

The Netherlands was the largest EU exporter of beer and second worldwide after Mexico in 2020 according to a Dutch source.
According to a Belgian source, Belgium was the biggest exporter in Europe. It has created a big gap over its direct competitor, Germany, followed by the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.

More about Belgian beer:

Belgian Beer–A Centuries-old Tradition” by BelgiuminChina, dated 1 November 2021. More about that in a next post, looking at some of the more famous styles.


10 Ways Belgium Will Change The Way You Drink Beer” by Andrew Handley, October 27, 2014.

In this site, many sections:

  • Spontaneous Fermentation (Lambic)
  • Beer Cocktails
  • The Longest Bar In The World
  • The Bruges Beer Pipeline
  • The Farm Brewery
  • Trappist Beer
  • World’s Largest Beer Menu
  • Unholy Consumption

The secret of classic Belgian beers?

Medieval super yeasts! According to VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology), in a 21 October 2019 article.
An international team of scientists, led by Prof. Kevin Verstrepen (VIB-KU-Leuven) and Prof. Steven Maere (VIB-UGent), has discovered that some of the most renowned classic Belgian beers, including Gueuze and Trappist ales, are fermented with a rare and unusual form of hybrid yeasts. These yeasts combine DNA of the traditional ale yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, with that of more stress-resistant feral yeasts such as Saccharomyces kudriavzevii.
Mixed origins
“These yeasts are hybrids between two completely different species” says Dr. Jan Steensels (VIB — KU Leuven Center for Microbiology), who coordinated the lab work of this study. “Think of lions and tigers making a super-baby.”