The Belgians take their beer seriously. With a brewing history that dates back to the 12th century, Belgium is one of Europe’s most prolific producers, turning out 1.8 billion liters per year, according to industry statistics. Scattered around the country, Belgium’s roughly 180 breweries produce an impressive 1,500 varieties of beer — from tart and fresh lambics made with spontaneous fermentation, to rich and malty triples with alcohol levels over 7 percent. For every style there is a uniquely shaped drinking vessel designed to enhance the aromas of the brew.
Unsurprisingly, Belgium leads the world in the field of food and beer pairing — a trend that is starting to take off internationally. “Sometimes beer can be the perfect partner,” says sommelier Joachim Boudens, pointing to the brew’s wide range of flavors and textures. At Hertog Jan (www.hertog-jan.com), the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Boudens owns with chef Gert De Mangeleer, eye-opening matches — such as the kimchi-spiked asparagus and smoked bone-marrow mousseline, with yeasty Louis Cru 55 triple — aptly prove his point.
Innovative beer maker Hildegard van Ostaden, who created the popular brand Urthel, brews experimental styles to be enjoyed with the food at her charming tavern, De Hoppeschuur (www.hoppeschuur.be), in the province of East Flanders. Just outside of Brussels, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Hof van Cleve (www.hofvancleve.com) includes beer on the beverage-pairing course — matching toasty oak-aged Cornet blonde ale with a rich dish of king crab and wild mushrooms in cream sauce, and hoppy Papegaei blonde ale with succulent milk-fed veal. In Antwerp, chef Dario Puglia pairs light and dry Ceci N’est Pas Une Saison farmhouse ale with a selection of homemade cheeses at his restaurant, Gist (www.restaurantgist.be). Antwerp’s recently renovated De Koninck Brewery (www.dekoninck.be), which reopened as a beer museum and shopping center, features a brewpub where you can sample ales paired with cheeses matured by renowned affineur Michel van Tricht.
In Tokyo, you can find a good selection of Belgian beers to go with that country’s traditional dishes at Champs de Soleil (www.champdesoleil.com) in Kanda. (Melinda Joe)