La escuela cervecera belga: las cervezas de los monjes (y algo más) - Beer Sapiens

Dear friends beersapiens, we continue with our series of articles where we are going to talk about the different brewing schools. Because you already know that one of our goals is to bring beer culture closer to all audiences and consumers of this delicious drink.

Cervezas con una larga tradición

Today we are going to talk about the Belgian school, one of the oldest and also one of the best known, mainly, due to the popularity of abbey beers (who hasn't seen one? beer with a monk on its label?). But, have you ever wondered why beer began to be produced in monasteries, and above all, how it became a tradition in the country? We are going to tell you everything, but first, a little history.

Beers with a long tradition

When the Roman Empire dissolved, Germanic tribes settled in the area currently occupied by Belgium and France. And you know that the ancient German peoples had a great fondness for beer. So they took with them their customs for making this drink. Shortly thereafter, the activity became professional with the arrival of Irish monks. They settled in the region with an evangelizing mission and established self-sufficient communities that traded with the population.

Later, at the time of the first crusades (12th century), the Catholic Church gave permission to its abbeys, of French and Flemish origin, to brew and distribute beer. On the one hand, it was a wonderful source of finance. On the other hand, at that time beer was considered a healthier option than water, which was not always drinkable. Have you read the book "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett? In this novel it is portrayed very well, how the workers who drank water fell ill, and the monks possessed the secret (and the means) to elaborate the precious, healthy, refreshing and nutritious liquid. So much so that even children drank beer regularly.

las cervezas de los monjes - cervezas belgas

But back to the Belgian abbeys, where traditional brewing methods evolved, under the supervision of monks, over the next seven centuries. In the 18th century, the Trappist monasteries that today brew in Belgium were occupied by monks fleeing the French Revolution. However, the first Trappist brewery in Belgium, that of Westmalle, did not start operating until December 10, 1836, almost 50 years after the Revolution. That beer was for the exclusive use of the monks, and is described as "dark and sweet". The first recorded sale of beer occurred on June 1, 1861

Today Trappist beers can only be labeled as such when brewed by the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance –the Trappist monks–, and it is only brewed in eleven of the Order's 171 monasteries .

The Catastrophe of the War

The First World War dealt the final blow to several Belgian breweries when the German occupation forces confiscated the copper barrels, equipment and their vehicles. Only half of the nearly 3,200 brewers survived. Later the breweries, which were slowly recovering, were hit hard again by the economic crisis of the 1930s and by the effects of World War II. In 1946, there were only 775 breweries left.

Belgian beers: gruit and fermentation

Belgian beer makers gained a huge advantage by not being bound by the Purity Law of 1516 (Reinheitsgebot in German) that affected the entire Holy Roman Empire.This allowed them to use ingredients other than water, barley and hops and gave them ample creative freedom

Las cervezas belgas: gruit y fermentación

This way, if Belgian brewers wanted to use wheat or oats in their beers, as well as other ingredients like spices or botanicals, they were free to do so. For this reason, in Flanders they continued to use gruit, instead of hops, which made their beers more acidic and allowed for greater conservation. These beers have a characteristic reddish color and are still typical of the Flemish region today.

The other big difference in the origins of beer was Belgium, where they invented a particular fermentation method. In the Belgian tradition, the beer must is placed in a pool to cool down, and when the right temperature is reached, the roof of the factory is opened so that all kinds of things enter. This is known as spontaneous fermentation, and all kinds of bacteria and yeasts are involved.It gives rise to acid and very complex beers, with many nuances.

The Belgian brewing school today

Beer brewing is so important in the country today that there are two universities that offer this specialized training, in Ghent and Louvain. The last three years are dedicated only to beer science: malting, fermentation process... There is also a shorter degree to be a brewery laboratory technician. These graduates are professionally dedicated to the analysis of colors, pH, alcohol, chromatography, bottling and purification processes.

La escuela cervecera belga hoy en día

Finally, as a curious but very significant fact, I don't know if you know that Belgian beers are Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This was declared by the UN at the end of 2016. An unprecedented recognition that demonstrates the importance of beer in this European region.

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Cerveza belgaEscuela cervecera belga

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