Vanilla, cherry, peche and Boon. It might sound like a 1920s music hall group, but in reality they are actually a selection of wonderful Belgian beers. Anglo-Spanish philistine John Hillman explains all
You have to wonder what it is about the male species that compels us towards such goofy behaviour.
Take Belgium’s Trappist monks. After turning their backs on regular society and female companionship, they erected their monasteries and devoted themselves to a life of dedication in the pursuit of the deep spiritual understanding of, well, er…beer.
You see, this is what happens when women are taken out of the equation, men end up getting collectively obsessed about the best way to make or build, or do, something silly.
As a student in a house full of young men, we soon ended up trying to fire home-made rockets from the rooftops, and I’m pretty sure that various homebrews were attempted at times, although the memory is a little hazy.
But the Belgium monks took this to such an extreme level, that they ended up creating a whole new national identity for the country in which they lived.
You can now find approximately 125 breweries in Belgium producing over 500 different ales of various exotic flavours; you know them, they’re the ones that young men happily pay well over the odds for in trendy pubs across England.
Personally I’ve never been drawn to them. I was raised in Spain, a place where bars traditionally offer one beer on tap and exactly the same beer, but in a bottle, as the alternative.
Perhaps this is why, whenever I’m in a modern gastro pub, regardless of the myriad different beers on offer I always seem to choose a pint of the pissiest mass-produced lager available.
I know this is anathema to the 1000s of connoisseurs of fine ale out there, and I sincerely apologise for my philistinism, although you could look on the bright side; more strawberry, vanilla and elderflower ‘lady lager’ for the rest of you.
Still, Belgium is a country of unique beer producing pedigree and Trappist beers are considered the best of the lot. With six out the seven Trappist breweries in the whole of the world situated in Belgium, it is the only place to go for genuine beer fans.
I have so far counted eight beer festivals in Belgium this September, and nearly all of them promise to showcase the best that each region has to offer, explaining the history of hops and offering guided tours around breweries.
The idea of spending a week immersed in the culture of the ale even gets an ignoramus like me excited, but for genuine fans of the perfumed pint, now is surely the time to stop dreaming and start planning that big blow out in Brussels.