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In the world family of beer, Belgium is the crazy great uncle with wild ideas—the one who just might be a genius. The country has a deep brewing tradition, resulting in regional beers that often turn common knowledge upside down. In contrast to the strict beer purity laws of Germany, which required that beer only be brewed with water, malt, yeast and hops, Belgian ales utilize all manner of spices, local fruits, and wild indigenous yeasts. The result is a culture with a rich beer history and justifiable pride in the diversity of Belgian Ales.
Brewed in tiny regional breweries, massive factories, and in Trappist monasteries, the modern Belgian beer landscape includes craft industry old and new. Startup breweries are launching all the time, and creating new riffs on classic Belgian styles. The result is a beer world drawing on its own creative history, and using the traditional forms to make modern beers. American-style hops usage is creeping in, but the beers of Belgium tend to look inward for inspiration. Variations on blondes, browns and classic sours abound, each adding a modern twist to the form.
This was my second trip to Belgium, but my first as a brewer. I went looking for inspiration, to taste some of the best beers in the world in their native land, but also see what's new, what's developing, what direction Belgian beer is taking. In the slideshow you'll find a snapshot of my experiences: some of the amazing beers I was able to try and the people who are making them, plus some scenes from the barrel rooms of the greats. Tiny little Belgian breweries are making incredible beers for the local market, infusing small batches with passion and drive. These brews are meant to be enjoyed locally, just like my favorite American beers.
About the Author: Jesse Friedman is the cofounder and brewmaster of Almanac Beer Co., a San Francisco based brewery specializing in beers brewed in collaboration with local farms. He is still an average homebrewer and photographer.