Brewery Rodenbach, Roeselare (c)Milo Profi

Mostly containing water, barley, hops and yeast: how can something that sounds so simple have such a profound influence over an entire culture? 

In Flanders, brewing is a centuries old tradition. The history of the amber nectar here can be traced back to the monks and nuns in the Middle Ages who were some of the earliest brewers. Drinking water was often very unsanitary and made people ill, so most people – including monks and even children – drank a weak table beer instead. Unknowingly, it was the brewing process itself that killed many of the germs. Once the beer was brewed, the monks would also add flavour with a herbal mixture called gruit or add hops which acted as an effective preservative.

You can have all the technological know-how, but if you can’t taste and smell properly, you’ll never brew a delicious beer

Belgium’s first female head brewer Rosa Merckx – Liefmans
Rosa Merckx

In the 1940’s there were more than 3,000 breweries in Belgium. At the time, there wasn’t always rules about water purity, so often people could do whatever they wanted. Sometimes the result was good, sometimes not. However, rules and regulations combined with increasing costs saw the gradual closure of many of the smaller breweries.

Today the industry is enjoying a real revival. Traditional production methods that were handed down from generation to generation, are systematically being complemented and strengthened by the latest technological know-how and scientific developments. The Flemish beer tradition lives on in young, passionate brewers, trendy microbreweries and a new generation who are keen on homegrown beer. The University of Leuven even offers a course called ‘technology of beer brewing’.

Beer has always been a vital part of Flanders’ rich history, tradition and culture. Since time immemorial it has been an unmistakable part of everyday life, and is intrinsically linked to our society. The first pub in Flanders opened in 1515, and ever since then we have been enjoying a beer at the café after work, at the weekend at birthday parties and other social events. As a mark of just how significant beer has been to our country, Belgian beer was even added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016.

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