One of the three correct answers to the age-old question "Why is Belgium?" (the others being mussels and french fries), beer is a product which Belgium truly excels at producing. Strangely they have never seriously targetted the export market, with the only extremely well-known brand internationally being Stella Artois. Ironically this is considered a fairly average lager by the Belgians.

Belgium is one of the few countries whose traditional brews encompass more than just lager. A lot of the award-winning Belgian beers are the dark beers, related to the British bitter and even stout. The most famous Belgian beers are usually those brewed by monks from the many monasteries scattered across the country: the abbey at Leffe, for example, produces one of the best-selling beers in Belgium, and some of the Trappist monks' offerings are lethal drinks, some of them having up to 12% alcohol by volume (that's the strength of red wine).

Obviously the best way to sample Belgian beers is to go to Belgium: I've found some lovely beers (and lovely people) in all three of the Belgian cities I've been to. Alternatively try to find a Belgian bar, not too difficult across northwest Europe but trickier elsewhere. A couple of good Belgian bar/restaurants in London are the Belgo chain , or the small but worthwhile L'Abbaye on Charterhouse Street by the old Smithfield market.

It's worth pointing out that many of the beers have their own specially designed glasses, many of which are quite pretty.

The Pauwel Kwak glasses are probably the best, which are shaped like small yard glasses. They suffer from a certain tourist phenomenon in that any newcomer to a Belgian bar will see someone else drinking from one and then immediately want one too. You can, however, distinguish yourself from the tourists by not pouring all the liquid from the bulb at the bottom of the glass all over yourself when you finish the drink. There are also groovy four-glass-holding racks and properly yard sized glasses, but they are quite rare.

Since the glasses make such good drinking trophies, it is unlikely that they'll be seen in less alcoholically restrained countries such as Great Britain in the near future.

Other beers that are well worth trying are Chimay, Judas, Delirium Tremens and Hoegaarden Grand Cru.

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