Belgian Beer 101: From history to styles

WASHINGTON Now through July 21, fans of Belgian beer have two reasons to raise their tulip glasses.

For starters, Americans are celebrating National Belgian Beer Week for the first time in the U.S. It also happens to be Belgian Restaurant Week, here in D.C. 

A little fuzzy on the fizzy beverage? Never fear: Dean Myers, cicerone at Brasserie Beck, runs through the basics of Belgian beer:

Father Abt of the Notre Dame de Saint Remy, poses at the brewery room in Rochefort, 60 miles south of Brussels, Jan. 24, 2002. The abbey is one of only a half a dozen monasteries where the monks still follow the centuries old Trappist tradition of beer making and its strong, dusky brews are hailed by connoisseurs as some of the world's best. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
A beer that’s steeped in tradition Some of the oldest, most well-known breweries in the U.S. have been around for about 150 years. In contrast, the Belgian brewery Val-Dieu just celebrated its 800th anniversary. Today’s Belgian beer scene is more commercial than ever before, but it wasn’t always that way. Myers says beer was originally brewed at abbeys and was meant to be consumed by the local congregation and community. Monks living at the monasteries oversaw the beer production and revenue from the sales helped to fund church outreach. These monastery-based breweries still exist, but now, there’s also a mix of large-scale commercial and microbreweries throughout the country. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/YVES LOGGHE)
A selection, out of more than 450 types, of beer is shown in Brussels, Belgium, March 10, 2004. Learning the finer points of Belgian beer can be daunting, with types of beer ranging from lambics and fruit lambics, to Trappists and  Gueuze. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Styles of Belgian beer  What defines the taste and texture of a Belgian beer? Myers says that’s a bit hard to pin down, since there are more than 1,500 styles of beer brewed in Belgium. “There are arguably more styles brewed in Belgium than anywhere else,” he added. However, there are some common styles you’re sure to spot in restaurants and stores, including dubbels, tripels, quadruples, wits and lambics. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT)
Geert Lindemans, technical director of Lindeman's brewery, pours a fruit lambic beer into its special glass at his brewery in Vlezenbeek, Belgium, March 8, 2004. Lambic, or spontaneously fermented beers, are among the worlds rarest. Produced more like a methode champenoise champagne, than a typical beer, these products mature in oak for nearly two years prior to release. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Lambics: the ‘magical’ beer Myers explains that this style of beer, which can take up to three years to brew, originated in a region just outside Brussels. “It’s probably parallel to French Burgundy, in that these beers taste like where they are brewed. It’s brewed with the ambient yeast in the air,” Myers said. Lambics are never turned around quickly; the brewers let nature dictate the schedule. Myers explains that the long and uncontrolled brewing process generates a lot of volatility, but it also creates unique flavors that can’t be found anywhere else. Expect flavors that are tart and funky, similar to trendy sour beers. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT)
A workers scrapes the foam off of a glass of Brugse Zot beer before serving it at the Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, Belgium on Thursday, May 26, 2016. The brewery has recently created a beer pipeline which will ship beer straight from the brewery to the bottling plant, two kilometers away, through underground pipes running between the two sources. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Like American lager? Reach for a Belgian blonde  If you’re a fan of a refreshing and easy-to-drink American lager, Myers says try a Belgian blonde. “These are sometimes as easy as a single malt, a single yeast, a single hop — just four ingredients when you include the water — very simple beers that are meant to be crisp, refreshing and smooth,” he said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (AP/Virginia Mayo)
A worker pours a glass of beer for customers at the Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, Belgium on Thursday, May 26, 2016. The brewery has recently created a beer pipeline which will ship beer straight from the brewery to the bottling plant, two kilometers away, through underground pipes running between the two sources. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
IPA fanatic? Try a tripel  Compared to American craft breweries, Belgian brewers use far fewer hops in their beers. This is why many of them can age in cellars, like a fine wine. That said, IPA fans can still find plenty of Belgian beers to please the palate. “What you’re looking for in a country that doesn’t use a lot of hops, or specifically the hop oils, is you’re looking for a beer that’s going to be dry,” Myers said. “Ultimately, that’s what an IPA comes down to. You want a beer with some dryness, some crispness, that’s not going to be overly sweet.” He suggests a fully fermented Belgian tripel, such as the Corsendonk Abbey Pale.  (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (AP/Virginia Mayo)
Tourists ride in a horse drawn carriage past the Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, Belgium on Thursday, May 26, 2016. The brewery has recently created a beer pipeline which will ship beer straight from the brewery to the bottling plant, two kilometers away, through underground pipes running between the two sources. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Belgian wit beer  Myers says German hefeweizens tend to rule the category of wheat beers, because they are so common in the U.S., but Belgian witbiers are just as satisfying in the summer. There’s no need to serve a pint with a slice of citrus. Myers says Belgian tradition calls for the beer to be brewed with orange zest.  (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (AP/Virginia Mayo)
Crates of empty beer bottles are stacked at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, western Belgium, Tuesday Aug.16, 2005. A website survey of thousands of beer enthusiasts from 65 countries rated the Westvleteren 12 beer as the world's best, forcing the Abbey to stop selling one of its famous beers as it was sold out immediately. The abbey, home to 30 Cistercian and Trappist monks who lead a life of seclusion, prayer, and beer-brewing, doesn't want to raise production as their life in the abbey comes first, not the brewery. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
Trappist: The exclusive beers  Belgian beer has a category unique to the country’s brewing culture, called Trappist. This beer is brewed at Trappist breweries and regulated by a Trappist council. Myers explains that these beers have to be brewed in a monastery and must be overseen, if not physically brewed, by the monks. Proceeds from the beers also have to benefit the religious organization. There are 11 Trappist breweries in the world, six of which are in Belgium. Some Trappist breweries are well-known, large-scale brands, such as Chimay. “You also have Trappist monasteries like Westvleteren, which, over the years, has become known, more or less, as the white whale of beers,” said Myers, adding that the monks at the abbey do not live for the beer, the beer allows them to live. The monastery sells its beers in limited quantities — customers even have to register their license plates before making a purchase.  Most Trappist beers are top-fermented and bottle conditioned. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/YVES LOGGHE)
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Father Abt of the Notre Dame de Saint Remy, poses at the brewery room in Rochefort, 60 miles south of Brussels, Jan. 24, 2002. The abbey is one of only a half a dozen monasteries where the monks still follow the centuries old Trappist tradition of beer making and its strong, dusky brews are hailed by connoisseurs as some of the world's best. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
A selection, out of more than 450 types, of beer is shown in Brussels, Belgium, March 10, 2004. Learning the finer points of Belgian beer can be daunting, with types of beer ranging from lambics and fruit lambics, to Trappists and  Gueuze. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Geert Lindemans, technical director of Lindeman's brewery, pours a fruit lambic beer into its special glass at his brewery in Vlezenbeek, Belgium, March 8, 2004. Lambic, or spontaneously fermented beers, are among the worlds rarest. Produced more like a methode champenoise champagne, than a typical beer, these products mature in oak for nearly two years prior to release. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
A workers scrapes the foam off of a glass of Brugse Zot beer before serving it at the Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, Belgium on Thursday, May 26, 2016. The brewery has recently created a beer pipeline which will ship beer straight from the brewery to the bottling plant, two kilometers away, through underground pipes running between the two sources. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
A worker pours a glass of beer for customers at the Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, Belgium on Thursday, May 26, 2016. The brewery has recently created a beer pipeline which will ship beer straight from the brewery to the bottling plant, two kilometers away, through underground pipes running between the two sources. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Tourists ride in a horse drawn carriage past the Halve Maan Brewery in Bruges, Belgium on Thursday, May 26, 2016. The brewery has recently created a beer pipeline which will ship beer straight from the brewery to the bottling plant, two kilometers away, through underground pipes running between the two sources. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Crates of empty beer bottles are stacked at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, western Belgium, Tuesday Aug.16, 2005. A website survey of thousands of beer enthusiasts from 65 countries rated the Westvleteren 12 beer as the world's best, forcing the Abbey to stop selling one of its famous beers as it was sold out immediately. The abbey, home to 30 Cistercian and Trappist monks who lead a life of seclusion, prayer, and beer-brewing, doesn't want to raise production as their life in the abbey comes first, not the brewery. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

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Ready to give Belgian beer a try? Check out events going on throughout the week at Brasserie Beck and local restaurants participating in Belgian Restaurant Week.
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