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July 30, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Belgian Beer

I suspect that no one in New Zealand celebrates July 21 quite as much as I do. As everyone on this multicultural campus of ours should know, that sacred date is the national day of Belgium. This week is an opportunity to mark the 176th anniversary of the coronation of King Leopold I with some of the finest ales known to humanity, accompanied by servings of tasty beer cuisine.

By the time this column is published, I will have personally celebrated Nationale Feestdag 2007 four times. It is unlikely even the August Belgian Consuls have done as much commemorating as I have – which is probably just as well if they want to keep their diplomatic credentials.

One of the most famous and popular Belgian beers is the classic Hoegaarden White (5%). Although Belgium has produced cloudy wheat beers since 1318, the style had virtually died out by the 1950s before being revived by former milkman Pierre Celis. Poured in its distinctive hexagonal glass, his Hoegaarden beer is slightly cloudy with a characteristically fluffy white head. It has notes of sweet orange and gentle coriander before a refreshingly tart finish.

Belgian cuisine is renowned for cooking with beer and for their extensive use of fresh seafood and quality game. The consummate food accompaniment for beer in Belgium is mussels, fries and mayonnaise. I’d recommend mussels steamed in lobster broth or wheat beer, but if the mussels are fresh, it is all good.

Legend has it that a countess lost a treasured gold ring in a lake. She vowed that if the ring was returned, she would found a monastery on the shore. As luck would have it, a trout immediately leapt from the lake with the very ring in its mouth. The resulting monastery brews the distinctive Orval (6.2%) Trappist Ale, and that famous trout is immortalized on the bottle.

Brewed with semi-wild yeast, Orval has a fruity and acidic nose very reminiscent of a sweaty horse blanket. This dark copper beer is piquant, peppery and spicy with just a hint of pear. A perfect accompaniment for this unique brew would be a selection of bitterballen with mustard.

Popular in the Low Countries, bitterballen are deep fried meatballs of goodness made with beef, chicken or fish mixed with broth, flour, butter, parsley, salt and pepper.

As a digestive, savor the magnificently massive Duvel (8.5%). After a trial tasting, it was labeled “a devil of a beer”, and the tag stuck. This burnished golden strong Belgian ale throws a massive rocky head. It is a fragrant beer with a hoppy, spicy and citrus nose. Smooth and creamy with notes of orange zest, pear brandy, green apples and lemon, Duvel ends with a satisfyingly long bitter and dry finish.

If the sheer quality of their beer is not enough for you to raise a glass to the endearing and enduring Kingdom of Belgium, this alone is reason enough: Charles de Gaulle once said that “Belgium is a country invented by the British to annoy the French”.

Op uw gezonheid!

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