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July 20, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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Nationale Feestdag!

beer

Op uw gezondheid! This Tuesday is time to celebrate Nationale Feestdag. Like my predecessor Neil, I much rather prefer to celebrate Nationale Feestdag over St. Patrick’s Day. Never heard of the ‘dag before? Nationale Feestdag is the national day of my favourite beer producing country, Belgium.

Every year on 21 July the Belgians celebrate the coronation of their first monarch, King Leopold I. What a good excuse for us to celebrate everything Belgian—chocolate and high gravity beers come to mind. Sounds better than drinking pints of Guinness and wearing green to me!

My beer adventures have yet to take me to the country itself, but my taste buds have made the journey many times with a number of memorable beers. But I bet I know what comes to mind first for most of you when Belgian beer is mentioned: Stella Artois (5.2%).

This ‘premium lager’ claims to have hundreds of years of brewing experience behind it, which I find a bit hard to swallow. The stuff we drink from 12 packs and kegs is created en masse in an Auckland megabrewery. Luckily, this only applies to the majority of Stella Artois in this country. If you are after the real deal this Tuesday, pick up a 750mL bottle. These are genuinely imported from Leuven, and taste better for it.

An authentic Stella still has the familiar grassy hops in its aroma and flavour, but less of that awful skunkiness and a hint of candy sweetness, which yields a more balanced beer.

Perhaps the second most recognisable Belgian brand after Stella Artois is Leffe. The Leffe range is classed as abbey beer, as they are created in abbeys to the recipe and tradition of the ancient monastery. Unlike Trappist beers however, the monks no longer play a part in the brewing of the beer.

Leffe Blonde (6.6%) is an excellent yet cheap ($4–$5) example of what flavours Belgian yeast develop. Overall a sweet tasting beer, but with a small bitter bite and wonderful clove and coriander flavours.

To finish your Feestdag on a high note, end the night with a Duvel (8.5%). Be very cautious when pouring this beer, it will explode into a massive white head. No amount of glass tilting can prevent this, so go with the flow and you’ll get a perfect ½ beer, ½ head pour. Beneath this cloud of foam lies a devil of a beer. Expect a strong, crisp, bitter flavour, dusted with herbs and candy sweetness with a nice warm alcohol finish.

All of these beers are widely available at good supermarkets and bottle stores. So there’s no excuse not to skip some study and appreciate all the good things that come out of Belgium, and not a mechanised factory in Auckland.

If you have any questions about this week’s beers or any comments, please e-mail me.

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