Long live the traditional “kingdom of beer”?

Belgian beer is a well-known concept and often claimed to be the best in the world, although only accounting for 1% of global beer production. With the label “kingdom of beer” comes a huge chunk of responsibility and whether they want it or not, Belgian brewers are role models for many other brewers across the world. Take for instance my brewer friends in Argentina, who look for inspiration in this small and far-away country (for them) and eagerly exclaim, “I love Belgian beer!” when asked for their favourite international brews.

Ok so most of them actually say “BrewDog’s Punk IPA” or “Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale” first, but shortly after this list beers from the likes of Cantillon, Silly and Westmalle. Some of the Argentine cerveceros are even courageously trying their hands at brewing sour beer similar to their Belgian counterparts, even though their resources are limited and their market is not yet ready for styles beyond blonde ales and perhaps a mild version of India pale ale.

At the recent beer bloggers & writers conference in Brussels, I had the chance to listen to some proud Belgian brewers and knowledgeable industry experts talking about the long history, rich culture and famous tradition of brewing in Belgium. Present were also for example the Belgian Family Brewers with its 22 breweries and an impressive “more than 3,500 years of experience in traditional beer brewing”. What a great beer filled cradle of knowledge!

Naturally, much focus was on sharing the country’s fantastic heritage in brewing and beer drinking. Lacking in the mix was maybe a healthy dose of modern craftsmanship (visits to some newer breweries were included only at pre- and post-conference excursions). Panel discussions briefly touched upon some challenges in the industry and the need for brewers to follow market trends and consumer tastes, however with a wish to keep the genuine and authentic approach. Someone I met at the conference (anonymous for obvious safety reasons) even whispered, “Perhaps Belgian beer should only be brewed in Belgium”. Ouch.

This raised many still unanswered questions in my mind about the classic modern vs. traditional dilemma. It can be phrased along the lines of; “is the proudness of tradition and authenticity of these Belgian brewers somewhat preventing further development and innovation in the country?” Whilst supporting generations of family brewers it would be interesting, some would claim necessary, to also look closer at what the future of trendy craft beer drinkers might hold and see who takes a lead in the innovation of styles, flavours and processes.

Brewers across the world are inspired by Belgian brewers but they also praise younger but nonetheless super successful players such as BrewDog and Stone, and even the much debated gypsy brewers. For example the founders of Swedish nomad and award-winning brewery Omnipollo say, “We conceive our recipes at home and travel to different breweries across the globe to craft our ales. Our ambition is to change the perception of beer — forever.” This modern-day and innovative approach is no doubt taking a very interesting, perhaps even leading, role in the much talked about and likely here to stay craft beer revolution.

More information: beerbloggersconference.org

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