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Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Will Become of "Belgian Beer" if Belgium Divides?

Big things are happening in little Belgium. A country separated between the Flemish (or Dutch-speaking) North and French-speaking South, it has long been a divided nation. Now, for the first time, the separatist party has won a majority of seats in Parliament, leading to decent prospect that the already-wee country may break in half. No doubt there are many, nested issues here, but I wonder--is no one considering the beer?

Belgium may be a country divided by language--but zymurgically, it is distinctive. In the Flemish region, sour reds and browns of Flanders; in the French region, sour lambics. In the Flemish region, Trappist breweries (Westmalle, Westvleteren); in the French, Trappist breweries (Orval, Chimay). In the Flemish region, strong goldens (Huyghe, Moortgat); in the French, strong goldens (Du Bocq). No country produces more indigenous beers of greater diversity, and so certain styles are region-specific; still, it's hard not to argue that "Belgian," when applied to beer, means something.

Beyond the brasseries and brouwerijs, however, things are less coherent:
The southern region of Wallonia - poorer, with higher than average unemployment - is home to mostly French speakers, who make up about 40% of the population. The other 60% are Dutch speakers who live in the more prosperous Flemish north. To add confusion, the capital Brussels is officially a bilingual (but largely francophone) enclave in Flemish territory.

The linguistic gulf runs deep. There are no significant national political parties - they too follow the language split, so there are both francophone and Flemish versions of liberal, socialist, Christian democrat and green parties. Likewise, there are no national broadcasters, no national newspapers or magazines.

If the country breaks in half, how will we describe the beer? "Belgian" may become a politically-charged term--like "Bombay" in India--and beer fans will be caught wondering what to call their beer. Will we have to learn the location of every beer in order to know what to call it? Calling a Scot "English" instead of "British" is a grave insult; will our future be fraught with similar unwitting low country slights?

Not the most pressing concern for Belgians (or should I say Walloons and Flemish?) perhaps, but something about which beer aficionados may fret.


  1. I disagree that Belgian beer is somehow distinctive. It has a great deal in common with that of neighbouring parts of France and the Netherlands.

  2. Calling a Scot anything other than a Scot is not a good idea...

  3. Maybe instead of Belgian Beer we'll call it Freedom Beer.

  4. Maybe we'll just have to call the beers by region and style? Flemish ales, Flanders Red, Abbey ale, Triple, Dubbel, Saison, Lambics.... I think Belgium has Dutch, French and German dialects; Maybe we can refer the beers as French (Dutch or German) Belgian or give it a modern twist and call the Froggy B's.

    Maybe, just maybe, I won't really give a shit about the political environment in Belgium has long as they keep exporting their beers! I'm sure they don't really care what any of us think anyway.... ;-}

    Kind of like politics in this country....

  5. Truthfully I wish I were well-educated enough about Belgian beers to be able to call each beer by its particular style, like Dr. Wort says above. If I learn enough about the different styles then I won't have to care if Belgium dissolves!

    I find this to be a weird situation for the nation. I would be surprised if they split. But as long as the good beers keep coming, it will be okay from our perspective right?

  6. If the Belgian (or whatever they want to call it) beer hits my glass in America.... they can dance naked with goats while passing Doughnuts on they're penis... I don't really care what they do. ;-}