Belgian beer is a gourmet beer lover's treat. Belgium plays host to literally hundreds of beers in several prominent styles, and while bottles of the beers themselves make a lovely gift, there are a number of accessories to consider, too. One unique aspect of Belgian beer tradition, for example, is that every beer has its own glass. Pair an unusual import with its signature glass, and you have an instant gift set or buy a tasting set of three or four bottles.
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Belgian lambics are an ancient style of beer fermented by exposure to wild yeast. The result is a unusual sweet-sour brew. Boon is a good choice; Hanssen is less acidic, but still complex.
This is technically a subset of the lambic style, and a unique aspect of Belgian beermaking. Some lambics are flavoured with fruit--commonly cherry (kriek), raspberry (framboise), or blackcurrant (cassis). A selection of two or three would make a fine gift set.
Be aware, however, that many of the commercially available fruit beers do not use lambic as a base, and use sweetened syrups rather than pure fruit as flavourings. Many beer enthusiasts scorn these shortcuts as low-quality and inauthentic. For authentic-tasting fruit beers, try 3 Fontainen, Liefmans, or Oud Beersel.
Trappist and Abbey Ales
Trappist ales are brewed in genuine Trappist monasteries by the monks themselves; their styles can vary widely, from blonde and light to dark and strong. Two widely available Trappist brands are Chimay and Orval. Look also for beers from Westmalle, Rochefort and Achel.
Abbey ale is the term for certain beers that are brewed in the Trappist style, but are not associated with a working monastery. Two brands to seek out are Leffe and Affligem.
Witbier ("white beer") is a wheat-based, pale golden beer with a mild taste and added spices including coriander and bitter orange that give it a unique flavour. Hoegaarden Wit is the signature brand; others include Lefebre Blanche de Bruxelles and Brugs.
Frankly, some of the fun of Belgian beers can be found simply in their packaging--especially when given as gifts. Who could resist Delirium Tremens, a high-alcohol pale ale with a pink elephant on the label? Or the controversial Satan Red, an abbey ale that's been pulled from retail shelves in the Bible Belt more than once? Fantome's label has a ghost, and Gulden Draak has a dragon. Vapeur Cochonne has a naked pink pig.
Most Belgian beer glasses conform to a few different styles, such as tall Pilsners, steins, goblets, or tumblers. But a few are more unusual. La Gauloise's stein is wide on the bottom but tapers at the top so as to preserve the beer's head, or foam. Mea Culpa is a goblet set on an off-centre stem. T'zelfde has a curved tumbler with fingerholds blown right into the glass. Any one of these glasses would make an unusual gift--paired with its accompanying beer, of course.
A guide book, such as Michael Jackson's "Great Beers of Belgium" or "The Good Beer Guide to Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg" by Tim Webb would make a fine gift choice for a Belgian beer lover. Sometimes T-shirts or posters are available for gift giving.
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