How beers came to be so popular in Belgium is a story of war, climate, religion, temperance movements, and cafe society. The area we know as Belgium was for centuries the "doormat of Europe." Armies careened across the area's plains and low hills, raiding and looting as they went. Belgium was the site of Napoleon's comeuppance at the hands of Wellington and Blucher, and the scene of the 101st Airborne's dogged defense of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. This almost constant warfare seemed to engender a stubborn, heads-down attitude in the Flemish and Walloons of the land, who became increasingly determined to find their own way and cling to their own traditions. One of the outcomes was a beer-based cuisine that is neither French or German, though it is said to have the flavor of French cooking and the hearty portions of German fare. Another was a number of idiosyncratic beer styles that was unique to Belgium.
Climate in Belgium favored brewing, as it did in Germany. If you think of Belgium as the beer equivalent of the varied vineyards of France or California, the plethora of beer styles makes more sense. Picture a Frenchman without the ability to grow good grapes. Does he throw up his hands and take to drinking water? Of course not, he works with what he has, either apples for cider in Brittany and Normandy, or grain for beer in the North and Alsace. So it is in Belgium, where the border with northern France blurs a bit when it comes to food and drink. "Belgium is a convenient boundary for people, but the beer brewing traditions are older than the boundary," says Lanny Hoff, National Sales Manager for All Saints Brands