A Belgian brewer will make history in the new year when it produces the first ever non-alcoholic version of one of the country’s celebrated and powerful abbey beers.

Belgium’s abbey beers, brewed either by monks or on licence from them, have long been praised as a central part of the country’s cultural heritage. They are notable for their complex taste, high alcohol content and bespoke glasses.

Traditionalists may call sacrilege but the brewer said that the decision was a sign of changing attitudes towards beer in Belgium, where even lagers are more alcoholic than in Britain.

Non-alcoholic lagers and wheat beers have been  growing in popularity in Belgium, with a 30 percent growth in the market this year.

A recent survey found that 62 percent of Belgians thought they drank too much and the country was horrified by the recent death of a university student in a drink-fuelled initiation game.

AB InBev, the world’s largest brewing company, will begin selling a zero alcohol version of its Leffe beer in Belgium at the beginning of 2019. 

Normally Leffe packs a 6.6 percent punch and has a fruity bitter taste with hints of cloves, vanilla and smoky notes. The brewer has developed a de-alcoholisation technique that allows the beers to go through the usual brewing process. The alcohol is only removed after the fermentation process, which helps to preserve the taste.

"The popularity of these beers is founded on their strength and the fuller flavour that goes with it," said Eoghan Walsh, a Belgium-based award-winning beer writer.

 "A zero percent abbey beer is a big departure from a brewing tradition you can trace back hundred of years in a country where brewing mythology is an almost foundational part of Belgian identity," said Eoghan, who writes the Brussels Beer City blog.

Abbey beers are similar in style to the well-known Trappist beers but do not qualify for the label for a number of reasons. For example, a proportion of profit made on Trappist beers must go to charity.  

“We are proud to have been the first to succeed, thanks to the expertise of our brewers, to produce a non-alcoholic beer that is completely faithful to the quality and authenticity of the beer of Leffe abbey, "said Arnaud Hanset, of AB InBev.

Leffe Abbey nestles above the river Meuse in the province of Namur, in the French-speaking region of Wallonia. Ale was first brewed there in 1240.

Leffe which is served in a distinctive chalice, is now brewed at AB InBev’s headquarters in the Flemish university town of Leuven, where Stella Artois was invented.

Ab InBev said that 20 percent of the world’s beer production volume will be non-alcoholic or low alcoholic by 2025.

Telegraph Media Group Limited 2019