Name of beer: Zinnebir
Beer description: Golden blond Belgian ale, 6%
Belgian word for beer: bière/bier/Bier
Date joined the EU: Founding member
Have I visited? Yes, I live there!
So, very appropriately, we begin this journey in Belgium. To remind you, I’m drinking my beers in chronological order in terms of EU membership. In years where multiple countries joined, I’m drinking those beers in alphabetical order according to each country’s national language (yes, really). So, let’s get started.
To note, this post on Belgium is longer than those which will follow, as I feel it only right to dedicate a bit of extra time and space to the home of beer and the home of, well, me.
I’ve lived in Belgium for just short of six years. And I’ve loved drinking Belgian beer for almost the same length of time. Before I came here, I enjoyed the occasional beer, but living here has turned me into a fully-fledged fanatic. Also before I came here, I had relatively muted views about Belgium as a country. And again, living here has turned me into something of an enthusiast for all things belges.
Belgium is a truly surreal country and I love it for that. It is complicated government-wise, split into three geographical regions and three linguistic communities. In 2011, Belgium broke the world record for the longest period of time without a government (541 days), and when a new coalition government was eventually formed, it incorporated six political parties, but left out the one which had actually won the most votes. One of my favourite sayings is “Si vous comprenez la Belgique, c’est qu’on vous l’a mal expliquée” – if you understand Belgium, it’s because someone has explained it badly. Quite.
I could go on about my love for Belgium for an entire blog, but I have more important things to do, like drink beer. Instead, I’ll simply mention my favourite thing about living here, and that’s Belgian problem-solving. Belgium’s complexity in terms of its government, identity and culture appears to have led its people to develop a unique talent for improvisation and compromise, whilst not necessarily actually solving the problem in question. This is best summed up in one of my favourite blogs (and now a book): Belgian Solutions. If you want to understand this country better, I would highly recommend it as the best place to start.
Given that this blog was inspired by my leaving gift from my EU national Parliament colleagues, I will dedicate a few sentences to each country’s Parliament as part of each blogpost.
Unsurprisingly for a complicated country, Belgium has multiple Parliaments. I am ashamed to say I have not visited any of them yet. Later this year, I will visit the Flemish Parliament as I am helping to organise an event there. I’m looking forward to this as I recently discovered that the Parliament has its own beer: Halfrond (meaning ‘hemicycle’ – a reference to its plenary chamber). The Federal Parliament has two chambers: the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, although the latter underwent significant reform last year. It is no longer directly elected and plays a far less important role in federal decision-making. The two Chambers rarely meet jointly – the last joint session was held in July 2013 when Belgium got a new King.
The Belgian beer in my collection is Zinnebir from Brasserie de la Senne. It is a relatively new brewery which opened only in 2003 and moved into its current premises in Brussels in 2010. It is definitely my favourite Belgian brewery. It brews some excellent regular beers as well as some very interesting special seasonal editions and collaborations. I went on a tour and tasting at the brewery last year and can highly recommend it (group visits only).
Zinnebir is one of Brasserie de la Senne’s regular brews and can be bought bottled or on tap. It is a beer I drink on a very frequent basis when out and about, so it was nice to actually sit, drink it slowly and deliberately appreciate it. The beer looks very appetising; it is a lovely light golden haze, which is probably my favourite colour for beer, with a pure white foamy head. It tastes bitter, but not too sharp, with a pleasant and lingering malty aftertaste. It is not too fizzy, with just a light ‘tang’ to it. I find that the fresh, citrusy flavour goes very well with many classic Belgian dishes (such as carbonnade flamande), as well as with a portion of good quality cheese (served with mustard and celery salt if you’re going all out Belgian).
My tasting assistant was my boyfriend Gareth, who described Zinnebir as “very more-ish” with a slightly sweet, yet bitter taste. He recommends a serving temperature of “cold, but not fridge cold” (good luck with that) and is a particular fan of the Soviet brutalist label design.
Although rather a foregone conclusion, my overall verdict is a highly positive one. I would strongly recommend any visitors to Belgium to seek out Brasserie de la Senne’s beers. And if in need of a drinking partner, don’t hesitate to get in touch…!