Belgium – where it all began

Beer, belgium

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!

brussel_bruxelles

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.

The country

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.ceci n'est pas un pays

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.

The Parliament(s)

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 beer

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…!

Zinnebir - a truly delicious Belgian brew

Zinnebir – a truly delicious Belgian brew

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5 thoughts on “Belgium – where it all began

  1. For me Belgium is the home of beer. Beer is Germany is boring with in every region only one or two types of special beer. Belgium and Britain have inspired the current explosion of craft beers in the world. Everything is possible, while Germany is restricted by the Rheinheitsgebot.

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  2. I love the idea, but it’s a shame that so many of the beers chosen are the most predictable and least interesting from their countries. Zinnebier is a great beer, but not very typically Belgian. Kernel and Malmgård are good choices from the UK and Finland, but most of the rest, which I could recognise or identify in the photo, were very dull. Almost all countries in Europe have good, small craft breweries these days – even Greece and Portugal. I pity you having to drink so many bad lagers.

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    1. Hi Rhodri,

      Thanks for reading the blog! You’re right – the selection is mainly not small, craft brewery beers, but as I explained in my first post, this was a present from my fellow EU national parliament colleagues who are all Brussels-based so I think them managing to get all the beers together in the first place in just a few short weeks was no mean feat! I’m actually quite looking forward to reviewing some of the mainstream beers alongside the more niche, craft ones and as a Brit, I’m not exactly averse to lager 🙂 This was never about choosing the best, most interesting beers from each Member State, it was about enjoying my very thoughtful leaving present, which I certainly am so far! And I hope you still enjoy reading my blog in any case.

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