Belgian beer weekend fetes specialty brews

Thu Sep 1, 2011 12:24pm EDT
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By Johanna Somers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Microbreweries have rapidly gained popularity in recent years across the globe, but Belgium has been producing specialty and strong beers for centuries.

While the major brewers, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev or Heineken, have suffered years of declining volumes in western Europe, smaller operators have discovered there is a growing market for beers with a difference.

"The beer market is decreasing but we are not selling pilsner. We are selling only tasting beer," Philippe Henroz, marketing manager of Chimay, whose Red, Blue and Triple brews are made within the walls of a Trappist monastery in southern Belgium.

Belgians and other Europeans may be drinking less standard lager, with a steady shift to wine and the global recession both playing a role, but still seem to be hanging on to or developing a new taste for specialty beers.

Brewers of these beers will be hoping to drum up further business this weekend at the Belgian Beer Weekend, a sort of mini-Oktoberfest featuring 48 breweries, many of them smaller Belgian players, and more than 350 beers.

Around 70,000 people are expected at the festival on the Grand Place, the gothic and baroque square in central Brussels from Friday to Sunday.

"It is a good event to network with other people and hopefully find some importers from other countries," said Nicolas Degryse marketing manager for Bockor Brewery.

Belgian breweries have been steadily selling more abroad, with long-standing markets in neighbors France and the Netherlands, strong demand in Britain and the United States and growing interest from China and other Asian nations.   Continued...