Affligem is one of my all-time favourite beers, and though it can be difficult to find in England it’s certainly worth hunting out!
I make no secret of the fact that I am a Belgian beer fan, and I am well aware that this puts me into a category filled with overweight men with large beards. I don’t care. These are my people. I’m not sure whether you HAVE to go to Belgium to truly appreciate Belgian beer, but I know that a trip to Brussels in 2015 converted me.
In Britain, we certainly have a fine beer tradition. We have thousands of breweries, we have some of the best beer festivals in the world, we drink more beer than most countries. We have some of the best beer writers, and most of our literature, music, and film have been inspired by or created thanks to beer.
But Belgium takes things to a different level. Every beer has its own glass, every glass is perfectly designed for that beer. No bar in Belgium would serve a Tripel Karmeliet in a Leffe glass. Each beer has a history, many beers are served in a way that has been unchanged for a hundred years.
Consider this the next time you receive a Guinness inside a Fosters glass in your local Wetherspoons. One of the problems with most Belgian beers is their strength and their powerful flavours. Most beers are around 6-8% and some trappist beers can be much higher. This can put a lot of people off, and I really don’t blame them.
Most beers are very low in alcohol and are designed to be drunk in quantity. Going out and having five to six pints of real ale or lager is going to get you drunk, but you shouldn’t be too bad the next morning. Drink six pints of Westmalle Tripel (9.5%) and you are going to need to take a couple days off to recover.
Belgian beers are not designed to be drunk in large volumes, they are designed for people to have one or two while eating. Or if they are drunk without food, they are there to be drunk at a leisurely pace. It really is all about the experience, which is why drinking it from the right glass is so important to me.
It has taken me a long time to acclimatise myself to Belgian beers, when I first tried them, I absolutely detested the strong powerful flavours. I remember having a Delerium Tremens beer when I was 18, it tasted like nothing I’d ever tried before and at 8.5% it led to levels of inebriation I had never experienced from a single bottle of beer.
As my tastes have changed, my appreciation for Belgian beer has grown and grown. Belgian beer is not something I drink all the time, it is an occasional choice, but always enjoyable. But what beer would I recommend for the Belgian Beer Novices among you?
Affligem, the Belgian beer for people who don’t like Belgian beer.
Amazingly, the history of Affligem beer begins in 1074 with the founding of an Abbey in the Belgian town of Affligem by six Belgian Knights. Ten years later the Abbey was completed, and the Knights-turned-monks turned their attentions to brewing beer. This is where the recipes for Affligem Blonde, Affligem Tripel, Dubbel, and many other beers would have come from.
Sadly, Belgium has been through a turbulent few centuries since 1074, with several wars fought within its borders. The abbey was destroyed by soldiers twice, most famously when William of Orange raised it to the ground in 1580. Both times it was rebuilt by the monks. The abbey continued to make beer until WWII when German soldiers removed the copper kettles that the monks used to brew.
In 1956 the monks were able to begin brewing again, using the same recipes that they had used for centuries. If you look at a bottle of Affligem, you can see a date (1074), this is when the Abbey was founded and the beer that you are drinking is very similar to that very first beer made almost 1,000 years ago.
See, its this type of history that craft beers just can’t compete with. It is why drinking Belgian beer is so enjoyable for me. There is a sense of occasion, a feeling of tradition and culture. Plus, it tastes awesome.
This is an understandable mistake to make. Belgium is famous for its Trappist beers, which are beers made by Trappist monks following very specific rules and are steeped in tradition and culture. Affligem ticks almost every single box except that the monks are Benedictine rather than Trappist.
Another key difference is that Trappist beers have to be brewed on the premises while Affligem is brewed in a brewery. This allows it to be mass-produced in a way that Trappist beers are not. Affligem is actually an Abbey Beer.
Affligem is not my favourite Belgian beer, but it is right up there. However, I think that Affligem is the perfect Belgian beer for people who don’t like Belgian beer! While it is quite high in alcohol (the Affligem Blond is 6.8%) it has a lovely colour, a strong citrus aftertaste, and high carbonation. Served cold and in a proper Affligem glass this beer should convert most non-Belgian beer drinkers pretty fast!
One interesting tradition that seems specific to Affligem is to serve the beer in a glass. With a smaller glass on the side. This glass is specifically used to pour the yeast from the bottom of the bottle into. If you’ve ever had a beer with yeast at the bottom. You’ll know that the last bit of the bottle is usually poured away or accidentally poured into the beer.
This tiny glass collects the yeast and then is served beside the actual beer. You can decide whether to drink the yeast separately, pour the yeast into the glass, or toss the yeast away. A bit of a funny ritual, but I now own my very own yeast glass and have used it. To be honest, there was very little yeast in my beer. So it was quite a waste of money! But I still love it.
According to this Belgian website, Affligem can be used in cooking too. Perfect mixed in with a beef-based stew. The idea of pouring one of the best Belgian beers into a stew sets my teeth on edge. But deep down I know that it would go excellently. Beer is an underused ingredient in cooking in my opinion.