Saturday, February 25, 2006


Belgian Binge Beer

The Belgians have a more relaxed relationship to alcohol than most others. If you see drunken youths in Oostende a summer evening, they are more likely to be British than Belgians. So it is quite a paradox that it is Belgium that has given the world the term binge.

You will understand it if you are in Binche in the Wallonian province of Hainaut next Tuesday. Their Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, if you prefer) celebration is second to none, in my opinion.

Carnival is really the time when Catholic Europe comes alive. Also, the subsequent Lent might have been one motivation for the abbey beers, providing nutrients for the fasting monks.

The Silenrieux brewery celebrates the carnival with a cloudy orange-coloured beer called L'autruche Bière des Gilles. It is a rather sweet beer with flavors and aromas of coriander and oranges with some dryish yeastiness. Oranges are very appropriate for the Gilles, the townspeople clad up in costumes throwing oranges at people in the Mardi Gras procession (to the extent that local shopowners barricade their windows).

While in Binche you may also want to try the local Binchoise beers.
Their Spéciale Noël was particularly pleasant having liquorice, caramel, and spicy yeast aromas with hints of pear as well as a complex mix of fruity flavours and coriander and some other dry spices. A solid caramel background, a dry yeasty finish and warming alcohol made it one of my favourite Belgian Christmas beers in 2005.

Carnival may justify a binge, but even more so the rich Belgian beer culture. Cheers!

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