Belgian “Cuisine a la Biere”

Beer is the national drink of Belgium and Belgium is one of the great brewing areas of the world. Not only have the Belgians been pairing beer with food for centuries but they also have used beer as an ingredient since medieval times. No other country comes close to the variety of styles and unique flavors as Belgium.

Beer has been brewed in Belgium since the days of the Roman Conquest. During the 11th century Belgian monks whose orders had originated in France, applied some of their wine-making knowledge to brewing beer. Beer was a healthy alternative to the bad drinking water of the era. There are still six Trappist Monasteries brewing beer to this day and five of them are in Belgium. The climate while not good for wine grapes is perfect for the grains involved in making beer. In 1450 the first Brewers Guild was established and in the 16th century more than 25% of all cereal grains produced in Belgium were used for making beer.

The Belgians burgeoning brewing industry was devastated by Napolean’s 1796 decree that all monasteries should be banned and destroyed. It was not until the middle of the 19th century when two of the monasteries were rebuilt and the industrial age brought modern technology to the Belgian brewers. This era is recognized as the Beer Revolution, which had additional push by the laws forbidding the consumption of strong spirits.

At the same time “la cuisine a la biere” really took off with the boom of Belgian brewers and the creation of specialty beers such as Kreik(cherry beer) and gueze(a sparkling sour beer). Cuisine a la biere is the practice of using beer as a marinade, sauce base or flavoring. The great variety of Belgian beers and their distinctive tastes make this practice viable.

The American microbrew renaissance has inspired many chefs including myself to adopt some of these practices in our cuisine. On April 7th I attended a Belgian Beer and Food pairing at Toronado, a local beer mecca in the Lower Haight. They served a six course meal with fourteen Belgian beers of various styles and strengths (mostly strong). Toronado is the place to go if you like Belgian beer or are interested in trying some very distinctive brews.
I have hosted one Belgian event and will have by the time you read this article hosted a second one. I would like to see beer and food reach the level of wine and food in this country the way it has been in Belgium for hundreds of years.


Chef Bruce