Get to know the taste and history of Belgian Beer: the traditional brewers of The Ardennes

What would you think the third most popular drink in the world is? Number one is water obviously, followed by tea, but coffee isn’t in third place. This position is occupied by our old, trusty friend: beer.

There are so many types of beer, depending on region, brewing method, ingredients used and believing in the existence of a “one true beer” is totally incorrect so embracing the many shades and tastes is the right mindset to have! 
 
Belgian beer has existed long before Belgium even became a country, the method was there, the name most certainly wasn’t. If history is correct (sometimes it is, other times it’s not), it is thought that the tradition of these types of beers have started even before the First Crusade, when the French and Flemish brewers  raised money for the crusade this way. During that period, beer became even more popular than water, due to the polluted drinking water people had access to. Over many years and centuries to come, the traditional brewing methods have gotten more refined and slowly but surely, they evolved into the format known to us today.

Between the many types of Belgian beers, the most known ones are Trappist beers and Abbey beers. The first Trappist beer brewery, Westmalle, started producing beer in 1836, creating a dark and sweet liquid exclusively for monks. Even today, this type is still brewed in Trappist monasteries and there are rules and regulations for what qualifies as a Trappist beer. 

On the other hand, Abbey beers have regulations which are way more lax, these are defined as basically any monastic or monastic-style beers, which are similar to the Trappist ones, but can be produced by non-Trappist monasteries or even by commercial breweries under an agreement with a monastery. They can also be branded with the name of a defunct or fictional abbey or don’t have to mention a specific monastery at all on their branding.
Now that we understand the difference between the two types and the enormous history which backs these wonderful creations, let’s prepare for a trip, where you and your family/group of friends can get to know these pieces of history even better. Here are the best stops to experience the Belgian liquid gold in the Ardennes region

Rochefort Brewery

The first mention of Brasserie de Rochefort dates back to 1595. The brewery produces three original Trappist beers. Interestingly enough, the Rochefort Abbey is still inhabited by the monks of the Cistercian Order, and the brewing process uses water from a local spring (Tridaine) to create the quality known to the outside world. Beer lovers should not miss out on the 3 famous Rochefort types:

  • Rochefort 6: the rarest of the three due to limited production, it surprises with a faint coffee aroma and a sweet aftertaste (7.5%)
  • Rochefort 8: a dark beer with a sweet, fruity taste and a hint of a bitter aftertaste (9.2%)
  • Rochefort 10: the strongest Rochefort, while with a 11.2% alcohol level it is the strongest of all Trappists, with a fruity aroma and a mellow, sweet taste. 

Rochefort is located at just a 30-minute drive from the Vallée les Etoiles holiday park.

 

Brasserie du Bocq

This is a family brewery, founded in 1858, and they are to this day sticking to traditional methods of production. The brewery itself is open to visitors with friendly guides who are trained to inform visitors about the installations, different techniques of production and the high-end, incredibly delicious final brew. 
 
Du Bocq brewery offers the following beers:
  • Gauloise: a strong, fruity blond beer (9.7%) 
  • Blanche de Namur: wheat beer with a cloudy texture and a fruity, delicate taste (4.5%) 
  • FruitBocq: AppleBocq (apple beer), RedBocq (wild berry beer), AgrumBocq (grapefruit beer) are refreshing beers, with a low alcohol level (3%) 
  • Saint-Benoît Blond: a beer with a strong but welcome bitter taste and a surprising fruity aroma (6.3%) 
  • Saint-Benoît Brune: this dark brown brew achieves the perfect balance between hop and malt, creating a wonderful chocolaty undertone (6.5%) 
  • Saison 1858: unfiltered blond beer brewed traditionally, with a strong bitter taste (6,4%); 
  • Triple Moine: Blond beer, mixed with aromas of apple-hop, a soft taste and a tiny hint of bitter (7.3%) 
  • Deugniet: similar to Triple Moine with a slightly higher alcohol percentage (7.5%) 

Pumode, Belgium can be reached from Vallée les Etoiles vacation park in just under 25 minutes, by car. 

Maredsous

Maredsous Abbey, also located in the Belgian Ardennes, is best known for its cheeses, but just as much for the delicious beers it has to offer. The monks of Saint Benedict, still inhabiting the abbey, are glad to offer visitors a glimpse into their way of life. This place is also ideal for an easy hike, topped off with a great glass of refreshing beer.

  • Maredsous Brune: a spicy, fruity dark brown beer (8%) 
  • Maredsous Tripel: this strong beer has found the ideal balance between bitter, sweet and sour. It is drank by the monks on very special occasions (10%) 
Located in Denée, Maredsous is at a 25-minute driving distance from Vallée les Etoiles holiday park. 

Abdij van Val-Dieu

History hasn’t always been kind to the brewery in Val-Dieu Abbey, located in Aubel, Herve. It has been destroyed many times but reached its final, tranquil state in 1997, when the brewery resumed its activities in the monastery. You can taste the following beers: 

  • Val-Dieu Blond: rich aroma, slightly cloudy, absolutely perfect (6%)
  • Val-Dieu Brune: dark beer with an aroma of malt, coffee and chocolate (8%) 
  • Val-Dieu Tripel: tasty blond with an excellent balance of bitter and sweet, hop and malt (9%)

Aubel is located at a 1,5-hour drive from Vallée les Etoiles holiday park.

These visits can be done in a single day, but let’s be honest: it would be a crime against beer and Belgium as a whole.  Abbey and Trappist brews and blends should be enjoyed how they were always meant to be tasted: in a comfortable chair, in the middle of nature, after a hearty meal. This can be achieved if you schedule one or maximum two visits per day and enjoy the scenery between the experiences. Get your family, your best friends, your dog and book a stay at Vallée les Etoiles. The bungalows are modern, cozy and offer the best location for a beer-centered vacation. Located at the foothills of the Belgian Ardennes, the best beer spots are easily accessible from the park. Dare to dream big and live slowly, that is the one secret the monks will also tell you about life. Cheers!

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