Let’s play a game: I say 'Belgium', you say the first three words that come to mind. Since I've got magical powers, I can easily predict that one of the words is going to be 'beer'.
In Belgium, beer is not just a drink: it's a big part of the Belgian culture. Belgians drink the specialty at any moment of the day and usually do it while sharing time with their friends. It’s been more than one month since I arrived in Flanders and I’ve already lost count of how many different pintjes I’ve sipped. But in spite of my memory, here are some things that I’ve actually learnt.
Step one: know your Pintje
'Beer' is like a philosophical concept: it's a single word that doesn't cover the different aspects behind it. The golden drink can be classified in a lot of different categories. These are the major ones.
You can’t go wrong with pils. It's the regular blonde and cheap beer. Pils is good for people who just want to chill after a busy day at work. If you order pils in Belgium, please choose the world famous Stella Artois, which is still produced in Leuven and is sold everywhere: from the little shady pub to the fancy restaurant that serves micro-portions of vegan tofu.
Ah, my dearly beloved trappist. If you had a bad day, drink a Westmalle and everything is going to be alright! This special kind of beer has to be produced in monasteries and, at the moment, there are only 10 holy breweries in the world where you can find a real certificated trappist. Six of them are in Belgium: Orval, Scourmont Abbey, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel. One of my goals is to taste each one of these beers. Ah, the hard life of a working class hero.
Summer is coming! I mean, sooner or later it will have to come, right? Once the temperature rises and the sun shines bright, you'll want to order a delicious white beer. This kind of beer is brewed with a lot of wheat malt and the yeast is less filtered than in other beers. The final product is fresh, light beer and it's at its best with a slice of lemon. Opt for a Hoegaarden and enjoy summer to the fullest.
Step two: earn your Pintje
Let’s talk about stereotypes: Italians are known to be at the other side of the “rush river". But have you ever seen Belgians in pubs? The same businessman who almost bumped into you on the metro, could sit at the same wooden table in a little pub, taking big sips from his pintje and enjoying life. Way to go Belgium, I like the style!
Of course, sometimes you'll struggle to get the bartender's attention. If you are a natural beauty like me -wink- it won’t happen too often, but otherwise you can always use the national gesture to ask “Een pintje alstublieft”: close your fist and let your little finger talk for you! I assure you, even in the most crowded situations, you will have your 25cl blonde in your hands without having the time to say “allez!”.
Step three: share your Pintje
Here you are: you've chosen your favourite kind of beer, managed to hold it in your hands and now it’s time for a nice cheers. But don't underestimate Belgian beers and make sure you eat something first. The best solution is to share some fries with your friends. Or maybe you prefer stoverij (meat in beer sauce). The idea behing “ne fond leggen” is to already have something in your stomach before you go on your golden ale trip.
If you want to give a speech before drinking, this is the right moment to do it. Otherwise you can just go with a “santé” or “schol". And let me teach you what we say in Italy: “salute!”