Belgium is to beer what France is to wine; it is home to one of the greatest beer traditions in the world. Like other European countries in medieval times, beers were brewed in a huge variety of ways with many different ingredients. In addition to the standard ingredients of water, malted barley, hops and yeast, many herbs and spices were also used. This activity was often done in monasteries, each developing a particular style. For some reason, uniquely in Belgium many of these monasteries survived almost into modern times, and the process was handed over to a local commercial brewer if the monastery closed. These brewers would often augment the recipe and process slightly to soften the taste to make it more marketable, but the variety survived in this way. These beers are called Abbey beers and there are hundreds and hundreds with a range of complex tastes unimaginable until you've tried them.
The Trappist label is controlled by international law, similar to that of Champagne in France. There are only six Trappist Abbeys in Belgium that produce beer qualified to be called Trappist. In order to carry the Trappist label, there are several rules that must be adhered to during the brewing process. The beer must be fermented within the walls of the abbey, the monks of the abbey must be involved in the beer-making process, and profit from the sale of the beer must be directed towards supporting the monastery similar to a non-profit organization.
Belgium offers an incredible diversity of beers. Several well known mass-produced Belgian beers are Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler, Hoegaarden. The names given to some beers are pretty imaginative: eg Verboden Vrucht Forbidden Fruit, Mort Subite Sudden Death, De Kopstoot Head Butt, Judas and Delirium Tremens.
Warmly recommended are also Kriek sweet and sour cherry beer and, for the Christmas season, Stille Nacht Silent night.
Plain blond draughts 4%-5,5%: Stella Artois, Jupiler, Maes, Cristal, Primus, Martens, Bavik.
Trappist ales 5%-10%: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle.
Geuze: Belle-Vue, the lambic Mort Subite Sudden Death, Lindemans in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Timmermans, Boon, Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, Giradin, Hanssens, De Troch.
White beers: Hoegaarden, Dentergemse, Brugse Witte.