Monday, 11 July 2011

How many Belgian beers are there?

Following the recent buzz of articles and radio interviews highlighting this humble blog, I have received a wave of comments both public and private about the true number of Belgian beers. I have been saying the number is close to 800, but this seems to have caused a bit of controversy.

Now, of course, I realise that the number 800 is an estimate. Beers come and go with the changing success and failure of various labels and breweries. There are seasonal beers that are only made for, say, Easter or Christmas. And then there’s the issue of aging beer. Every attempt to pin down a precise number is trying to hit a moving target at best.

But some readers said I was way off, claiming Belgium had 1000 beers. Others said 1500. Still others said 1800. And one even claimed 2400. Some of them offered lists but none offered tasting notes for each one, which is what this blog is about, of course.

Still, I consulted a few experts on the matter. The late, great Michael Jackson, in his seminal work Great Beers of Belgium, said the country had “around 500” beers, but that was a few years ago, of course. Brussels tour guide and “expert on all things Belgian”, Jan Dorpmans, says 700-800. Wikipedia, which is what I think I used at the beginning of this blog in late 2007, says there are 800 “standard beers”, though they also note, “When special one-off beers are included, the total number of Belgian beer brands is approximately 8,700.”

Ultimately, however, it is not just a question of numbers. This quest is about exploring the quality of Belgian beer and writing about it much more than tallying up a total number. I probably won’t stop at 800 anyway.

11 comments:

  1. sorry there pall but i have bad news for you ... your so called 800 beers you want to try aren't all belgian beers !! you want to know how many there are then ? fine around 2400 !! so you'll have a long way to go there dear friend .... i'm at 930 beers and didn't have all belgian beers , so ...

    try to look up some things more maybe you'll find interesting links and such ...

    cheers !

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  2. Go ahead and let the people talk... as I like Belgian beer and also published a few reviews on my blog I like to read and follow your blog...

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  3. Rather bizarrely, this simple post elicited a whole bunch of nasty comments -- childish name-calling and even one threat of violence. I didn't accept them for publication. Get over it, folks, it's beer: you're supposed to enjoy it, not start fights over it.

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  4. I agree with you, it is probably impossible to have an accurate number of Belgian beers, as : the situation changes nearly every day; there are many one-offs; there are many relabeled beers that shouldn't count as additional beers anyway; there are beers brewed in Belgium for foreign markets and beers brewed alsewhere for the Belgian market (the "Gordon's" range from John Martin for example); ...

    I can't understand why people would threaten you or even react negatively to this point. As you say, it's only beer (but I like it)! And anyway, the real question is : how many GOOD Belgian beers are there? I'm not sure we would reach the 800 mark there (and I'm Belgian so don't shoot please)!

    Cheers!
    Antoine

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  5. Andrew,

    just to "help" you... :
    http://www.bierebel.com/biere.php?sort=all

    You can be sure that this list is not exhaustive and also that some items have already disappeared...

    Next time that you go to the "ultime", try the Ginette...

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  6. Surely John Martin's beers are brewed in Belgium?

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  7. The only brewing site owned by John Martin's is the Timmermans Lambic brewery. All other beers are commissioned, some from belgian breweries and some from foreign breweries (The Netherlands & UK). On Ratebeer they mention 'Genval, Belgium' but there hasn't been a brewery there for a long time, it's just the commercial address of the John Martin Company.

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  8. As you said, the number in itself is irrelevant (as long as there's enough beers to try and I think everyone would agree on that).
    The 800 figure is reasonable enoug, seeing that Hilde Deweer's book of Belgian beer lists somewhere over 750 and was not entirely complete. A figure I've often heard is that on top of this basis of around 800 Belgian beers, there's about the same number of beers that vary every year (think about one-time collaborations, original recipes for special occasions, new beers whether or not they replace retired beers). And that's of course not counting the rebrands which according to some go up to 6000.

    As for tasting notes of Belgian beers, Joris Pattyn would be one of the very best sources of those as he's reviewed over 3000 already, including retired beers.

    In any case it's a nice goal you've put yourself there, enjoy! Getting your hands on some of the less available among those 800-or-whatever beers would be a challenge in itself already ;)

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  9. Now that I am aware the small country of Belgium has such a rich culture of brewing I will keep my eyes open more and give some of their craft a more discerning run over the taste buds.

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  10. A friend gave me a book, All Belgian Beers, published in 2011 that puts the number over 1000. It is an excellent book with brief info on fermentation, beer style, malts/hops, colour, flavour profile, glassware of each beer with colour photograph of the bottle and the beer poured into suitable glass.

    You can find it on Amazon I notice. Here is a video link promoting the book if you wish to see how it looks.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpHsS3JWxOk

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  11. Indeed numbers are controversial but production change a lot from year to year so it's difficult to be very accurate.

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