The History of Belgian Beer: Page 3 of 3
In Part 1 & Part 2 we have seen among other facts, how the Romans invented the name Belgium, but that we had to wait 2,000 years before the country was actually founded. In a few years from now we may see the country disappear again. For sure, the name Belgian Beer will remain, even without the country, because it is a quality label for the widest style-selection of exciting and exceptional beers, full of taste, aroma and history. We have seen how after the Romans, the Germans and the Vikings influenced the Low Lands (common name for what is now Belgium and the Netherlands) and their brewing techniques. Even today the Germans and the Scandinavians are known as fabulous beer-lovers, who can drink all night. Did you know that Walhalla, heaven for the Vikings, was a place where beer was served non-stop, for free and served by beautiful blond women. The closest thing to heaven for the Vikings must have been Flanders, where we have an abundance of beer and many beautiful blond women. No wonder that the Germans, who came in the 4th century, stayed for ever and that the Vikings stayed for 2 centuries. Later in the second millennium, from the South, France and Spain came to rule this heavenly country. They brought their wine-making techniques, but didn't find any grapes. So they influenced the "Belgian" brewing techniques, and adopted brewing techniques in their own wine-making.
All these foreign influences, and the fact that Flanders and Wallonia, the 2 Belgian States, were very prosperous, combined with the local sense for the good life (heaven) and a complete disrespect for authority (once you're in heaven, nobody cares about the boss), created the basis for the wide variety of delicious beers we find now in Belgium.
Why and how has one created Belgium? For political reasons and the profit of a few of course. The Low Lands and its people have been split by Spain during the 16th century in the religious wars.
The Protestants, who were the rich and intellectuals, went North and created Holland. The poor, the "intellectual-disabled" and those without choice, continued to be Roman Catholics and were occupied by Spain, by Austria and by France. The South reunited with the North only after the defeat of Napoleon, the French dictator and imperialist, who brought war and misery all over Europe.
In 1830, Belgium was created by France, who sponsored a secession-revolution of a few rich liberal industrialists in Wallonia and Brussels. Holland had it's mind on the colonies, and wasn't so happy with all these sinful Catholics in the South, and didn't really fight hard to keep its new Southern ProvincesEngland liked the idea to criple Holland, and recognized immediately the new country. Queen Victoria's father shipped a German Prince, who was a danger for the women living at his Court, to become King of Belgium. He didn't even speak one word of the language of the majority of his people. Worse, the Flemings had to wait 5 royal-generations, before they had a king who could make himself clear in their language. Still worse, the present queen can only smile in Dutch! You know, the Belgian nobility speaks French and spit on the language of the Flemings.
Holland was the loser in this rebellion. Holland was one of the richest and most powerful seafaring nations in the 17th, 18th and 19th century, with colonies all over the world. If they had played the game right and had sent more people, the whole USA would now speak Dutch, since they were the first to install colonies at the American East Coast. They bought Manhattan from the natives. Holland was a threat to England, Spain and France, so everybody liked the idea to split up a dangerous competitor. So, all of sudden, a new nation was born, and it must be said that this new nation, Belgium, was very dynamic and modern. A beacon of freedom in Western Europe, and intellectual exiles from France, Germany and other countries came to Belgium. Like most new things, in the beginning everybody is working in the same directions, is full of enthusiasm and self-esteem.
For the common people and the brewers, nothing really changed. They had to pay taxes to new rulers but that was about it. Since 4 centuries they were used to be ruled by people, who didn't speak their language, so they didn't really care. Everybody does his job and leaves the other alone. That is how they survived for centuries. In the 19th century, every village had at least one brewery and most cities had plenty of brewers. Every street had at least one pub, and in some villages almost everybody owned a pub. No TV, no movies, no electricity, ... what else could you do than going from neighbor to neighbor to have a few drinks. At least the community communication was well organized. The brewers, who were in most cases also large farmers, were the richest people of the country-side and became in many cases the mayor of the village. The political parties were locally organized around the brewer. Election time was the most exciting period of the year, since every brewer, candidate-mayor, went from pub to pub to give free beer. No wonder that the actual Belgian politicians are known in the international business world as some of the most corrupt of the world, I hear you whisper. What can you do? Belgium is not a democracy.
And that is the sad truth. Belgium is at the end of its existence, and all politicians know that, so they try to steal as much as possible in the last remaining years. Why else do you think that in the last 12 years they build a national debt of more than 130 % of the GNP, a world-record in the Western World. The 2 peoples living in this country are so different in nature and culture that they both want their freedom. Now that we see the emergence of Europe as a new decision-level, Europe becomes the greatest power in the dissolving process of Belgium. The decision-level of Belgium becomes obsolete and very costly to maintain. It has no economical sense anymore. The political power shifts away from Belgium: on one hand to Europe and on the other hand to it's 2 states: Flanders and Wallonia. The only things that still hold Belgium together is a king (the last one in Europe with real political powers), and a soccer team. The soccer team had its best years in the 1970's and 1980's, and the king, well ... let's not get into that.
But, dear friends beer-lovers, all of this doesn't affect the quality of the Belgian beers. These beers have been around for more centuries than Belgium has, and they will be here to enjoy for many, many more centuries. With or without Belgium, Cheers.