Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: A splendid little country

Does beer bring us together? In general, one would say: of course. But I ask specifically because of the news that once again the Belgians cannot agree on a form of government and may be thinking of going their separate ways.

This would be a worry, primarily because of fear of what would happen to all those Belgian beer vendors one finds around the world (in London, I especially recommend the Dovetail in Clerkenwell); would they be obliged to divide the bars into Flemish and Walloon sections?

In truth, while a surfeit of Belgian beer might lead to a sudden collapse, I'm sure that the Byzantine complexity of Belgium's political system – to say nothing the question of what to do with Brussels (raze it the ground, then plough it over with salt in order to ensure the continual fraternity, co-operation, mutual esteem and liberties of the peoples of Europe, of course) – will ensure that the dissolution of the country is a slow and protracted affair.

Of course, whether or not Belgium survives is a matter for the Belgians alone; but the point about beer is not a wholly trivial one. At least not if you take the view that slow and protracted dissolution is a topic of great interest or that drink captures the soul of a nation. In either case, the beers of Belgium repay close attention. They may be celebrated the world over (even if the best-known one is wife-beater) yet there is no real nation there.

Arguably, only Germany – another collection of statelets, which only became a country thanks to that oaf Bismark in any case– has such a variety of beers. In the case of Belgium, what a dazzling multiplicity of human ingenuity, brilliance, devilment and contradiction (oh and regionalism) there is. Fitting enough for what has been, variously, the heart of the Duchy of Burgundy (a state that never became a nation), the bit of the Netherlands that the Spanish clung on to, a geopolitical headache and the place where other Europeans went to kill each other.

At least one cannot say there is no soul – the Trappist beers are superlative (though I suspect one would perforce live a life of contemplative silence if you were to drink enough of them); so too the Abbey beers (Leffe and Grimbergen, for instance). There is even a counterpart, if you like, in the form of such formidable brews as Mort Subit – fine stuff, even if the name is only a small exaggeration. (On the other hand, the latter's whimsical, literal cousin, Delirium Tremens, takes this does what it says on the bottle approach a bit too far).

However, there are so many other sub-categories – light beers, dark beers, red beers, wheat beers – and, of course the regional styles (Flemish lambics or Walloon saisons, for instance), so many so that it would be dizzying – and rather less fun than drinking the stuff – to keep on with the lists.

In any case, it's tedious to start dividing beers along linguistic and ethnic categories – and equally dull to start uttering pities about how wonderful it is that we can accommodate these differences in one over-arching structure no matter the wishes of those being so accommodated.

Belgian beer should instead be enjoyed as a reminder that life's complexities cannot be fitted into whichever neat little form best suits our inclinations (what is the Dutch for 'vive la différence' anyway?) Instead, I recommend you enjoy a glass of one of the aforementioned beers and enjoy the efforts of the quintessential Belgian genius above – a French-speaking Flemming singing about those sophisticated continental drinking habits to which we should all aspire.

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Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I'm sure I had a bottle of 'Sexy Beer' once. It had a picture of a girl in a bikini on the front, and the bikini was made of that silver paint you can scratch off so with a bit of fingernail action she was naked. As I understand it, one of the customers complained it was sexist and it had to be taken off the menu.


10:43 am  
Blogger bill said...

I hope they made a beer called Humourless Puritan to give to her.

7:51 pm  

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