Belgians truly venerate their beer, which is appropriate since some of Belgium's oldest beermaking traditions began in monasteries. The monks picked fruits and herbs from their gardens and used them ― along with hops, barley, water, and different strains of yeasts ― to produce hearty, rich ales with a huge range of flavors.
Even now, Belgian beers are synonymous with creativity. At New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, that philosophy continues to inspire every beer made. A tour of the brewery begins at a display of beer ingredients: hops, barley, wheat. All the usual suspects. But then there's kaffir-lime leaves and orange peel. And the barley and orange peel are laid out in the shape of a peace sign.
That's your first clue that this place differs from the state's big corporate brewers (Coors and Anheuser-Busch, which has a local brewery). "There's always been a perception of us as having an easygoing, hippie vibe," says Bryan Simpson, New Belgium's media relations director. "But there's also a lot of emphasis on excellence."
It's paying off: While investing heavily in cutting-edge green technology, New Belgium has become one of the fastest-growing craft brewers in the United States, and its beers, modeled after the complex, free-spirited ales of Belgium, have won multiple awards ― and inspired our hearty recipes.
INFO: New Belgium Brewing (888/622-4044) gives free brewery tours and tastings Mon-Sat.
How beer is made
1. MASHING Ground-up malted grain (usually barley) is mixed with warm water to make a porridgelike mash.
2. LAUTERING The mash is strained to produce a sweet liquid, the wort.
3. BREWING The wort boils with hops (aromatic, bitter flowers), which balance the sweetness and add flavor.
4. FERMENTATION Yeast starts feeding on the wort's barley sugar, turning it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
5. SECONDARY FERMENTATION/AGING The yeast keeps fermenting, at the top or the bottom of the vat. Warmer top-fermenting makes rich, fruity ales; cooler bottom-fermenting creates crisp, clean lagers.
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