Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Look What's Brewing in Belgium; Now Dry January Is a Distant Memory, It's Time to Raise a Glass. DAVID MERCER Tops Up on a Beer-Themed European Break

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Look What's Brewing in Belgium; Now Dry January Is a Distant Memory, It's Time to Raise a Glass. DAVID MERCER Tops Up on a Beer-Themed European Break

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID MERCER

'M ABOUT to sample my first beer of the day and it's not even lunchtime.

IDrinking alcohol in the morning is usually frowned upon but I have an excuse today, having just completed a tour of Palm Breweries in Belgium.

The country may be famous for its chocolates but it appears to be just as enthusiastic about its beer, and a number of breweries offer tourists the chance to see how Belgium's famous ales are made.

Palm Breweries in Steenhuffel is a short drive from the city of Antwerp and produces a dozen different types of beer, including the US favourite Rodenbach and a red fruit ale called Rosso.

"Brewing beer is chemistry," the tour guide says as we roam around a production line, before taking a seat at the bar to see the end results.

While arguably Belgium's most famous beer export, Stella Artois, is considered a strong lager in the UK, most of its rivals in Belgium have an alcohol content above 5%.

After sinking my third variety of Palm beer, I take a taxi to the city of Mechelen to meet local beer expert Sofie Vanrafelghem.

Sofie is a zythologist who has studied the history of beermaking, and holds events to show how different kinds of ales can compliment certain foods. She also founded the Women & Beer movement to tackle people's preconceptions about the drink.

"My whole life revolves around beer," she says at her Women & Beer workshop.

"Beer is surrounded by lots of prejudices, like beer is fattening. Not true. Beer's not healthy. Not true.

"Women wouldn't drink beer with me, so I thought, 'How can I change that?"' Sofie claims that regular beer drinkers have a "really good bone structure" and a 25cl glass of Pilsner has fewer than 110 calories.

"Researchers have also discovered people who drink beer live longer," she adds.

This is music to my ears.

However, she is keen to point out that drinking Belgium's strong beers should be done in moderation.

One of the more unusual places visitors can enjoy a beer is at the top of St Rumbold's Tower, part of the cathedral in Mechelen.

At 97 metres high, and more than 500 steps to the top, it's a workout to reach the summit of the UNESCO world heritage site, but the effort is well worth it for the excellent views of Mechelen and northern Belgium. …

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