Belgium: Craft Beer Nation?
Belgium has to some extent always been a “craft beer nation”. As in other countries, the industrial revolution and scale economies in advertising caused a dramatic consolidation in the beer industry in the twentieth century: The number of breweries declined from more than 3000 in 1900 to around 150 in 1980. However, a wide variety of different types of beer survived to a greater extent in Belgium than elsewhere. The famous beer writer Michael Jackson noted that “The great beers of Belgium offer an extraordinary variety … and represent some of the oldest traditions of brewing in the Western world.” This made the country and its surviving small brewers a source of inspiration for the world’s craft brewers. Since the 1980s, Belgian craft beers have recovered and rapidly gained market share, not just domestically but globally. The dramatic export growth of Belgian craft beers, especially since 2000, is the result of a remarkably symbiotic interaction between large multinational brewing companies and small-scale crafts. With many small-scale craft brewers being taken over by large international brewing companies in recent years, the question what is “craft” and what is “Belgian” in today’s globally sold “Belgian craft beers” is an important question.
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