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Belgian beer gets the travel bug

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 08, 2006 2:14 pm    Post subject: Belgian beer gets the travel bug Reply with quote

Theo Leggett

Business reporter, BBC World Service, Brussels

For Belgians, beer is not merely a drink, but something of a national symbol.

The country has been a hub of the brewing industry since the middle ages.

There are more than 500 brands on the market - from mass-market products such as Hoegaarden and Leffe, to the more specialised Abbey and Trappist beers, many of them made by local breweries with just a handful of workers.

But despite its diversity, the industry is being forced to undergo profound changes.

Belgians quaff less

Tourists who flock to the Grand Place in Brussels are more than happy to sample a little local culture in the shadow of the city's famous medieval guildhouses

But Belgians themselves are drinking less and less beer. Over the past 25 years beer consumption in the country has fallen by a quarter.

Theo Vervloet is head of the Belgian Brewers Association and thinks social change is to blame for the decline.

"Big industrial companies are leaving Belgium", he says.

"More and more it is offices, banks and European institutions now. People drink less there.

"Ten years ago you had a factory with 10,000 workers, everyone finished work in the evening and all the guys went out to drink for an hour.

"That doesn't happen any more."

But while cafes and restaurants are becoming increasingly alarmed at the change, the brewing industry itself is finding new markets.

Foreign markets

More and more Belgian beer is being exported.

Over half of the beer produced in the country is now consumed in other countries.

Twenty years ago, it was less than a third.

The quest for new markets has been led by large breweries such as Inbev and Alken Maes - but producers of specialist beers are also selling increasing quantities abroad.

Tomaso Abrusadi works for Beerexport.com, which sells specialist brews around the world. He says there's a vast market for Belgian beer.

"This year, there has been a boom in Asia, mainly in Thailand and Japan.

"There's a lot of interest in China. But there's also interest in South America, and we have a strong partner in the US.

"There's strong demand for special beers nearly everywhere".

So what is the appeal of Belgian beers?

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