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I tasted 800 years of Belgian beer tradition: Dinant, Belgium's Leffe

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Deep in the Ardennes, Belgium's Dinant is a bucolic mountain town. A monastery dating from 1152, Notre Dame de Leffe, began brewing beer in 1240. Imagine! 800 years ago, during the throes of The Crusades: monks were perfecting recipes for beer. I love Belgian beer and now know that it comes in many styles! I was happy to be hosted to experience it.

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The beer is no longer made at the abbey, but the abbey is now the site of a glorious tasting room and mini museum. The arches, stained glass, wood . . . all make for a one of a kind setting for learning about beer. There are videos about the history of the abbey and its brewery: the whole shebang started when monks -- who were involved in healthcare for their fellow monks and the community -- sought to make a nutritious food/beverage. Drinking water in those days was risky and there wasn't always enough food to feed all who were hungry. However, it was discovered that beer has a lot of vitamins, minerals and trace elements to keep one fortified. Also in the mini museum: wells of different herbs and spices that are incorporated into their various beers. You smell them for an appreciation of the components.

But beer isn't about learning, it's about drinking! I had been unfamiliar with the Leffe brand before my visit, but amongst their nine varieties, I have found a new favorite: Ruby! Okay, so locals in Belgium call Ruby Leffe a "girl's beer". That's entirely fine; I am a girl. The beer is infused with strawberries and raspberries, comes out ruby red-pink and is totally delightful. I haven't checked out whether or not it's available to me locally in Baltimore, but I most certainly will be looking into it!

I have tried some of the lighter Belgian beers in the US with an orange twist -- which they don't do in Belgium. I've also had some darker ones, used in the national dish of beef carbonnade. That's a heavy dish with heavy flavors . . . not really my thing.

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