“The Insider Tour being presented by Shelton Brothers covers a veritable who’s-who of the most passionate craft brewers in Belgium and France. As the US Importer for these great breweries Shelton Brothers is uniquely positioned to provide a thorough and intimate tour of them.”
– Phil Markowski (Master Brewer, Two Roads Brewing Co. and Author, “Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition”)
Belgium & France Tour
May 3 – 9, 2020
When Shelton Brothers began importing European beer nearly twenty-five years ago, the first products we offered were Belgian. At the time, Belgium was considered to be a mini-Mecca of exotic beer — a pint-sized nation that was home to Trappist ales and such indigenous styles as lambic and saison. Long before today’s domestic craft explosion, Belgian breweries presented flavors and brewing techniques that up to that time were largely unknown in the U.S.
For some mysterious reasons, Belgium’s larger neighbor to the south, France, seemed to historically pride itself solely on wine. But by the time of Shelton Brothers’ inception, that situation was already changing, and though we first established ourselves as purveyors of some of the finest Belgian ales, we quickly discovered that Belgium and Northern France had in fact shared a similar beery pedigree. Though recent history — largely in the form of two world wars — took a severe toll on French breweries, traditional beer culture did not end at Belgium’s southern border, and in recent decades French brewing enthusiasts have fashioned a remarkable brewing comeback, with some outstanding beer to rival that of its neighbors.
The northernmost region of France, Nord-Pais-de-Calais, had for centuries been part of the kingdom of Flanders, along with what is now Belgium. The Flemish climate was and is more suited to growing barley and hops than grapes, and historically the region has been one of Europe’s important beer belts. In the early days, most of the production on both sides of today’s border came from small farmhouse breweries that created low-alcohol, thirst-quenching ales for the family and workers. In Belgium, that usually meant rustic saisons, while the French developed a style of beer known as bière de garde. Both style names (saison=season; de garde=to be guarded) refer to the fact that in the days before refrigeration, beer was brewed in the cooler months to be carefully stored for the summer, when it was too hot to brew.
Our one-of-a-kind, intensive six-day tour largely focuses on the small, off-the-beaten-path “farmhouse” breweries straddling either side of the border, all of which were established (or re-established) in recent decades, each offering its own take on the area’s local styles. It is an opportunity for the more inquisitive beer lover to get to know personally many of the world’s most dedicated and passionate beer artisans in their day-to-day environments. For the most part we will avoid checking off the standard, industrial, and mainstream beer-tour-itinerary Belgian tour stops. We proudly include what we believe to be the world’s two most vital traditional lambic makers and the most non-commercial of Trappist breweries, as well as Brussels’ finest reviver of once-forgotten hoppy pale ales. We consider these breweries to embody the authenticity and spirit of the entire region’s true, varied, artisanal beer culture.
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Here’s what other people are saying about Shelton Brothers Insider Tours.
Here’s a little of what you might see if you join us on our tour of Belgium and France.