Belly Up to the Table

I took my first sip of beer on a hot summer night. I was about 11 years old, at a Cincinnati Reds baseball game with my dad. A vendor shuffled near, hawking some variety of mass-produced suds, maybe Bud. My father extended an index finger. The vendor poured him a cup of something cold and carbonated, and they completed the transaction.

My dad took a sip, then another. He sighed. “Can I try too?” I asked, curious as a cat. He looked around the stadium. The fans were more concerned with Barry Larkin’s at-bat than my father's beer. He covertly passed it to me. I sipped. It was bubbly and bitter, an unfamiliar combination that I eagerly sampled again. “That’s enough, Josh,” my dad said, reclaiming his beer. It was my last taste till I was 17, when I had a torrid love affair with beer bongs. In between, I learned nothing about moderation, nothing about the nuances of beer. It was like going from kindergarten to college, with no education in between.

That’s not the case in Belgium. The European nation has a long-running tradition of tafelbier — that is, table beer. Classically, these are light-bodied, low-alcohol beers that are partnered with meals and savored by both adults and kids alike. (In fact, table beers used to be served to students in school. Sure beats the pants off a carton of chocolate milk, huh?) Like French parents pouring their offspring watered-down wine, table beers helped families teach their offspring about beer, and alcohol, in a responsible manner. Though the lightly boozy beers have lost their luster in recent years due to the rise of soft drinks and bottled water, there are still a number of renditions worth seeking out.

Curious? Check out my full picks over at Food Republic. Drink it up!