It was the kind of groan you only hear at the brewpub, a kind of atavistic subsonic rumble. But this time it wasn't because the home team, trailing, just blew an easy double play in the bottom of the ninth. After savoring samples of B괥 Blanche, Trois Pistoles, and Monkfish Tripel, the lightly lubricated crowd at Wallingford's Bottleworks had just been told that, due to a shipping delay, the Duinen Double from Brouwerie Huyghe Melle would not be served tonight, and even the offer of a shot of De Dolle's special 20th-anniversary Browsel couldn't entirely alleviate the disappointment. Everybody knows that the Pacific Northwest is a beer-lover's paradise; anybody who doesn't need only visit the Fremont Oktoberfest this weekend to find out. But as microbrews have moved into the mainstream marketplace, aficionados have moved on to picobrews—handcrafted beers made in tiny quantities by brewers obsessed with extracting the ultimate in individuality from their humble basics: grain, hops, yeast, and water. With European breweries now undergoing the kind of consolidation America's breweries experienced in midcentury, U.S. brewers probably lead the world movement back to beer basics—but one region of the Old World embodies the ideal they strive toward. The tiny land of Belgium, at least its Flemish-speaking moiety, is still dotted with town, village, even neighborhood breweries, making beer according to jealously guarded family formulas sometimes centuries old. Belgian brewers paint with a flavor palette that makes the most individual American commercial beers taste monochrome: pungent or piquant sourness; bready bouquets, ranging from shortcake to pumpernickel; tastes of fruit, green vegetables, grass, herbs. For a neophyte, the first sip of such a beer can be actively disagreeable. The second begins to reveal a profile as complex as any wine. By the third, it's hard to imagine you ever thought Miller Lite deserved to be called beer. Like wine, these beers vary in how they are best drunk. Some cry out for matching with food—and not just sausage and sauerkraut, either; others demand to stand alone. A few deserve to be treated as aperitifs or digestives, to be drunk in small quantities, slowly and thoughtfully. World demand has saved Belgium's traditional breweries. It hasn't been so good for their traditional customers, however. With their favorite quaffs now selling abroad at prices rivaling wine, they either can't find their old favorites or can't afford them. Even regress has its price. For more information: Fremont Oktoberfest (www.fremontoktoberfest.org) and Bottleworks (www.bottleworks.com). Sipped lately? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.