Even though it is a relatively small country, Belgium offers quite an impressive number of beer styles. Belgian beers are primarily ales with a heavy emphasis on malts and a lot of fruity yeast flavors. Brewing in Belgium dates back to at least the 12th century. Under the Catholic Church's permission, local French and Flemish abbeys brewed and distributed beer as a fund raising method. The relatively low-alcohol beer of that time was preferred as a sanitary option to available drinking water. What are now traditional, artisanal brewing methods evolved, under abbey supervision, over the next seven centuries.