My partner is half Belgian and wherever we travel, it’s pretty certain he will never allow me to find a beer that is better than those brewed in this tiny central European country. Fortunately so far I agree with him: Belgian beers are in every way superb.
There are so many varieties it would be foolish to try and survey them but I think my favourite Belgian beers for sheer romantic appeal (as well as the taste) will always be those from the Trappiste breweries, especially after visiting some of them in the Belgian Ardennes a few summers ago. Those monks really know what they’re doing. And they also make good cheese.
Lambic beers are another style I can never go past. Of course the Belgian fruit lambics such as Kriek and Framboise are famous but it is Gueuze that has me obsessed. Lambic beer is brewed from wheat by spontaneous fermentation and gueuze blends a mixture of young and old to set off a second fermentation. Lambic beers can have an aging period from three months to three years. Gueuze is sometimes called Brussels Champagne.
But when visiting Brussels (as we do whenever possible) I’d like to share a few tips about the best ways to enjoy Belgian beer:
Brussels Beer Festival
On the first weekend of September the Belgian capital of Brussels throws its annual tribute to beer. The Belgian Beer Weekend is organised by the Brewer’s association and features a good selection of Belgium’s 125 breweries serving their best from tents set up in the beautiful Grand Place.
It’s a great time to be in Brussels with music, parades and interesting rituals performed by unique brewing associations, and of course plenty of convivial people propping up tall tables that wobble on the cobblestones.
Top 5 bars in Brussels
This little charmer benefits from being down a very narrow alleyway, more of a passage really, near the Grand Place. Here they serve gueuze beer from stoneware flagons into stoneware cups – it doesn’t taste any better.
A very friendly bar with long wooden tables and a huge selection of the famous house brand. Morte Subite is also well known for its gueuze.
Le Papier Fleur d’or
This tiny bar has loads of authentic charm and is popular with young people. You half feel like you’re sitting in someone’s kitchen where people are playing board games at the table and gossiping. The spaghetti bolognaise sets you up for a good night.
A l’Imaige Nostre-Dame
Another favourite with locals with a wonderful atmosphere (Rue Marche-aux-Herbes 8). A good selection of beers and sometimes even singing as the night draws on.
Historic brewery in Brussels
The Cantillon brewery should be high on any beer lovers list when visiting Brussels. You can read the full account of my visit to Cantillon in my post but suffice to say this is one of the two remaining traditional breweries in Brussels dating back to 1900 and they are still using a lot of the original machinery to create their authentic lambic beer. Stumbling up the rickety steps through the brewery is like stepping back in time. The wooden rafters are thick with mould and crates of dusty bottles lie in odd corners. The beer itself tastes fresh and natural and there is a generous tasting at the end. You won’t be able to resist buying some to take home.
By Natasha von Geldern