With a long history of brewing and nowadays around 1,500 beer brands, both traditional and new, Belgium is a dream for many beer lovers. Here are some tips on where to go and which beers to try.
Author: Malin Norman
Belgian beer comes in a broad range of colours, flavours and strength. According to the official tourism guide Visit Flanders, Belgium has around 1,500 beer brands and more than 700 different taste profiles. Not surprisingly, the country is a mecca for beer lovers around the world.
To hear more about Belgium as a beer destination, I had a chat with an expert in the field, beer sommelier Paul Davies. He is the founder of AleHunters, a beer tourism business with tailored trips and tutored tastings exploring Belgium’s fabulous breweries.
How would you describe Belgium as a beer destination?
Belgian brewing has a long and varied history, influenced greatly by the history and culture of the country. Some say that just two things unite Belgium – beer and football. I first visited over 30 years ago and was struck by how friendly people are. Belgians appear to take their culture very seriously and it is fascinating to visit when there is a festival happening.
There are some beautiful places to visit, for example Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and the Belgian Ardennes. In La Roche-en-Ardenne there is an old-fashioned hotel, Hotel de Liege, which has a mini golf course next to it. Of course it has a bar, and they serve Trappist Rochefort – only in Belgium! Near the French border and not far from Orval is an amazing viewpoint, Tombeau du Geant, which has a bar, naturally. And you can enjoy fresh Orval beer there while taking in the breath-taking vista.
Belgium has a fantastic mix of classic and new breweries. The beer styles are amazing, so many different ones. Sitting in a proper beer cafe when they serve you at the table with a beer’s special glass is, at times, reverential. The food is great and they love their beer and are often cooking with beer and matching food with beer. The respect that pouring a beer is given is impressive too. Some bars are true classics and should be visited, for instance ‘t Brugs Beertje in Bruges, Kulminator in Antwerp, Cafe in de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst in Lennik, De Geus van Gent in Ghent, Le Chapitre in Namur, ‘t Parlement in Halle, La Fleur en Papier Dore in Brussels – there are so many!
Which Belgian beer styles would you recommend?
Saison is a classic and I love a Belgian Triple. You must get to understand Oude Geuze too, so you need to visit a proper lambic bar in Brussels, Halle, Dorp, Beersel, Buizingen or Gooik. And I really love an Orval, young or old I don’t care. The beer is wonderful and changes as it ages. I just love it.
Then there are the Oud Bruin beers which are making a comeback with Brouwerij ‘t Verzet especially making some fantastic beers and crossing over the boundary between barrel-aged Flemish Red and mixed fermentation Oude Bruin. Though some Flemings maintain that it is one style, Oud Bruin.
Amongst Belgian breweries, which are your favourites to visit?
Starting with the classics. St Bernardus has such a great story and now an amazing rooftop bar giving you a 360 degree view across hop fields and burgs in the distance, you can also stay in their BnB. De Halve Mann is a great mix of history and brewing – go for the XL tour as you get more beer to taste in the bar next to the canal. Rodenbach is a spiritual experience, I never tire of visiting but would love to get into the old brewing room for a look around. At Het Anker you can taste, eat in the restaurant and sleep in one of their rooms. And at Dupont, taste the beer, eat the cheese, go to Taverne Saint-Gery for lunch. Cantillon is a beer museum, Van Honsebrouck is purpose-built and the future of beer tours, and don’t miss 3 Fonteinen.
As for newer craft breweries, Brouwerij ‘t Verzet is very hospitable, there are lots of interesting stuff going down there. Brouwerij Alvinne is focused on barrel ageing. VBDCK has an impressive set up, so does Brasserie C, and De Dolle Brouwers is unique. Kazematten is in the casements beneath Ieper, a collab between Rodenbach and St Bernardus. Other great ones are Brasserie de la Senne, Brussels Beer Project, and Brouwerij D’Oude Maalderij.
Paul has written a great piece about the last brewery mentioned, Brouwerij D’Oude Maalderij. Check it out here: A beer with Jef Pirens, D’Oude Maalderij. And for more information about AleHunters and brewery trips, see www.alehunters.co.uk.
Pictures: Paul Davies, ‘t Brugs Beertje, Brouwerij Alvinne, Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen