Craft beer is without a doubt an integral part of the culture in Belgium. Beer became popular as an alternative to water, because the dirty medieval water made people ill. The Catholic Church started brewing beer in their abbeys as a way to earn money. Soon, breweries were popping up out of nowhere all over the country and today it is estimated there is between 800 to 1800 different types of Belgian beer.
And not only are there an unaccomplishable number of Belgian beers to taste on a trip to the grand nation, but there are also so many magical ways to enjoy tasting them. Here are just a few.
You could hop on a plane or jump on a train to Brussels and randomly pick out a bar to have a drink – but there are many more interesting ways to taste a good Trappist or Abbey beer. One of those ways is to take part in the Belgian Beer Weekend – it’s like the little sister of German Oktoberfest, but slightly more sophisticated, and traditionally takes place in the first weekend of September.
The Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash staff and the Belgian Brewers organize a full weekend to let you discover new Belgian brewed beers and give you free tasting demonstrations. The two days are being opened by the Catholic Church on Saturday and a parade of old beer wagons on Sunday morning. This weekend gives you the chance to have a talk with key figures out of the industry in one of the multiple tents set up on the Grand Place in Brussels. A great opportunity for someone who already has basic knowledge about Belgian craft beers and wants to try the newest things in the setting of beautiful Brussels.
If you can’t make the weekend in September (or even if you did make it) it’s always a good idea to take a beer tour. To keep you away from the tourist traps, there is only one you should take: the winning pub crawl in Brussels by Brussels Walking Tours, the pub crawl being one of the most popular bucks party ideas. A five out of five rating on TripAdvisor can’t go wrong with this one. The tour is about 2km, but don’t worry about the walking, there will be plenty of (drinking) breaks. Over those 2km you will taste at least 8 different original Belgian beers and have a small food pairing experience.
Even if you’re already brimming with Belgian craft beers, you will love the pub atmosphere. An experienced beer connoisseur takes you to places far, far away from the touristy (and often overrated) bars around Brussels’ Grand Place.
Brussels isn’t the only city you can find great beer in Belgium – Ghent and Bruges also boast a number of great, authentic beer pubs.
Ghent, quite the unknown city that will enlighten you with its mix of medieval buildings and modern architecture, and known as a great student city, has some amazing pubs in old cellars and 16th century houses next to the river. One of the best with a great view is definitely Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, which literally means ‘Riverhouse on the Beerside’. They serve around 15 beers on draft, just to begin with. Just a ten minute walk further and you can pay a visit to the Trollekelder, which means cellar of trolls. If you get a beer with an expensive, authentic glass, you will have to give them your shoes as a deposit.
Alternative, you could do something more cerebral and visit a brewery. Belgium counts around 160 breweries, a few of them still sighted in beautiful old monasteries and abbeys that are well worth a visit. However, if you are attempting on visiting Orval, Chimay or WestVleteren you will not get further than the church and will most definitely not get in the brewery part – the monks are quite secretive like that. There are lots of other breweries though, with the most standard AvInBev’s breweries (think Hoegaarden, Jupiler, Stella Artois) that are more commercial.
A smaller, private craft beer brewery, located in the green sights of Belgium’s Ardennes and worth a visit is the Achouffe brewery. This where they brew the famous little gnomes’ beer called La Chouffe. It is part of Duvel Moortgat and is a great day out – the tour of the brewery ends in their restaurant, where the menu exists of dishes prepared with the beer or that match perfectly with the beer.
If a beer tasting tour, connoisseur weekend in Brussels or taking a brewery tour sounds all a tad bit boring to you, you could take part in a casino and beer tasting experience, or hire a beer bike (although I’m not sure if drunk cycling is the safest way to experience Belgian beer culture).
Another rather ‘creative’ beer tasting activity, organized in the city of Leuven (20 minutes from Brussels) is Beer Golf. There isn’t much more to it than playing golf and having a pint of local Leuven brews after each turn. Not sure if you will hit a hole in one there, but you will definitely discover more new beers, like Leuven’s famous Geuze Boon, accompanied by a certified beer tour guide and golf instructor.