When it comes to experiencing good beer, the small European country of Belgium is certainly the hub of much culture. Beer in Belgium is not treated like it is on the nationwide scale like it is in America. The country values its historical roots in the beverage, and is respected as a builder of culture and social value. Belgium in general tends to be a severely overlooked nation, especially against the backdrop of larger nations such as Germany, France and the other big guns.
However, for beer lovers, Belgium is a sort of mecca, since they get to experience a craft and culture that can not be experienced anywhere else. Each city carries its own distinctive properties, that the others can not deliver.
Here is a miniature guide to those different cities, including some of the beer establishments that can be visited, plus the beers that they offer.
With its brick streets, medieval structures (most notably the Belfry), and canal, Brugge is undoubtedly this writer’s favorite Belgian city. When it comes to beer, there are a number of establishments in all within close range in the city that serve some amazing products.
Probably one of the most notable places for beer would certainly be the Cambrinus Restaurant, which is on Philipstockstraat. The interior of the place is what you might expect of a smaller Belgian place – French-type interior, plenty of older English wood. The beer list is absolutely massive, and basically serves as a historical commentary of Belgian beer. All of the Trappist ales, made exclusively in Belgium by Trappist monks are there, which are often considered some of the finest beers in the world.
There is also ‘t Brugs Beertje on Kemelstraat, which is run by a woman named Daisy who literally runs around serving almost everyone she can. The beer list is also pretty extensive, often featuring seasonals that you’ll certainly be want to try all of them.
The overall atmosphere of beer drinking in Brugge is one of the most welcoming in the nation. Most places feature outside seating, which is perfect for sipping observing the seemingly endless sights.
Much like the country itself, Antwerpen is the type of city that has been rising on the international scene as a cultural hub of fashion, and arts in general. It’s easy to say that Antwerpen is significantly larger than Brugge, and also contains ten breweries exclusive to the city. Probably the most notable of these breweries would be De Koninck, located on Mechelesteenweg. De Koninck makes several types of beer, but their staple De Koninck Belgian Pale Ale is probably the best known.
If you’re unfamiliar with a Belgian Pale Ale, imagine a pale ale that you’re used to back in the States, but expect a sweeter, more yeasty taste. Belgian ales feature Belgian yeasts, which are noted for their estery, fruity characteristics.
Another notable spot in Antwerpen would have to be Kulminator, a unique spot that has an ungodly beer list. Kulminator’s inside is similar to most bars, except the glassware selection looms above you, in which the contents can be filled with a large selection of cellared beer – the characteristic that Kulminator is most known for. Don’t except much of a food selection here, which is alright if just beer is on your mind!
You were probably wondering if I was going to mention Brussels at all, which of course is Belgium’s largest city. Of the three cities talked about, Brussels definitely carries the most “modern” vibe, straying away from vestiges of the past, though there are still plenty.
Being that it is the largest city, you’re going to find a large number of locations to drink a large assortment of beers. Of these places, I would suggest Bier Circus, Poechenellekelde, as well as In De Oud Pruim.
When it comes to breweries, Brasserie Cantillon can be considered the most well-known. Within the breweries offerings, Cantillon Kriek Lambic is the most famous, and can even be acquired in the United States.
Lambics are a style of beer that originated in Belgium in the 1500’s. The beer uses a special type of yeast specific to the Senne Valley of Belgium, southeast of Brussels. With the yeast, and little use of hops, regular lambics are a bit sour in taste, and a bit “funky” in general. In the case of Cantillon’s Kriek lambic, you’ll be greeted by a red (and I mean red) beer. This is due to the heavy use of cherries, which can be easily identified in the taste.
Of course, what is written here does not completely sum up the many offerings of Belgium, but these three cities would definitely be the hubs to check out if you’re looking to learn more about beer. I previously mentioned the Trappist monasteries, which are spread throughout the country. If you can get into their tasting rooms, which are often packed, seize the opportunity. Of the six Belgian Trappist monasteries, Westvleteren would certainly be the one to go after first.
Let this serve as a starting point, and continue to do some research on the beers of Belgium, including further locations and styles.
Doug Glaston works a writer on travel and food channels and features for Aspire Directv during the day, but is also a beer writer and self-confessed lover of Belgium and beer.