Beer Around Belgium

This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series Bucharest to Brussels:

  1. Bucharest to Brussels – Introduction and Our Route
  2. Munich, Germany
  3. All Roads Lead to Rome, Part I
  4. Bucharest, Romania
  5. Brasov and Dracula’s (Bram) Castle
  6. Smaller Cities of Transylvania
  7. Budapest part 1: Sziget Festival
  8. Budapest Part 2: Daylife
  9. Budapest Part 3: Nightlife and Food
  10. Vienna and Salzburg, Austria
  11. Berlin, Germany
  12. Beer Around Belgium
  13. Biking to the Best Beer in the World

Our final destination in Europe, Belgium, was centered around two of the things that make Belgium famous: food and beer. It was also my birthday week while we were there, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be. Sara did an excellent job of organizing visits to several breweries, big and small, all around the country.

Warm-up beers for our week in Belgium

Warm-up beers for our week in Belgium

We were based in Brussels our entire week. Sara’s friend, Arica, is living there through the fall making a movie, and her friend Jeanne was nice enough to put us up for the week. Thanks guys! In Brussels, we made a couple of interesting stops. The first was at the Cantillon Brewery, which is famous for its Geuze beers, and is unique to the Brussels area. Unlike almost all other beer in the world, lambics and geuze beers are fermented with wild yeast, instead of a cultivated strand that’s unique to the brewery. So while most breweries strive for consistency by using the same strand, almost every batch of Cantillon is a bit different. The beer was a bit too sour for our taste, but it was interesting none-the-less. Plus their self-guided brewery tour was really interesting, as they have a lot of 100+ year old brewing equipment still in use. We also went to the famous Delirium bar, which claims to have over 1000 Belgian beers available (there are around 1500 total in Belgium). We weren’t that impressed overall, as the staff was very impersonal and they didn’t have any of the really good Belgian beers – seemed more like a tourist trap than anything else.

One of our “goals” while in Belgium was to try all of the beers on the Top 10 Belgian Dark Ales list, which includes the best beer in the world, the Westvleteren 12. I’ll cover our quest to find that in the next post, as it was an adventure in and of itself, but we did get to sample most of these with some day-trips around Brussels. Here is the list we were aiming for:

Rank Beer Brewer
1 Westvleteren 12 (XII) Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus
2 Rochefort Trappistes 10 Brasserie Rochefort
3 Struise Pannepot De Struise Brouwers
4 St. Bernardus Abt 12 St. Bernardus Brouwerij
5 Struise Pannepot Reserva De Struise Brouwers
6 Westvleteren Extra 8 Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus
7 Bush de Nuits (Scaldis Prestige de Nuits) Dubuisson
8 Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw/Blue Brouwerij Het Anker
9 Rochefort Trappistes 8 Brasserie Rochefort
10 Chimay Bleue (Blue) / Grande Réserve Chimay
13 De Dolle Stille Nacht Reserva 2010 De Dolle Brouwers
14 Tripel Karmeliet Brouwerij Bosteels
15 Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru Brasserie de l’Abbaye des Rocs
We also went to that famous Atom thing...

We also went to that famous Atom thing…

Our first stop was Bruges, which was about a 1.5 hour train ride from Brussels, and was a pretty nice, touristy town. It had a well put together town center, with plenty of nice shops and restaurants. We actually had a pretty good steak for lunch there, surprisingly. The highlights was visiting De Garre, which, while not on “the list”, had a good triple that is only served in their restaurant, which was buried off a side street in an alley. It felt a little more off the beaten track. Plus Sara liked that they served cheese with their beer. On the other side of town is the the Halve Maan brewery, which is the only remaining one in Brugge and is pretty big. They have organized tours you have to sign up for, gift shops, etc. The tour itself was pretty cool, mainly because you were walking through an old Belgian building, and you got to see the old cooling pool on the roof (which also offered some great views of the city). The free beer there, the blonde, was just OK, but we did try their signature quadruple (the Brugse Zot) a bit later on draft at a great beer bar called Café Red Rose. They had a magnificent selection of rare and Trappist beers, and we were able to knock off several beers from our list:

  • Rochefort Trappist 10
  • Rochefort Trappist 8
  • Chimay Blue
  • Tripel Karmeliet

They also had a bottle of Westvleteren 12 for sale, but at 15€, we decided to take our chances in a few days at the brewery itself. As a note, all of the above beers are readily available in the US, and we’d especially recommend the Rochefort 8 (most drinkable) and the Tripel Karmeliet (most interesting). And, the Chimay Blue remained Kyle’s favorite after sampling nearly the whole list. Anyway, we had a great day in Bruges. The other highlight for us was the Beer Wall, which has a bottle and glass for every Belgian beer in production. It was especially interesting because each beer has its own signature glass, so every beer and glass combination were unique in some way.

The beer wall

The beer wall

Our other day-trip destination was Mechelin, about an hour outside of Brussels on the way to Antwerp. We went there primarily to visit Het Anker, the maker of #8 on the list, the Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw/Blue. The brewery itself is almost 650 years old, so the tour was especially interesting, since they talked about how the brewery was founded by semi-monastic Christians called the Beguines. We also got to walk through their old brewery, which was four floors, and involved climbing through windows and up and down narrow staircases. It was definitely not a tour like you could take in the US. Their famous Blue is actually only brewed one day a year, on the King’s birthday (it’s called the Beer of the Kaiser). It was really tasty, and although not something I’d seek out again, we are glad we made the trip out to Mechelin for the day.

All-told, we made it to 4 breweries and drank 5 of the top 13 dark beers in our 6 of our 7 days in Belgium. Not bad, but one of the most glorious days of trip was the 7th day, our visit to Poperinge, which deserves a post all to itself.

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One Response to Beer Around Belgium

  1. Judy Barnes says:

    Could you imagine what I would do if left alone with The Beer Wall after sampling all the beers? (Hint- beer glasses)