Beer-eautiful Brussels – Part 1

La-Grand-Place

If you haven’t visited Brussels then I order you to get on the internet and sort yourself a city break right NOW. Why? Cos I’ve just come back from my very first adventure there and – not wanting to exaggerate – it was totally and utterly, stonkingly amazing! A fair bit of hugging and kissing went on and the weekend’s exploits were exciting not least because I was like an eager little puppy the whole time, because of the brilliant company I was with, because of the unexpected and scorching hot sunshine, but also because of the beer culture there. Belgium is serious about beer. No, I mean deathly serious. So if you want to investigate Belgian beers to their fullest, then Brussels is one of the coolest places to do it 😉

I was trying to keep my article short and sweet, but I’ve already had to cut it into TWO PARTS! Lol.  I’ve added links to practically everyone and everything from my trip so feel free to mooch around at your leisure. You can see where we all went and what I enjoyed drinking and then  – when you DO decide to head to Brussels –  you can work through my list and try them for yourself if you like. But if do, then make sure you feedback to me about whether you liked the beers or not. And if you’re already a lover of Belgian beers and you’ve tried the ones I have, or you want to recommend any to me I’ve yet to discover, come and join in the fun and comment here on this post or on my Facebook page. Easy peasy!

The Dominican Hotel Dining Area

 

Crazy yet classy fashionista photo on The Dominican foyer wall

 

So let PART 1 of the recap of my crammed weekend begin. We got there on Eurostar, and spent our two nights at this poshtastic hotel, the Dominican. I was perilously entrusted into the care of these guys – and when you see the list, you’ll see why I was ever so slightly intimidated. Chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers, Tim Hampson, Secretary of the British Guild of Beer Writers Adrian Tierney-Jones, bar and pub reviews writer for the Yorkshire Evening Post AND the current Beer Writer of the Year, no less: Simon Jenkins, whisky and beer writer (eh?!?) and Silver Tankard winner of the Best Online Communication award last year for beer writing, Jerry Bartlett and last  – but by no means least  – the digital marketing genius from Leeds that is Mark Fletcher! Phew. But once I met them and got to know them I realised there was absolutely NO NEED to feel intimidated because they were all completely bonkers and lovely :-) You can check out all their blog over on the ‘Sites I Like’ list.  So, five male beer monsters. CHECK. Two beer novices (Sophie and Stephanie from the Belgian Tourist Office ). CHECK. And me. CHECK. The mind boggles.

Saint Michael and Gudula Cathedral of Brussels

 

Guarding the beer blessing ceremony

 

Despite the 29degC heat, we made a lot of ground around Brussels centre – thank goodness for my trainers and flat pumps because it was cobble-tastic around the square. What struck me the most was the reverence that’s given to beer in the city. There were countless bars – too many to mention and most of which we didn’t get to see – all with sizeable lists of various beers on offer of differing strengths. That’s in stark contrast to the majority of British pubs which offer 3 or 4 commercial lagers and 3 ales on a good day.

And just in case you didn’t already know most Belgian beers are strong. I mean above 5% and well up into the 12% mark, but the difference in Belgium is that people kick back, while sipping their beers from the branded, shapely and very appealing glasses, just passing the time with their mates over a good old chinwag. They enjoy their beers with a meal. It certainly ISN’T about bolting down as much beer you can in the fastest time possible, because if you did that with Belgian beers, you’d probably throw it all back up as fast as you drank it!

I also adored the fact that I didn’t feel out of place there being black, it was truly multicultural: plenty of smiley black, white, yellow and brown faces around. And I mustn’t forget to mention the unusual culinary delights, the like of which I’ve never encountered: rabbit and cuckoo were on the menu at a couple of places 😉 And no, I didn’t partake of either of those.

After lunch at the hotel, we headed off to the Cathedral for the blessing of the beer. Now what did I tell you about the reverence towards beer?  There was a full-on church service of hymns and prayers in celebration of Saint-Arnould, the Patron Saint of brewers in a packed hall, we got a space at the back. It was complete with members of the Brewers Guild of Belgium decked out in regalia similar to that of a University graduation ceremony: robes, hats, breastpockets of hops, the lot! Why? Because centuries ago monks brewed beer for their communities. The Roman Catholic Saints used to bless beer before people drank it. If you keep reading you’ll find out about all the trappist beers I enjoyed on this trip, still brewed and controlled by Belgian trappist monks today.

 

After the cathedral, we were treated to a snoop around some pub gems tucked away down the side streets and alleyways of Brussels by local tour guide, Sacha. He told us that there used to be more breweries than churches in Belgium and something like at the turn of the 20th century there were 140,000 bars in Brussels (one for every 45 people) with 3,300 breweries across Belgium, whereas now there are only about 125 or so! Sadly I can’t remember which order we saw pubs in, probably because we did a fair few blind-tastings at each one 😉

 

Busy inside A La Becasse

 

Cute jug of Timmermans!

We visited a little one-room bar callled ‘A La Becasse‘. It was a dark-wood panelled very school-like looking room, crammed with people and where we tried some Timmerman’s beers especially produced for the bar: a sweet lambic (which for me tasted a little like a sweet cider, a bit like Woodpecker) and a white lambic (very pale in the glass, with an apple juice like/wheat beer taste, like the sweet lambic but much less sweet). For the record I don’t like the taste of lambics, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying the tradition of how a lambic is made. More about lambic beers in Part 2.

Jerry ruining my shot inside the small dark bar I can't remember the name of!

 

Stained glass inside the bar too!

Then there was a tiny place with beaten up chairs, very dark inside but I stumbled upon a new favourite. Remind me to tap up my fellow beer monsters for the name of the bar because again it’s escaped my sieve-like brain. As I type this I’m listening back to my iPhone voice memos of what I thought of most of the beers we drank and I notice at one point we were sipping along to strains of ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ by Foreigner 😉 Random.

Fuzzy pic of the delicious Malheur 10

So we had Malheur 10 (yes, a 10% ABV beer!) a very strong, sweet, golden ale which I fell in love with a first sip. We also had St. Feuillien’s dry-hopped Saison beer (7% ABV) which tasted much drier, earthy, grassy, almost medicinal in taste, very bitter and was far less sweet to me. So you guess which one I liked best, right?

My St. Feuillien Saison

 

We also blind-tasted a Timmerman’s double-fermented cherry beer. I wasn’t a fan of that one. Lovely smell of cherries, but very acidic in taste as is a lambic. And we tasted the Chimay Blonde (the only one of the range I’ve not tasted). Chimay beers are trappist beers – brewed by or under the control of Cistercian monks. There are 174  trappist monsteries, the world, 7 of which produce trappist beer, 6 are in Belgium.  For me, the Blonde had a similar quality to that of a Duvel (a Belgian wheat beer which is also at 8% ABV with a clove-like, bubblegummy flavour) but it didn’t have the same ooompfff or depth. It was a bit bland and less impactful for me, so again not one I’d plump for automatically.

Sweeties at Rose de Damas!

 

More yummy pastries!

Then we tripped out into the sunlight and I was enticed by the shop window of Rose de Damas. I picked up some cheeky little pastry munchies, which for some reason reminded me very much of the Asian sweet shops you see along the Soho Road in Handsworth, Birmingham.

Au Bon Vieux Temps indeed!

We hit yet another bar down an alleyway, again dark-wood panelled with incredible stain-glass windows and cosy inside. This one seemed less school-hall like and more like a British pub, complete with very glamorous barmaids. It was called Au Bon Vieux Temps. All I can remember from here was Sacha’s excitement at telling us this bar was one of the few places that sold Westmalle Dubbel on draught. It’s a strong dark brown, sweet, malty, hearty, deep-flavoured beer which suddenly appeared in front of us in cool, sexy glasses. So, after us experiencing the strange toilet situation (you could only get into them when a member of staff pressed a buzzer under the bar to open the door! eh??) Tim and I sat and waxed lyrical about the recent riots over our glass of this terrific beer. Booze seems to do that to me: make me want to get all deep and meaningful, but the conversation always turns out to be nonsensical and with no real conclusion. Go figure.

Sacha was so animated all the time, hence another fuzzy shot

 

Inside the Au Bon Vieux Temps with more stained glass lushness

 

We saw inside another couple of bars and I’ve got some video clips of them somewhere. I’ll rustle them up for you at some point. Then it got to about 6pm and the Belgian Beer Festival had officially opened. It was roasting hot, packed with people so much so it was hard to move around without spilling beer on yourself or anyone standing next to you but we preserved. I even got the chance to hug and kiss the famous beer sommelier Marc Stroobandt who was pointed out to me. The festival took over the whole of the Grand Place – the main central square  – which was flanked by breathtaking buildings steeped in hundreds of years of Belgian history.

La Grand-Place, Brussels for the beer festival

 

Beer festival stands

What did I drink? I can’t quite believe I only had two beers at there and I swear I can’t remember very well what they were and I damn sure didn’t take any pics. I’m sure I had a Val Dieu Brune (dark brown and served in cute little branded glasses, almost like an old-fashioned martini glass that looked a bit like a goblet). Val Dieu is a range of abbey beers. Abbey beers are ones that imitate the styles and the names of the trappist beers like Chimay) The Val Dieu Brune had an unusual taste that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, an almost metallic quality about it. Obviously you can’t drink liquid metal but if you imagine what it might taste like if you did, then that would be it. I’m sure we had some more St. Feuillien dry-hopped Saison too and then before we knew it, it was time to head off for dinner.

(L-R) Simon, Jerry, Adrian, Sophie, Mark, Stephanie and Tim

 

Because they were changing the beer list in the place we had dinner (guess what? I don’t remember the name of that either) there wasn’t much of a choice. I also don’t recall the name of the light, straw-coloured beer we had with dinner. But I can tell you one thing. I didn’t like it cos it was pretty tasteless and I didn’t finish it. The boys continued to quaff another trappist beer, Rochefort 10,  while I stuck into some still water because by this time the heat and the day’s beer sipping had taken its toll and I was getting a headache. Nevertheless I enjoyed some pork belly. With chips!

Now go read Part 2

13 Responses to Beer-eautiful Brussels – Part 1

  1. Bailey says:

    Nice to read an account of someone encountering Belgian beer culture at full force for the first time. Brussels is a bit tatty round the edges but, if you love beer, it’s a fabulous place to be. Get yourself to Bamberg soon!

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      I’ll get it on my list. Glad you enjoyed Part 1 – Part 2 soon with our visit to Cantillion and meeting Yvan de Baets! PS Will put you on my Sites I Like list – cheers very much for commenting. It means a lot xxxxxxx

  2. Christine says:

    Glad you enjoyed Brussels and the beers! We’ve lived in the UK for 8 months now and have already been to Brussels twice. Next trip to Belgium, you should definitely go out to the countryside and visit Popperinge & Watou, less than a 90 minute drive from Brussels. I highly recommend a stay at t’brouwerhuis, which is a beautiful, quaint B&B right next to the St. Bernardus brewery. As part of your stay, you have access to the entire St. Bernardus line of brews available to you at whatever price you wish to pay a.k.a. “The Honesty Bar”. Westveleteren is less than a 10 minute drive away, where the St. Sixtus trappist monks brew arguably the best beer in the world, Westvleteren 12. De Struise is also in Westvleteren, but unfortunately they were closed the day we tried to visit. It was an amazing experience and one of my favorite places I’ve visited this year!

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      Christine, thanks so much for the info on where else to go for beer in Belgium. There is SO much more to do and it’s so worth spending a longer period there to explore. I’m jotting them down in a little book so the next time I go, I’ll take The Main Main and we can enjoy together. Thanks for commenting too. Great to hear from you and stay in touch xxxxxxxxxx

  3. Birkonian says:

    I’ve become a big fan of Brussels. In fact I’m going there in 4 weeks time for a weekend. Delerium cafe may have over 2,000 beers but the best bar is surely Moeder Lambic Fontainas at 8 Place Fontainas with 20 draught beers and a vast array of bottled beers included may rare ones and not just from Belgium.

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      Woo! You must be pretty excited to be going again so soon! I can’t wait to go back either!! Yeah we missed out on Moeder Lambic but I’ll be posting Part 2 soon: about our visit to Cantillion & Brasserie de la Senne’s official new home.

  4. John Clarke says:

    Hi – pleased you had a great time in one of my favourite cities. I’m guessing that if the dark bar with shabby chairs was also down an alleyway then it will be L’Imaige de Nostre Dame. I really like that place as it feels like a good old local boozer – if I lived in Brussels I would be there a lot.

  5. tania_nexust says:

    Brussels is amazing, I’m craving another visit and I’ve already been around 10 times! That little dark bar you describe is definitely A l’Imaige De Nostre-Dame – down a little alleyway just along from the alleyway that takes you to Au Bon Vieux Temps. It’s one of my favourites in Brussels also, I always make time to visit it!

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      Congrats on naming that bar. If I had a prize, then you and John Clarke would win it. It was soooooo cute. Glad you’ve enjoyed Brussels too. Planning another trip asap cos it was stunning. Thanks so much for commenting. I really appreciate it xxxx

  6. Reading through the article reminds me of the good times and the good beers.
    Here at Brouge we’ve kept few of the classics and rotate the numerous Belgian Beers to give them a fair chance.
    We’re glad you’ve found the experience great and we try recreate here although Belgium is the Place to find 2000+ beers

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      Thanks so much for feeding back. Glad it rustled up some fond memories. I’m dying to go back, but in the meantime – seeing as I can get a little piece of Belgium at your place – I better get over to you one day soon, huh???

  7. Victor Zaidi says:

    Good for you ,Beerbeauty ,

    Next Time You come this way , I will guide you and show you the city of Antwerp
    A city with a beer history and a craft beer future as well, Cheers Thanks for your visit and your views.

    Captain Cheers

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