Food & Drink
Brussels’ best brews
Think of Belgian beer and it might conjure up images of reclusive monks high up in the Ardennes, silently concocting brews via ancient esoteric recipes and weird strains of yeast. This romanticized version is – in some cases – actually not too far from the truth.
Uniquely, four types of fermentation methods come into play when brewing Belgium’s national drink: warm fermentation (popularly called ‘top’ or ‘high’ fermentation) is used by monks at the cult monastery breweries, of which there are six in Belgium – the resulting Trappist beers encompass ales, white beers and many other specialty brews; spontaneous fermentation, meanwhile, relies on whichever airborne yeast happens to be floating by, and is used to make the famous Lambics and the blends they yield – Faro, Gueuze and Kriek; the ‘old-browns’ are brought to life with mixed fermentation, and, lastly, the cool (or ‘low’) variant is the method behind lager and pils.
Another aspect of Belgian beer, which is UNESCO-listed since 2016, is that it’s generally focused on malts and fruity yeast flavors – in contrast to much of the hop-focused production of the recent British and North American craft beer renaissance. The vast spectrum of contrasting styles and flavors produced in Belgium’s 160 odd breweries is exceptional, and each type has its own, uniquely designed glass (with a few exceptions).
To learn the basics and beyond, and sample a good range of beers in the process there are numerous brewery tours and tastings to embark on, such as those held by Cantillon and Beerstorm, but you’ll pick up a lot simply by chatting to the passionate and knowledgeable bar staff manning the type of specialist haunts we’ve included in this guide. A votre santé!
A good place to start a beer tour of Brussels, the Cantillon Brewery holds guided (and self-guided) tours, designed to teach you everything about the unique brewing method behind Lambic beer. This centrally-located, family-run cult destination is the only brewery in Brussels producing this style of beer, made using a method known as spontaneous fermentation, and Geuze – a blend of different Lambics. Those unable to catch a guided tour can opt to explore the beautifully rustic rooms to study the brewery’s hardworking equipment, including its mashing and cooling tuns, hop boilers and line-up of barrels. Last but not least, you get to reward yourself with a bottle of Lambic or two in the resident bar – it’s part of the education, non?
Cantillon Brewery and Museum
Rue Gheude 56, Brussels
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Cooking up a storm
Pop behind the scenes at micro-brewery Beerstorming to learn about the intricacies of beer making – and then, if you fancy, turn your hand to making your own craft beer, with the help of the resident experts. Around 75 liters per batch are made at this collaborative, Saint-Gilles-based destination, and the equipment is set up so that you’ll get a good grasp of the different steps involved in the process. If you’re not feeling particularly creative and prefer to try out Beerstorming’s existing offerings, opt for the tour and tasting experience. There are some interesting recipes to try (though these often change), such as a pale ale brewed with lemon peel, kaffir lime and white tea.The brewing experience requires reservation, but not the tour and tasting option.
Chaussée d'Alsemberg, Brussels
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Craft and draft
Resolutely refusing to stock any mass-produced beer, including the smaller labels that hook up with conglomerates, Moeder Lambic Fontainas offers a vast, ever-changing list of local and international brews, 40 of which are available on tap. Feel free to order at the bar, but staff recommend table-service so that you can take full advantage of their knowledge. Take a seat inside or out, and stay for a bite – there are tartines, cheese boards and charcuterie-type edibles, and just like the beer, every crumb is sourced from independently run producers. The cheese, for example, is from the nearby fromagerie La Fruitiere (worth a visit in its own right). Should you be nearer the area of Saint-Gilles, keep an eye out for this bar’s smaller sister-act, Moeder Lambic Original.
Fontainasplein 8, Brussels
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True to its roots
Step inside A La Mort Subite and you’ll be transported to the 1920s. Very little has changed since this brassierie-style bar was founded in 1928, and today, Olivier and Bernard Vossen, the great-grandsons of founder Theophile Vossen, steer the ship. Despite its city-center location, this cozy drinking den is local in feel, with beautifully weathered interiors. A La Morte Subite specializes in Lambic and Geuze beers, serving up countless varieties of each. We found staff to be more than willing to share their knowledge – so we came out with our heads fizzing with facts.
A La Morte Subite
Warmoesberg 7, Brussels
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The beauty of Saint-Gilles
Housed within a splendid Art Nouveau building designed by architect Ernest Blerot, La Porteuse d'Eau is worth a visit whether you’re a beer fan or not. But for those who’ve come to sip rather than marvel at the sweeping central staircase and stained glass windows, there are some 70 types of beers to consider. We tried a blond called Barbär, subtly flavored with honey, and Grisette’s forest-fruit-infused white variety. You’ll also find a selection of Trappist ales here, made by monks in Belgium’s handful of monastery breweries. Identifying as a brasserie, the menu at this Saint-Gilles gem is quite extensive, with room for dishes cooked with or without beer. The vibe is relaxed and friendly, with a neighborhood feel. It’s a must-visit Brussels spot, for reasons beyond the excellent beer selection on offer.
La Porteuse d'Eau
Avenue Jean Volders 48, Brussels
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Not one for the indecisive, Bier Circus has 200 types of beers to choose from, courtesy of small and large breweries alike. Take your pick from Farmhouse ales, Lambics, Old Browns, Ambers… the list goes on. The food menu is not quite as extensive, but it’ll satisfy most comfort-food fans with dishes such as Orval cheese meatloaf, veal blanquette and spaghetti bolognaise infused with Chimay Trappist beer. Tucked behind Cirque Royal concert hall, Bier Circus is a busy, vibrant spot, ideal for people-watching.
Rue de l'Enseignement 57, Brussels
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Located a little outside the city-center in the hip spot that is Flagey, L'Amere a Boire attracts a young crowd of locals and those having come from further afield to sample its diverse list of special brews. Some 150 different beers, mainly from independent producers, jostle for space on the bountiful menu, and you’ll also find a good selection of rum, whiskey and gin, as well as cocktails. Mood-wise, the bar’s best described as cozy in an industrial sort of way, and there’s live music from time to time.
L'Amere a Boire
Rue du Belvédère 8, Brussels
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Published: August 30, 2018