By: Isabella Troconis Zampaloni
European Travel Correspondent
Brussels is the capital of Belgium, but more importantly the capital of the European Union. And let´s face it is not a post-card city, some might say it is even ugly, dusty and that the weather is quite buggy.
When you stay long enough you realize that there are four segregated and existing communities: the Eurocrats, the Flemish, the French and the migrants – not to mention the tourists. They all have their own habits, lifestyles, bars and restaurants, but they all share one thing: their passion for the Belgian beer!
In order to start sampling all the kinds of beers that Brussels has to offer, you first need to, as a French local would say it, “tapisser l´estomac” (carpet de stomach), or as a Flemish would put it “ne fond leggen” (lay the base). So once you grab a famous Belgium Waffle with sugar on top, preferably at Mokafé in the Reine Koninginne Gallery, you are all set to start the beer drinking!
For beer lovers, I will recommend you the best beers with the highest alcohol by volume you can find in town. For wine lovers, I will suggest you a one of a kind beer and some delicious lambic beers. For those those less fond of beer, usually women who loved hard-alcohol cocktails, I will mention some yummy beer-cocktails that you cannot miss! And last but not least, I will point out three spots you have to go once you are there.
You are definitely in the beer paradise! It is proven that Belgium still has the highest number of breweries per capita than any other nation.
Indeed, you can find more than 2500 different types of beer to keep yourself busy, and drink them in every single meal without being considered an alcoholic. My favorite pick is Chimay, a trappist beer. There are only eight official types of trappist beers in the world, and six are Belgium.
But what trappist stand for?
You will never make the guess. Its name originates from La Trappe, a monastery brewhouse located in France. Since the Middle Ages, monks from different religious orders brewed their own beer to feed their community. Nowadays, they brew beer to fund their works, but a chunk of their income goes to the community needs and to social services. So you can feel a Good Samaritan if you drink an Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle or an Achel. But don’t exaggerate, alcohol volume rounds between 5.5% and 10%, where Westmalle is considerably the softest (5.5%) and Westvleteren the hardest (10%).
Likewise, you can find other special beers, such as Kwak and Tripel Karmeliet, both produced by the Bosteels Brewery. You will instantly recognize Kwak by its own distinctive glass with wooden stand. Its unique shape makes drinking it properly an art. The distinctive thing about Tripel Karmeliet is its legendary recipe from the XVII century and its key ingredients, three different grains: oat, wheat and barley.
Finally for the trendiest ones, you can´t miss Delirium Tremens. It has a pungent taste and alcohol volume of 8.5%. The Flemish Huyghe Brewer gave this name to its beer to allude a frightening sickness induced by withdrawal after alcohol abuse. The pink elephant on the label of the bottle represents a common hallucination provoked by this sickness. But not everything is negative, Delirium Tremens was rewarded the “Best Beer in the World” in 2008 at the World Beer Championships in Chicago, USA.
Don’t worry about not getting the right drink in Brussels. Bosteels Brewery has a unique liquor to offer that you won´t turn down. DeuS is an outstanding blend of brewed beer and sparkling wine that reaches an alcohol volume of 11.5%.
There are two reasons for DeuS to be considered the Champagne among beers. First, it is “bubblylicious”. And secondly, after being brewed, it is fermented for more than a month near Épernay in Champagne, France with the same method they use for Champagne.
Moreover, lambic beers or fruity beers are certainly considered a landmark of Belgian beers. The Lambic’s spontaneous fermentation gives the beer a unique flavor: dry and cidery with a sour aftertaste! The most popular among these lambic beers is the Kriek, which tastes like a slightly alcoholic cherry soda with less fizz. The most popular brand is Liefmann Kriekbier, a sourly but yet sweet beverage. It comes down easily without noticing the alcohol, but careful it alcohol volume reaches 6%. Nonetheless, you can find many other flavors, such as raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, and so forth. You can buy many of these lambic beers and other artisanal beers at a very low price in Malting Pot, a trendy beer store very close to Place Flagey.
Less fond of beer drinkers
If you are less fond of beer because its flavor is too bitter, there are a wide range of cocktails made with beer as the main ingredient that will allow you enjoy the beer experience without any remorse.
My top three choices are Monaco, Tango or Panaché, and Picon bière.
Monaco, is the most popular among women, and its taste and freshness makes it the perfect drink for summer. It is very simple to prepare it, you just pour some grenadine syrup, 7-Up® soda and preferably wheat beer.
The second cocktail has two names, Tango being the Brussels one and Panaché the French one. It is also very sweet and the beer taste is a bit stronger. It is made up with grenadine and dark beer.
Picon bière has a very peculiar taste. After your first tasting, you will simply love it or push back the glass. Picon is a caramel liquor originally from Marseille, but French and Belgians usually mix it with wheat beer or with a dry White wine. Not long ago, it was considered a drink for oldfolks from rural villages in the French countryside. But things have changed now, the voguish bars listed it on their menus and our generation fancies it!
Three places you cannot miss once you visit Brussels.
1. Eye popping variety
For your first day in Brussels, Café Delirium, located few steps away from Grande Place, is a typical place to start discovering Belgian beers. Their menu looks more like a phonebook, similar to those that your grandmother still keeps. There you can find more than 2000 kinds of beers, if you don’t believe me, just check the Guinness World Records website. It’s a touristy place, but somehow you always end up there when you are strolling around the city center.
A more authentic Belgian bar would be Café Belga, located in front of Place Flagey. It is rarely empty and when the sun starts coming out, it is virtually impossible to get a table outdoors. In my opinion, Café Belga is a cultural institution back in Brussels. It offers a wide range of live music and collaborates with a cinema next door to organize periodical independent film festivals.
3. Brushing Shoulders with the Who’s Who
Finally, for doing networking with some Eurocrats before leaving, Place Luxembourg is the spot. Amid this small square right in front the European Parliament you can find a bunch of bars and restaurants of all kinds. My favorite one is Coco bar given its modern but yet cozy interior decoration. There you can sample any kind of beer above mentioned while listening to more than four different languages within less than a block.
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